MY SCREENPLAY DIARY: I’m Writing a New Screenplay. Want to Follow Along?

I’m writing a new screenplay, and this is a column where I’m going to document the process!

A bit of background: In addition to writing novels, I write screenplays (I split my time about 50/50 between the two mediums).

I’ve written about twenty screenplays in my career, and eight have been optioned by producers. Alas, none has yet actually been made into a feature film (I didn’t write Geography Club, the 2013 movie based on my 2003 novel).

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The good news is that I think I’m getting better at the craft of screenwriting: the last five screenplays I’ve written have all been optioned, and four of them are still in development. I think at least three of them have a pretty good chance at becoming movies in the years ahead: two indie projects and one animated movie, currently in the works in China, of all places.

In this regular column, I’m going to document the process of my next screenplay. I’ll give regular updates, from conception (now) to whatever the end place is — hopefully, a completed feature film.

So … where am I on this new screenplay now? I’ve literally just begun. I don’t even have an idea! In fact, I’m not even sure of the genre. The only thing I know is that I want it to be a low budget project that (I think) has a higher chance of actually getting produced. So the movie will be able to be made for a million bucks or less. 

With that in mind, I want to go in one of two different directions: (1) Something really bold and high-concept and attention-getting that can be done cheap, and that also maybe says something about what’s going on now — a modern-day Blair Witch Project or Scream. OR (2) Something intensely personal and “from the heart,” like Moonlight — something that isn’t necessarily “marketable,” but that could get made anyway by virtue of its authenticity and sincerity.

Here are some ideas I’ve toyed with and rejected:

Over the course of one night, a despairing middle-aged man has a passionate, but fleeting affair with a slightly “off” younger man, and they both give each other the will to keep living. Eventually, the older man realizes that the younger man is himself in an earlier timeline, and in fact, he remembers experiencing the same night twenty years earlier.

Why did I reject this? I’ve always wanted to write a “gay man falls in love with himself” story, because I think it’s truly weird and catchy, and I don’t think it’s ever been done. That said, I’m sick of time travel, and the whole thing seems sort of obvious.

Another idea:

Four friends walking through a forest at night climb up a big old tree in order to save themselves from what looks like a pack of vicious wolves. But as the night goes on, it becomes clear that they won’t be able to survive up in that tree forever — and that the creatures in the dark are something more than just wolves.

Why did I reject this? Frankly, I’m tired of the trope where the main character[s] are trapped in [some single location] by [something scary]. This is something filmmakers do a lot in order to keep costs low. Basically, this just doesn’t seem fresh or different enough.

But both these ideas do seem to be on the “high-concept” end of things, not the “personal” one, which makes me think that’s where I secretly want to go, and where this project will ultimately end up.

Oh, well, onward and upward! The “idea brainstorming” process continues…

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