Why a Screenwriter Wrote a Book
I’ve written one book and I don’t know the first thing about the publishing world except it was a long slog to find a publisher which seems to be a common experience. I’m not qualified to comment about the business side of things and one book hardly makes me an authority about the creative side. I’m reasonably sure-footed discussing screenwriting because this has been where I’ve invested most of my work life and it pays the rent – most of the time... So the only angle I could think of to deliver a mercifully short article is to discuss why a screenwriter wrote a novel. First of all, prose is terrifying to me. There’re no short cuts – none that I have discovered anyway. It’s the most muscular and honest form of writing I’ve ever attempted. I think I may hate it as you do most things that are diabolically difficult. Most feature length screenplays are between 90 and 120 pages – but anything over 105 is viewed with suspicion and unease by producers. That’s about twenty thousand words and under – about the length of a solid novella. Books, as I’ve discovered, are a LOT longer. Most books are at minimum three times as long as the average screenplay and sometimes substantially longer. It’s a big decision for a screenwriter to write a book because they are committing to a word count that calibrated back to scripts would mean between 3-10 feature length screenplays. That’s the math – one book or 3-10 screenplays. One story or ten. A road diverged in a wood a long time ago, as Mr Frost said, and I took the one that led to cinema and endless producer’s notes (some lucid). The reasoning was simple – I want to tell a LOT of stories – and because screenplays are shorter and quicker to write than novels (unless your Stephen King of Georges Simenon) I knew it was the right medium for someone who is too bone lazy to care what the inside of a room likes like or what a character is wearing – or looks like. I was content with INT. ROOM – DAY and to move on. There are other attractions to the screenwriting medium of course – the decadent wrap parties (never been invited to one), a chance to work with a good director (only happened once), sleeping with starlets (ain’t ever going to happen) and of course being treated like dirt but at least getting paid for it (now that happens every day). It will bruise you, a career in screenwriting, but as the saying goes, it beats working. So why this short detour into prose? The answer is simple and horrific at the same time. Most of a screenwriter’s output will never be turned into movies. It will never be seen or read beyond a handful of producers who have said “no” to it or killed it through the slow shredding torture of development. Screenwriting, like so many other creative enterprises, is a numbers game. You write a lot to get a few things over the line. My Australian screenwriting hero is the late and great Everett De Roche.
This cyclone of screenwriting had about 20 movies made from his work. But to achieve these 20 credits he had to write more than 60 screenplays. I use this ratio also. It means that 2 out of 3 stories you sweat over and pour all your talent and passion into will never truly exist. Screenplays, sadly, are nothing unless they become movies – as John Carpenter mockingly but truthfully said to a difficult screenwriter “Well, just thread your script up in the projector and we’ll take a look at it”. Writing a book, provided it was good enough, was a chance to make sure at least one story was bullet-proof – that it would be read and exist not in the quasi, delicate state that screenplays inhabit. It was also a rare opportunity for a holiday from notes and other input that must be processed into a screenplay to keep it alive – because the second you stop processing this input the project is dead or you’re fired. Something that a very talented and well-produced screenwriter said years ago has haunted me.
Toward the end of his life Richard Matheson – a titan of film and TV – mentioned in an interview that his only regret was he hadn’t written more books. So many of his unproduced screenplays would never be read or enjoyed. Those words have haunted me so much that this screenwriter sat down and wrote a book.
TJ Park is an Australian novelist and screenwriter. He was raised on a steady diet of Stephen King novels, British science-fiction television, and the cinema of John Carpenter and Sergio Leone. Not much else is known about him. That's just the way he likes it.