After years of screenwriting success, plus countless meetings, pitches, business meals, and studio drive-on passes scotch-taped to my car window, not-to-mention a mile high stack of legal pads choked with handwritten notes, multi-act outlines, and character research, I was struck by this simple epiphany:

As a writer, who is my audience? My readers? The consumers of my sometimes carefully chosen words?

Not merely the manager who is rifling through scripts in hopes of finding the next mega-million dollar payday for his numero uno client.

Or the agent who’s hoping my tight, hundred-and-eight-page script is the magic elixir that uncorks the development chest of that unusually tight-fisted studio.

It’s not only the director who’s trolling for something completely unlike his last movie that blew the doors off the box office and finally proved to all the high-school doubters that he was a somebody after all.

The same goes for the studio executive, scared shitless to be moved or love something in such a way that it might hamper his or her ability to quantify a script’s box office potential.

Yes. As a screenwriter, this is my audience. My core readership. My ultimate fan base. And maybe that’s what it should be. Because I’ve just described the gatekeepers for whom most screenwriters knock themselves silly in order to get that one millimeter closer to the ultimate reward: production and a theatrical release. Talk about a tough room. To win over these folks takes heavy lifting most professional body builders wouldn’t so much as contemplate in a stimulant-induced dream state.

Not that making movies isn’t worth it. I wish for all scribblers, pro and otherwise, to experience the sensation of having made a hit movie. It’s a pop unlike any other. Like the first hit off a crack pipe, it’s an absolutely unforgettable rush. But when the high fades and reality returns, the professional screenwriter is back to battle. Alone and with fingers poised on the keyboard, belting out his or her stories for the most fickle audience on the planet.

Worth it? For some, yes. For you, maybe. But know that it can be a soul-sucking climb and can take a certain creative toll.

Most screenwriters hope to, one day, channel their success into directing. I was on that very track, ready to leap at the right opportunity. That was until my wife and I began making plans for a family. For me, the idea of stepping away from my parenting duties for a year or so to direct a picture wasn’t an option.

Thusly, I found myself penning my first novel. An experience best described as both terrifying and liberating. Not unlike the actor who, with an embarrassed giggle, relates to some interviewer about the moment he/she decided the time was right to drop his/her clothes and get naked for the camera. By scrawling out a book I’d be assuring myself no rehearsal or closed set. It would be just me, myself, and my naked words on the hook.

The risk paid off.

Then about the time my debut tome was set to hit bookstores, the publisher offered to send one hundred hardcovers to whomever I chose. I furnished them with the names and addresses of my hard-to-please audience.

I recall a particular phone call I received from producer Big Daddy:

“You sonofabitch!” shouted Big Daddy. “You wrote a fuckin’ book! I didn’t even know you could write!”

Yeah. He said that. And guess who else called? My studio pal-slash-gym-rat, Milton.

“Loved the book, man,” said Milton. “Really good stuff.”

“Wow,” I said. “Surprised you were able to get all the way through it on the StairMaster.”

“Haha,” he said. “I don’t read books on the StairMaster. That’s just for movie scripts.”

Yes. Haha indeed.

I recall when Lawrence Kasdan asked me about my radical choice to write that first novel in lieu of hawking one of my unproduced screenplays to the town with myself attached to direct. As I attempted to describe how my directing mojo had been strangely quenched, Larry listened intently as if soaking in every poorly worded sentence, applying his own highly-evolved cinematic spin, then regurgitated it all out in succinct, memorable perfection.

“Of course you’re satisfied,” he said. “You not only directed your book, you starred in it, played every part, designed it, scored it, and drew and painted in all the scenery.”

“Can pretty much say I got final cut,” I added.

“Exactly,” said Larry. “Books must feel like you’re in total control. Good for you.”

Good for me, yes. And in so very many ways. And it’s not just about the control. It’s about that direct relationship with the reader. From my brain to the page to a reader’s eyeballs and processed through his or her imagination. Simple. Complete.

Then came my blog. What began as an experiment to build a different kind of readership has taken on a life of its own. Sure, it’s a bit of a management quagmire. But since fatherhood I’ve morphed into a far more efficient multi-tasker. Often, when I run out of story and notice a few extra clicks left on the clock, I turn to the blog.

So as I continue the marathon run—writing one of my thrillers while carrying on with the stumping various film and TV projects—the weekly missive to my web constituency has proven to be another positive link between this writer and my new audience. It’s quick. It’s unfiltered. And the response is immediate, measured in both clicks and some lively commentary. It’s become its own uniquely satisfying experience and, like publishing fiction, salves the wounding that sometimes occurs when trying to get movies and television shows made.

The blog continues, but only after a well-earned holiday. I will be back in July with more trench tales as well a launch date for the first Lucky Dey novel, 99 PERCENT KILL. Also coming soon is non-fiction first for me titled THE SMOKING GUN, a collection of my most popular blogs plus some you’ve never read, published as an ebook and trade paperback by F&W Media. Until then, download my thriller THE SAFETY EXPERT as a free motion by clicking here.

