12 August 2006

that [certain specific unnamed] premise

If you talk to aspiring screenwriters—and I understand that for most folks this rates right up there with "slapfighting with electric badgers" on the list of activities very few sensible people seem willing to sign up for—you will likely get around to a conversation about projects they are working on or hope to be working on soon or dream of one day possibly having any chance of working on, and when that conversation gets going, chances are there is a certain specific idea—a premise or mixed-genre scenario—that will show up. The first time you hear about this certain specific premise (and, no, I'm NOT going to tell you what it is...), you'll likely smile and think "now that would be kinda cool..." and you'll think nothing of it.

And then one day you'll find yourself talking to another aspiring screenwriter and you'll have that weird deja vú thing when that same premise gets trotted out, and you'll dismiss it as just a curious bit of coincidence.

And then you'll meet a third screenwriter who also lists this certain specific premise as a project they'd love to try, and that's when the Twilight Zone theme starts playing in the background, as you realize that something odd is going on here.

And here's the really creepy part: if you are a fellow tyro, someone dreaming of being a bigtime movie writing kind of playah, you'll look into your own closet of untapped ideas and confess that you, too, very likely have that same damned premise on your wish list.

Apparently, the idea of the [certain specific premise] movie (and fuck you NO I'm not going to describe it!) is kind of like that can of cream of mushroom soup you find in 98% of all American kitchen pantries: you almost never hear of or see anyone saying "you know, I sure could go for a big bowl of cream of mushroom soup right about now...," yet everyone seems to have pre-prepped for that urge anyway, just in case. This premise is similar in that you seldom (if ever) hear anyone say "you know what I wish I could see on a big screen? A really good [certain specific unnamed premise] movie!", yet almost every aspiring screenwriter I know either lists [this certain specific premise] on their upcoming project list, or has a finished draft of a [certain specific premise] movie in their drawer somewhere.

And here's the thing: to date, I think this certain specific premise has been seen in maybe 4 movies ever, so it's not like it's some hyper-clichéd "DIE HARD on a [insert]" sorts of ideas, yet the very notion of the [certain specific premise] premise is now apparently almost something like an in-joke among readers and studio folks. In the past month I've encountered FIVE of my erstwhile peers who claim to have such a project on their current or upcoming work docket, and at the same time I can recall at least THREE specific snarky comments in magazines wherein some exec sighs "I sure would be happy to never again have to look at another movie about [certain specific unnamed premise]."

And, yes, I have such a project, too.

Thing is: while I can (sorta) understand how and why this premise might be both appealing to writers and tiresome to studio reader-types, I still think my take on this [certain specific unnamed] premise is just different and goofy enough to warrant continued development and effort, and so I'll march on with the blunderous assumption that I am somehow special, that I have somehow found the one workable path to the summit of a mountain which thousands—tens of thousands— have started, few have surmounted, and almost no one cared about in any event.

'Cuz, dammit—somebody is one day gonna bring in THE kick-ass be-all end-all script which both defines and destroys the specific sub-genre forever, and then all those writers will say TOLD ya so!" while the studio weasels will roll their eyes and say "OK, here's the exception which proves the rule" and then we'll get to suffer through the inevitable spate of cheap awful clichéd variants on the [certain specific premise] movie, and again both sides will point and claim that sad situation as somehow supporting their original position.

In the meantime, an army of idjuts huddles over keyboards and dreams that they are each the one true heir who will finally pull the sword from this stone.

The entire situation has that curious blend of Quixotic heroism and pathetic futility that somehow sings to my soul.


Chesher Cat said...

As I read this post, I wracked my brain trying to think which of my ideas you were referring to - and deciding I should not open my mouth around you ever again.

But then I got to "I still think my take on this [certain specific unnamed] premise is just different and goofy enough to warrant continued development and effort..." and realized what [certain specific unnamed] premise you were alluding to and I'm happy to report I have nothing of the kind on my project list. Phew.

Have fun with that...hope yours is the one.

aggiebrett said...

I think it might be a male thing, and given that a disproportionate number of screenwriters seem to be male, I guess it sometimes just feels like everyone when in fact it's just every male.

At any rate, it's an amusing thing once you recognize it. The next time you strike up a convo with a new pal male screenwriter, ask him about his [certain specific unnamed] project. I bet he's working on one, or has already written one, or dreams of writing one.

Scott the Reader said...

I still think my lesbian dwarf movie is going to be the one to redefine the genre, so you might as well put yours away.