some thoughts on The One I Love

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It’s a fairly common occurrence for me that a young talent will come to me and ask me how to break into the biz. Since I’ve made several movies, make my living as a full-time writer and still don’t know “how to break into the biz,” I’m never sure what to say.

I do know this: it’s hard to get a movie made. The maze an idea has to go through from idea to multiplex is so long, so convoluted and so fraught with peril, that almost no ideas whatsoever make it all the way. The multiplex hit is a property designed from the top down, the corporation that owns the studio says “We need to see X amount of profit, or you’re out of business.” The studio then says “We need to take zero risks in our release schedule, we can only make huge movies that will play well internationally and will bring in lots of money through ancillaries for a long long time.”

So, if you’re a young talent and you’re expecting to “break into the biz,” the odds are stacked hugely against you. The studio is giving the jobs that matter to people who have already proven themselves to be talented filmmakers.

And so, the thing I say to the young talent who wants to break into the biz is: “Make your own work.” No one is going to give you a job writing or directing a movie; write and direct the movie yourself.

It’s never been easier. Cameras are dirt cheap, computer memory even cheaper, and your phone probably has an editing program more sophisticated than AVID. And the internet is right there, demanding to be fed content every day, 24 hours a day.

If you’d like an example of the perfect movie to make, go see The One I Love. It has one location, two actors, and a lovely corkscrew of an idea that means that the one-location, two-actor movie doesn’t feel like a play. It’s a movie, and it could only be a movie.

I’m glad that The One I Love has the production values it does, but whatever its budget was, it could have been lower. It could have been nothing. The script could have been shot with a consumer-level camera in a single apartment. The movie is in the idea. Because the idea is so strong, the script could have withstood almost any production values at all and would still have worked narratively and dramatically.

Point is, production values are nice and all, but the first thing you need is a great idea that gives rise to a great script. Stick to those things and you don’t need car chases, alien invasions, “great cinematography” or anything else, you’ll be on your way. And you don’t have to shoot it in a house, just about everyone has a unique location available to them. If you have a boat, write a movie that takes place on a boat. If you have an RV, make a movie that takes place in an RV. If you have an abandoned castle nearby, use that. The movie Killing Zoe got made because the producer had access to an abandoned bank that was about to be demolished, so he asked Roger Avery to write a movie that takes place in a bank.

Use what ever is around you, and use your lack of funds to your advantage. Start with an idea, write a movie that’s simple to shoot, and shoot it. Then you’ll have a movie people can see, and if you’ve done your job you won’t need to break into the biz, the biz will come looking for you.



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7 Responses to “some thoughts on The One I Love
  1. Because the idea is so strong, the script could have withstood almost any production values at all and would still have worked narratively and dramatically.

    This reminds me of the comment I’ve made about old movies. I am not generally a fan of classic Hollywood — among other things, my favored genres are the ones it generally didn’t do so well until recently — but the ones I like? Those are the ones whose great strength is their script above all. Forget costumes and sets and to some extent even the acting; those things age, as the styles of yesteryear become passe. Words, I think, withstand the passage of time better than anything else; their beauty can still be appreciated even if their style is not that of today.

    But then, I’m a writer. I would think that. 🙂

    Apropos of nothing at all: when I opened up Feedly to see what new posts there were, I got these three headlines:

    “some thoughts on The One I Love”

    “True Budo Is a Work of Love”

    “19th c. vibrator: sold! 11th c. Viking sword: no takers”

    . . . yeah, I’m just going to let those lines sit there. 🙂 (And hope your spam trap doesn’t eat this comment for the third one.)

  2. AcademicLurker says:

    Here’s a random “biz” related question from an outsider.

    From reading your blog and bits gleaned from other sources, it seems like a big part of a screenwriter’s life involves pitching scripts and ideas that don’t get made or, most of the time, even get close to being made. My question is, how do screenwriters actually make a living? How many stages of payment are there along the road to “film in production”?

    I guess the obvious answer to the making a living question is “have a day job”, but I’m curious what the other options are.

    • Todd says:

      The short answer is, “Have a million ideas.” For every idea that I’ve been paid to write, I’ve probably had twenty-five that I haven’t been paid to write. At any given time, there are at least ten different projects I’m pursuing at different levels of commitment. And it’s always been like that. When I meet people who have one dream project, a single script that they’re spending years finishing, all I can do is wish them good luck, because having one dream project is a really bad business plan for a screenwriter.

      Obviously, it helps to be independently wealthy, which is why a lot of our most successful writers and directors and actors come from money. It’s not just the nepotism in show business, it’s that people with an automatic income can work harder earlier in their careers at the jobs no one wants.

      I once was casting a feature where I was looking for an actress to play an 18-year-old. Every one of the actresses I saw for the role had been working longer in show business than I had; a lot of them had started when they were still toddlers. Many of them were second-or-third-or-fourth-generation Hollywood kids, people for whom acting was just “joining the family business.”