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Jeffrey John Eyamie on Screenwriting

Screenwriting doesn't get the recognition it deserves as a written artform. For readers of literary fiction, reading screenplay might require an inner tweak - a re-calibration of the mind - but can be satisfying in its own way.

Part ad copy, part poem, part play, the screenplay as artform can be just as lyrical as a novel and more moving than the film itself. If you've read anything from Paddy Chayefsky, William Goldman, Diablo Cody, Shane Black or the Coen brothers, you know the writing is something to behold in and of itself. There is a voice. Often, the voice is different from what you see on the screen.

Originally meant to be a simple blueprint for a filmmaker to follow, screenplays can be so much more … and there are so many more screenplays written than movies made. Maybe it's a thousand to one? Maybe it's more. Increasingly, the screenplay itself can be appreciated on its own merits.

There's an industry that has developed around the writing of the screenplay. Online courses, travelling gurus, how-to books and DVDs abound. You can spend thousands of dollars to teach yourself how to do it this way or that way. Many believe a screenplay might be their winning lottery ticket, like some kind of short-cut to Hollywood notoriety and big, fat paycheques. Those people would be deluded, just like the people who think "I saw a bad movie, this movie-making thing must be easy! Surely I can do better."

Two decades ago, people who wrote spec scripts—that's a script they went off and wrote on their own, then sold to a big studio—used to sell for crazy amounts; a handful of scripts have sold for $4 million in the past two decades. It doesn't happen anymore. The economics of movie-making have changed, but the script frenzy in the '90s and early aughts gave rise to this cottage industry of screenwriting education.

I wouldn't be much of a screenwriter without that cottage industry. I took a lot of courses through UCLA and several private-sector programs, and met some great instructors who helped me hone my craft and view myself as a professional writer.

I need to issue a disclaimer here: the screenplay bits that you read in No Escape from Greatness are not the best examples of screenwriting! I can do better! But Gabe can't. I wanted Gabe to be a bit of a hack when it comes to screenwriting. So the scripts are purposefully hacky. I swear it to be true Also, he gains a little bit of emotional honesty as the story goes on, so I wanted the screenwriting to reflect that as well. I hope it does.

A reader gets something different from a screenplay. There's imagery, just like in a novel, but the images move more, I think. The story is more taut, which can be good but sometimes lacking in depth. Dialogue and character actions become the focus. You can almost see the screen as part of the imagining.

Screenwriting isn't just a lottery ticket or a blueprint. The story can stand up on its own, can fire your imagination, can be better than the performances actors bring to it. It can also be none of these things.

Just like I've always written novels, I have always written screenplays. Some stories are TV shows, others are films, and others are graphic novels or plays. No Escape from Greatness began as a screenplay: a television screenplay. I had a series in my head about this little town and all the goofball characters. But I wanted to go deeper, and that's why the book is what it is, including the story-within-the-story told in screenplay form.

Seek out your favourite film in screenplay form and give the script a read. It'll be better than any bonus feature and might just be better than the film.

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Turnstone Press acknowledges the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, the Manitoba Arts Council, the Government of Canada, and the Province of Manitoba through Manitoba Sport, Culture and Heritage.

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