photo by Thomas HawkIt's Sunday morning and for the first time in the three year history of the blog I don't have a topic I want to write about. Sure, I've had weeks where because of time pressures, I've had to write the blog on a Sunday morning... but, I've never been without a topic. I've always had a rough idea about what I wanted to talk about. Not this week. This week I've had time to write, I've sat down to write, and nothing has happened. But, I'm not panicking because I know that presented with a looming and impending deadline, the only option is to sit down and write something honest.
And, as if by magic, there you go. That's what I want to write about this week. Honesty. Of all the values that are underrated. Of all the values that are least talked about. And yet, at the same time, most valuable, honesty in a writer should be top of the list.
I also think it is one of the rarest commodities, because it is demanding and dreadfully difficult to be honest. Especially in the film and television industries, where it is more common for people to present an image, to maintain a front or to build a brand. And we all know that the word "brand" is just a fancy advertising term for the word "lies."
Of course, some people would make a distinction between the kind of honesty a writer needs and personal honesty. On one level I guess that would be a fair distinction. The kind of honesty a writer or actor talks about, are the moments created on the page or on the screen that resonate with people. Where the simple truth of a situation touches the audience. What's interesting is how difficult it is to actually get that level of truth onto a page. It ought to be simple. It ought to be as simple as observing, understanding, writing. However, my experience is that telling the truth isn't that easy. Our natural instincts as human being within a community is to hide ourselves, to avoid vulnerability, to use lies and evasions in our everyday life. This act of continuous avoidance of the truth in our everyday lives, decreases our ability to see and then write down simple truths. Or in other words... if we spend our whole life avoiding the simple truths, we will find it impossible to put them on the page.
One of the fascinating things about the industry is how afraid of the truth everyone seems to be. The vast majority of the people you meet feel the need to big themselves up. This is an industry in which people are deathly afraid of being honesty. Especially if the honest truth is "I've done nothing you would have heard of." It becomes increasingly difficult to hang onto any kind of vulnerability and integrity in that kind of environment. I remember a couple of years back talking to an actors' agent about Smoke, and her first sentence to me was "but I've never heard of you." I can't tell you how shocked I was that she said that. That it mattered to her that much. It wasn't about whether the script was good for her client, it wasn't whether the script had any merit, it simply came down to whether she'd heard of me or not. That's kind of shocking, don't you think?
The temptation for unknown screenwriters is to attack this lack of recognition with bullshit. Not outright lies, but spinning the truth so that it looks better than it is. I'm terribly guilty of this sin. I'll quite happy mention my Royal Television Society award as a writer/director, but forget to mention that it was a commendation, and that it was a regional award. So, in fact, my award for directing should really read "2nd least worst piece of drama created in the North East of England in 1999, in a year where there was very little drama created in that region." That doesn't have the same ring as "award winning writer/director."
I happen to believe that there is a definite connection between personal honesty and creative honesty. And that one of the reasons people need to spend so much time learning screenwriting technique, networking technique and marketing techniques, is because those are the tools the industry reaches for when they are unable to put a simple truth onto the page. It really is that simple. When it comes to seeing where a scene fails to work, 99% of the time it will be because there is no honesty in it. If you understand your characters and you can see where their personal vulnerabilities are being exposed by the world in that scene, then most of the job of writing that scene is done.
I have an analogy. Writing a scene from the core truths and vulnerabilities is like being God: you create life in your scene organically and naturally. Writing a scene from a set of rules about how to create drama is like being Dr Frankenstein; you create life in your scene by attempting to simulate reality by stitching together a lot of lumps of dead meat.
For the last six months I've had more success in the industry than ever before. Mainly because of good and honest friends providing me with wonderful opportunities. People have opened doors for me. However, somewhere in that process I've lost something, I've allowed my fears and my ambitions to disconnect me from my simple truths. And, that is something I'm going to address before I lose my ability to write. Which is how I ended up on a Sunday morning with nothing to talk about. When all I've ever needed to do is to turn up and tell the truth.
keep writing honestly and viva la revolution