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Confessions of a Screenwriter, Preface: The ‘Why’

August 8th, 2007 | 2 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

I like writing. Fiction, non-fiction, lyrics and verse, whatever, it’s all good. Some of my heroes in history were writers, (though some were not, notably Jesus and Socrates) and I have found myself desirous and verbally able to begin an apprenticeship of admiration and imitation of their writings, and experimentation with my own.

Movies are the new narrative medium. (Does anyone doubt it?) Nothing will ever replace books, I am sure, partly because of the Holy Books that form the idealogical (and narrative) center of such world religions as Judaism, Islam, all forms of Christianity and (to a lesser degree) Hinduism and Buddhism, and partly because all forms of literature, especially narratives, are “built” out of words alone, and, as Plato pointed out, words are the most malleable of media, more flexible than clay, paint, or stone. Images are more vivid than words, but, at the same time (and for the same reason) more limited.

Film is the quintessentially Modern Medium. 1. It employs images as well as words (as well as music etc.), making it accessible to any audience, literate/illiterate, educated/uneducated, old/young, North American/European and so on. 2. It relies entirely on Modern technology. 3. It is a “preserved” art form but has all of the virtues of theater. It is to live performance what books are to live lectures. 4. In its most successful iteration thus far, the movie-producing organism that is Hollywood, it is ruthlessly capitalistic and profit-driven. (Filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky do exist, whose projects were often funded by Russian government art programs rather than studio investment dollars and consumer sales, but they are no longer common.) Film-making has also (largely) been blissfully ignorant of the great narrative traditions that have come before it, both oral and literary. The Iliad is condensed into a 163 minute “epic” war movie, featuring some of today’s hottest stars, that ends up “borrowing loosely” from Homer rather than “translating him to the Big Screen.” Virgil has yet to be touched, to my knowledge. I have heard rumours of a Dante picture in the works, but who knows. Ovid, Lucan, Aeschylus, Sophecles, are as distant from the modern film studio as they are from the modern mind. Even though some of the Classic Story-lines have been successfully translated into film and successfully re-told as such, movie-making remains an exciting opportunity to tell new story-lines, in a new style, with new themes, characters, and underlying messages. If America was the Land of Oppurtunity, Film is the Art of Opportunity.

For the two proceeding reasons, I like writing and I like the new theatrical medium, I made the only logical decision I could make: I decided to write a screenplay.