It appears to me that the internet, through blogs, podcasts and other web 2.0 tools, has been the catalyst for an explosion in tips, theories, laws, rules, guidelines, encyclicals and arcane pagan rituals about the craft of writing for the big screen.
Type "screenwriting" into Google and you get 1,880,000 results! There's a bewildering array of information. That's before you even get to the books, manuals and lecture circuit (the most famous of which is Robert McKee's, pictured above).
Now, at the risk of being called a heretic, most of it seems to have very little to do with the actual art of writing. The more I read about what I'm supposed to be doing (according to the learned scribes) the less capable I am of doing it.
*diagram by Charles Deemer chosen at random from a google search of "screenwriting diagrams" and in no way meant to imply the information is incorrect but used as an example only.
I call it the Tin Cup principle. In that movie, Kevin Costner becomes totally bamboozled when he uses a 'training aid' to correct his golf swing to calamitous results. The more he thought about the mechanics of what he was doing, the worse he became.
Is screenwriting like the perfect golf swing? In many ways, I think it is. Sure, I need to know the fundamentals of my craft (ie storytelling) but when I sit down to write I want to be creative NOT analytical.
As I mentioned previously in this blog, I attempted to use Vogler's Hero's Journey once and by the end of it I wanted to sieze the damn sword and bash the threshold guardian to the innermost cave of my creativity over the head with it.
For me, writing is organic, not a series of steps or benchmarks to hit. I find most screenwriting books incredibly dry and, as a consequence, have read very few. I DO, however, like going to seminars and workshops which can be much more hands on, entertaining and interactive. Linda Aronson, for example, when she was in Perth a few years ago or Duncan Thompson. Perhaps just the way I learn and take things in.
Where I think judicious use of theory can be useful is in the rewriting process and when discussing notes. This IS the analytical side of writing but until you have a draft to dissect then getting bogged down in all the competing voices of what "you must do" is self-defeating in my opinion.
I raise this as I will soon turn my attention to a new feature script. I intend to start with a beat sheet and then a scene breakdown so I know what my story is before I get anywhere near script stage. I have a rough idea of what the "turning points" are and the "inciting incident" and what the "climax" should be. But I'm not fussed about that too much yet - I want the story and characters to organically grow and leave lots of room for spontaneity and surprise. Not worry that "this" has to happen by "that" page number and blah blah blah.
So by all means, read all the maxims and "rules" that are out there. But my advice would be to forget them when you sit down to write that very first draft when creativity is paramount. Then resurrect the ones that make sense (to you) when you come to the task of rewriting.
Do you agree or am I way off the mark? Would be interested in other writer's thoughts.
Speaking of McKee, I leave you with this scene from Adaptation.