Thursday, February 2, 2012

Artistic Respect

Some writers have talked about how an indie producer tends to get more respect for spending all their free time and money on making films than a writer. I'm not sure if that's true. But even if it is, it has a lot to do with the skills involved.

With a producer there are a lot of small technical skills that have to be honed. Even someone putting up a quick video for Youtube has to deal with camera and lighting angles, sound, focusing, ect. Lots of little skills that each take time to master.

Writing is more like acting. Anyone can do it.

Anyone can read off a cue card and look at a camera. It's learning the craft that's the hard part.

In 1974 Gary Sinise and two friends started the Steppenwolf Theater Company. They started it in the basement of a church that let them rent it for pennies. Often no one would show up. Sometimes they'd earn gas money from their plays.

But in those six years in the basement of the church they learned their craft. When you watch Sinise you can see how that paid off, he can play different characters with different motivations and still be Gary Sinise.

In a similar vein, a director once said of Tommy Lee Jones you can ask him to play the same role a dozen different ways and they will all be brilliant and all be Tommy Lee Jones.

That honing of the craft is what makes the difference between actors like Sinise and Jones and someone reading cue cards into a camera.

That gets me on to another thing I've heard writers saying, “But that's my style.”

Um, no. Here is how you can identify “your style”, try not to write in your style.

I recently wrote what I thought was a Sci-Fi thriller, that was actually a Paranormal Romance. I get those confused all the time. So I thought I'd try something different and write a very straight forward sci-fi tale.

The main character's love interest was supposed to be a minor sub-plot. The strange compelling voices he heard were only supposed foreshadow the enemy so the final showdown would be more intense. But the interplay between the character and his love interest became interesting, and the voices and obsession with them became a focus. Next thing I know I'm writing a classic sci-fi story with a Paranormal Romantic twist.

It's about as different as I can make it from my last book, but it is the same style. Just like when Gary Sinise or Tommy Lee Jones play a bad guy, they are convincing as that, but still have that unmistakable style.

That's the difference between the art of producing and writing or acting. In producing there are a lot of little technical skills that are like any other job that must be learned before you can add your style. With writing (and acting) its a matter of getting your style and voice down so that no matter how different you make your work it still has that quality where people will say, that's you.


  1. Not to toot my own horn, but that's one of the most common comments about my work. "Stephanie, they're all completely different but they all sound like you." Even in college, where I took effectively NO English classes prior to managing to take a Creative Writing the course, the teacher despaired. "You already have a distinctive voice and your own style. I don't know why you're here." He already said it was distinct enough he had "no choice" but to give me an A.

    And he was an ass.

    But I have to add two things. I didn't get to where my unpublished butt is now without a lot of hard work. I first wrote poetry (great for learning to wring emotion from words, appreciating the sound of what you're writing and forcing you to find the RIGHT word) through short stories (for quick character development, effective dialog, setting the stage and drama in just a few pages) to finally novels.

    And my "first novel" will never get out of the drawer. I've grown too much since then. You have to hone the skills, read, learn and be open to looking for your own flaws. If you can't do those things, you'll never get better.

    Lastly, even though it seems like I'm completely conceited, I have to say I don't think I've stretched my boundaries nearly enough. My stuff all sounds like me, but it isn't different enough. I haven't really varied enough to be "great". Not yet.

  2. "I have to say I don't think I've stretched my boundaries nearly enough. My stuff all sounds like me, but it isn't different enough. I haven't really varied enough to be "great". Not yet."

    That attitude is something that we share with the actors I named, Sinise and Jones. They have both said in interviews that the reason they take some of the really out there roles sometimes is even though it might hurt their careers in the short term, expanding their skills is worth it and helps in the long run.