Netflix Instant Pick: Tales from the Script

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Screenwriters have always held an aura of fascination for me. I usually have visions of them sitting in a bohemian-style studio apartment, probably in New York, puttering away on an old typewriter (typewriters hold a romanticism that computers have yet to possess). They are surrounded by pages and pages of crumpled paper littering the floor. And then finally, they stand up exalted! Call their agent, and send off their finished script knowing full well that every glorious line of delicious, witty dialogue they have concocted will make it to the silver screen.

But we know this rarely, if ever, happens. And if you didn’t know that before, then Tales from the Script will give you the brutal awakening. The film memoir (I call it a memoir because it doesn’t have the feel of a traditional documentary per say), is a collection of stories, thoughts, tips, warnings, and hilarious anecdotes from some of the industry’s best, and perhaps not so well-known writers. It’s set up in a series of chapters, that might as well be called “How to Accept Rejection,” and “How to Deal with Difficult People,” etc. It attempts to run the gamut of the entire process of producing a script, and while some chapters provide ample insight, there were others slightly lacking for me. Nothing is sugarcoated, and the job of writing screenplays is very rarely glorified by anyone. In fact, I believe it was Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver, Raging Bull) who said no one pursues a “career” in the arts unless there’s no other choice.

It’s always been the notion that artists, screenwriters included, pursue their art out of passion. There can be no other explanation as to why someone would struggle for years to make a living unless they were moved by a force greater than money. But Tales from the Script provides an interesting view into the motivations of screenwriters, and the constant battle between making money and attaining longevity, or sticking with your gut and never working again.

After watching this film, I was convinced that each and every movie is an artistic miracle. With the number of movies produced every year, it’s hard for us as viewers to really appreciate all that goes into making it. For me, the screenwriter is the unsung hero, the master made whipping boy. I say this because after a writer sells their script, they are often bullied out of the process of making their story a movie. Yes, that’s something I had to think about as well. Screenwriters don’t write movies, they write stories that are then turned into movies by filmmakers. And more times than not, a screenwriter must sit back and watch their work get torn to bits, plots altered, characters changed, lines rewritten (sometimes the entire script-by another writer!), and every decision is made with the bottom line in mind.

The central message of Tales from the Script doesn’t make itself known until the very end. Throughout the film we come to understand the screenwriter’s existence as that of a tightrope walker; you can keep your job long enough to make a living by not pissing off the wrong people, and kissing the asses of the right people. Screenwriters, and filmmakers work to make money for studios by producing movies they think people will see regardless of whether or not they are right. But at the end of the film, we are told a very touching story by one screenwriter who learned that his critical and financial flop of a movie changed the life of a woman he met at a party. In that moment, he knew he didn’t make that movie for the studio, or even for himself, he made it for her. And that was enough.

Paul Schrader, writer of Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Last Temptation of Christ

I recommend watching this film if like me you fancy yourself a wannabe screenwriter/starlet. It provides a variety of different writer experiences from people across the industry, from the seasoned Hollywood salt to the aspiring newbies. Make no mistake though, this film is a series of talking heads, and therefore if you don’t find the inner workings of Hollywood utterly fascinating, then this film isn’t for you. But, should you watch, you’ll be greeted with painful, funny, and meaningful stories that may change the course of your future in screenwriting. Can you imagine pitching a story to Steven Spielberg, over the phone, while he’s parallel parking? Or sitting at a table with Rob Reiner, and listening to Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson read lines from your script right in front of you? Ah, so that’s why they do it…

You can watch Tales from the Script here.