 

 

 

Doug Richardson
Doug Richardson
Author and screenwriter. Books: THE LUCKY DEY THRILLERS: BLOOD MONEY, 99 PERCENT KILL, AND REAPER, THE SAFETY EXPERT, AND THE SMOKING GUN. Movies: HOSTAGE, BAD BOYS, DIE HARD 2.
  • I wrote this in a letter to a friend of mine in L.A. who was growing more and more depressed about the actual writing he had to do , toiling on screenplays — the process itself, not the product or the audience.
    I think you’ll understand what I was talking about better than he did …

    Here’s the last secret: this peripheral role in story telling is the real reason you’re so miserable. Yes, you’re at the bottom of the pecking order in Hollywood. Yes you get paid worse than everyone else above the line. But your status is so low because you don’t have enough to do.
    But the worst part is, you don’t have enough fun. Making a narrative move all by yourself, keeping the action floating above the shallow spots, tacking through the perfect channels, is a challenge — it’s tiring and frustrating. But it’s also a gas. And screenwriters never feel it. Moving from the young hero to the about-to-be-killed mafioso whose death will kick the story into gear, all the screenwriter can do is say “CUT TO”. The writer can do it any way he wants … this way, for instance: “Eighty blocks downtown, Alfredo Blasi was thoroughly enjoying rhe last two hours of his life.” You create momentum with a line like that. you jazz things up and put a spin on them. And you can do it as much as you want. You can play. But as a screenwriter, you can only watch the game from the outside, on the set, or at that first preview (if you’re even invited).

    But, the thing is, it’s an easy complaint to fix. Put that half-finished script aside, and try your hand at a novel — or even a short story. Flash fiction, whatever. Write a first sentence that lives and keep the action alive, hot and slippery, jumping in your hand, word by word until the end.

    Try real writing. You may never go back.

    • Doug Richardson

      You’re very right, Steven. But I won’t disparage screenwriting as something less than other forms. In many ways it’s more difficult because of it’s limitations. You may not need a great command of language, but story and structure and dialogue and inference are pretty hard to master. Ask any great novelist asked to adapt his or her own material for the screen.

      • So true. That’s where the dreaded voice-overs come in! I didn’t mean to imply that screenplays were a lesser form, just not as much fun for the writer.

  • James Moran

    Great stuff as always. Relieved that it didn’t end with “…and that will be the last blog post”. Count me in the for non-fiction book, too.

    • Doug Richardson

      Cool, James. Thanks.

  • Bryan Walsh

    Very interesting that you chosen to write this blog about writing a book. I’m 60 pages into a new action thriller, but one in finish the first draft of that I am going to start writing my first book. And ironically most of the reasons for doing so are exactly what your friend Larry said, including final cut. Plus I’ve got a few more connections in The Wriing World than I do in Hollywood who have been pushing me to write a book. Also if the book is successful, it can always leaf to a script deal.

    On a side note, Doug; enjoy your vacation! I’m sure you’ve been busy juggling all your writing projects lately. And there must be an influx of residule checks lately; everytime I turn on the tv Hostage, Money Train, Die Hard 2, or Bad Boys is on one of the Encore channels. You must be imbibing some high priced scotch these days. Can’t wait to read the free download! Thanks.

    • Doug Richardson

      Glad to know I’m busy on cable. Residuals though tend to lag a year or so behind actual airings. I’m not complaining though. As for high-priced scotch, well, I try to keep that to special occasions… as often as I can.

  • Mike Oneill

    Great stuff, Doug. Enjoy some vacation.

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks Mike.

  • Jack Calvert

    Great name, Lucky Dey–and a great title, “99 Percent Kill”! (And “The Smoking Gun” will be a must-read.)

    It’s distressing that the screenplay has always been–and probably always will be–the neglected stepchild of American literature. In fact, most people don’t consider screenplays “literature” at all, which is unfair, and probably explains why screenwriters get such little respect in the industry and the civilian world. (Then again, most people probably have never read anything by Waldo Salt or Paddy Cheyefsky.)

    As anyone knows who’s ever actually written a screenplay–let alone, managed to sell one–to be able to tell a complex, compelling story using only dialogue, no exposition, and only the tersest descriptions of physical action is deceptively difficult. Screenplays and novels are like apples and oranges. It’s not really fair to compare the two, however I think it takes as much skill and discipline to write one as it does the other. In fact, I would go so far as to say that because screenwriters don’t have the luxury of an unlimited word count, they *have* to be more disciplined, which by default makes them better writers. I’m only guessing, but I suspect that it’s much easier for a screenwriter to become an effective novelist than vice versa. You seem to be doing just fine.

    I’ve often wondered why you chose not to direct. You’re such a strong visual writer, it just seems like a natural progression. But now I know why: it was because of family. High kudos, Doug. If more people had your sense of perspective, Hollywood would be a happier place. In any case, there will always be time for that movie later on.

    Have a great vacation, Doug!

    • Doug Richardson

      Thanks for the comments Jack. And the approval of Lucky’s name. Did you read BLOOD MONEY? That’s where he’s introduced as a character.

  • Phyllis K Twombly

    Perhaps the first movie you’ll direct will be an adaptation of one of your novels. You’ve got more skills than you may be aware of. Most writers do. Enjoy your break.

    • Doug Richardson

      Yes. I still might. Though it doesn’t seem likely. I’ve gotten used to my comfortable cocoon.

  • Senator of 3rd Avenue

    Curious, Doug; with a stranger at a bar who doesn’t know you are a screenwriter, swamping stories, are you really good at holding court and spinning a good yarn, and do you enjoy the verbal story telling?

    • Doug Richardson

      I think your description might be accurate. “Swamping stories.” As in I might just as well sink them as make them fly. As for spinning yarns at bars, I can’t say. I can be a bit more of an interrogator when drinking, seeking out the stories of others. Not that I don’t spin my own. Just haven’t been reviewed on my yarn telling acumen.

  • Tim O’Connell

    Hey Doug, I’m very happy to hear that this blog has become perhaps as enjoyable for you as it has for me( and others). Its been an eye opening and entertaining look into the Hollywood gearbox, to say the least. Enjoy your success and your summer break. I’ll keep myself busy with your novels.

  • Alyssia Alexandria

    Hi Mr. Richardson: Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this blog: fun, educational, a good read. will stay tuned:)