Jim

So You’re Dating A Screenwriter

So You’re Dating A Screenwriter
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Screenwriter (skrēn′rī″tər) – A writer of screenplays based on the constant observation, analysis, and expression of the human condition told as entertaining and intriguing stories.

Dating a screenwriter is a solemn undertaking for the non-writing partner. For most, it will prove to be a rewarding experience after you get past the cultural schisms in a screenwriter’s mindset. After all, being a screenwriter is not a vocation, it’s a purpose. A calling that cannot be ignored. They told you that on your first date at Starbucks, and you agreed to date them. Or was it the Coffee Bean? It was the one with better wi-fi and the baristas that don’t harass you to buy another coffee every hour. Screenwriters interchangeably refer to Starbucks as their “office” and Coffee Bean as their “backup office” when they can’t find a free table strong wi-fi signal at one.

Screenwriters are a peculiar bunch – telling stories, fact or fiction to entertain audiences. We don’t work nine to five. We work midnight to midnight – even while we’re sleeping. We’re always thinking about whether a person, a situation, or an idea has screenplay potential. Dating a screenwriter comes with its own set of pleasures as well as challenges.

You can never complain that your relationship will be boring or that they never pay attention to you. Sure they might disappear for a few weeks when they have a tight deadline. At least you know they’re not with anybody else. The time apart will only make your mutual fondness grow.

Your birthday’s coming up. You have no idea what they have planned. All you know is they’ve been working on it for a few months.

Photo by twinsfisch

A lesser (non-screenwriting) partner might opt for dinner and a movie or some other well-known permutation. A screenwriter partner will always think about celebrating in a way that you haven’t seen before, or at the very least, in a way you’re familiar with, with a twist. You know how it goes – same but different. They sport this motto on a t-shirt. You signed up for this so enjoy the ride.

A Month Before

Celebrate This!

A screenwriter drops film and television references and quotes into everyday conversations. They call it “dialogue.” Add this to your translator app. And you are a character rather than their partner. (Be thankful they didn’t call you an obstacle character, or even worse, a villain).

A non-screenwriting partner might take you to that special restaurant you’ve always wanted to eat at because it’s so hard to get a reservation. They might also buy you a gift – jewelry, a spa day, a weekend away, or a $200 Macy’s voucher. It’s all planned out on index cards and discussed in a writers’ room.

How might a screenwriter’s curious mind approach your birthday? They might consider a hot air balloon ride instead of the said restaurant. Then they change their mind. Hot air balloons were featured in three moderately successful movies in the past year. Back to the drawing board. Let’s put an asterisk here and make a note, “Something other than a hot air balloon.” What about a visit to Space X? Not in the budget. Is it really back to the restaurant? What kind of restaurant? Is it casual or formal? Intimate or noisy? Chain or family? It only matters if it drives the story forward and reveals character.

It’s still the “development phase” of your birthday celebrations. Your screenwriter partner becomes frustrated and takes the neighbor’s dog for a walk because they don’t have a dog. The neighbor’s used to it. They’re always willing to encourage their creativity. When they return they clean the said neighbors’ house because they’ve obsessively already cleaned their own twice that day. There are so many ways screenwriters can rearrange the furniture in their cramped apartment. The neighbor’s already factored this into their housekeeping schedule.

Writer’s Block = Clean House

The neighbor knows never to use that derisive term. It’s so… unhelpful. Scary too. “Creatively-challenged” doesn’t flow well.

Mid-way through vacuuming their neighbor’s curtains, an idea strikes. The screenwriter drops everything and pulls out their notebook. They carry it everywhere. They sometimes refer to it as “The Bible” or “Book Of Awesome Story Ideas.” They scribble furiously.

“What if the jewelry was a ring that could transport you to another dimension? Or gave you superpowers? What if the spa was a front for the mafia? What if the mud bath was a swamp that sucked you down the drain or you got locked in the flotation tank and everyone had gone home? What if the Macy’s voucher was for an unusual amount like $238? What if it was code for something? What if it you chose a murder-mystery birthday celebration theme?”

Two things here.

First – the constant use of questions beginning with “What if?” Screenwriters like to explore endless possibilities and alternate story worlds without commiting unless they absolutely have to. The first way of telling a story may not be the best.

Second – theme means something different to screenwriters. It’s not a bright color scheme with a fixed color palette or a party with a Hawaiian resort theme. It’s the central question of your relationship. The deeper meaning. It’s just a birthday! Not to a screenwriter.

Your screenwriter partner takes a few days off to recharge their batteries. You still have no idea what they’ve got planned – not even an outline. They still have to go through a bunch of conflicting feedback notes from their writer’s group before deciding which ones to use.

Happy Birthday

Your birthday has arrived. It’s 7:47 am.

You’re woken by a mysterious text from your new screenwriting partner. Did they just wake up, recharge their cell phones, or this is a clue in your potential murder mystery birthday-themed celebrations? 747 – aircraft theme. They’re not taking you to LAX for a meal are they? That doesn’t sound like fun. Are you over-thinking this? That’s your partner’s job. You sit in a lotus position and take a few calming breaths. The journey is exhilarating. Or character arc as they call it.

The text doesn’t even say “Happy Birthday”. No love heart emojis. No smoochy gifs or xxx kisses at the end. They didn’t even sign their name. You don’t even know it’s from them because it’s from a hidden number. Should you be worried? It’s not as if you can skip to the last page to find out what happens. They always talk about pacing. Your relationship isn’t a screenplay. It’s your relationship. You don’t know anymore.

Can’t they just send you a birthday card like regular people? Screenwriters are not regular people. So NO! If you predictably wanted a card every year, you shouldn’t have dated a screenwriter.

Then another text comes through. “Meet me at mine in 62 mins.” An hour’s close enough.

Should you Uber to your partner’s place to see what they’ve got planned for your birthday? Actually, you can’t just Uber. How do you Uber? Do you ask the driver to speed, take side streets, or take the road with less traffic? Which mode of transportation is most authentic for your character? You’re even starting to think like them now. You question everything!

You arrive, press the entrance buzzer and enter (in anticipation). “In anticipation” is in parentheses because it will replaced – nobody likes over-writing.

You knock on their door. No answer. You knock again. Nothing.

You check your phone for updates. Maybe you have to meet them somewhere. Nope. Maybe “Mine” is the name of a hot new downtown cafe where you can buy a dozen kinds of coffee except for a regular Americano? You Google it. Nothing. You knock again.

After an eery beat, the front opens automatically. You cautiously enter and yell, “Hello.” They respond from the other room, “I just got out of the shower. Be right out” How did the door open? You remember the weird app on their iPhone 5.

Photo by Will H McMahan

You spot a messy grid of index cards and post-it notes on the wall. You read some hastily scrawled notes – What does the main character want? What are the emotional beats? What are the stakes? Is this a ‘Save The Cat’ moment?

Screenwriters have their own language more complex than Klingon or Dothraki. You’re not sure what cats have to do with screenwriting, but hey… you’re going out to breakfast.

Your partner pops out into the living room and exclaims, “Act One” followed by a good morning/ birthday hug/kiss all rolled into one. “Wouldn’t Happy Birthday” be more appropriate you ask?  Then they expand on the concept of “on the nose” dialogue. You were expecting them to say “Happy Birthday” so they subverted your expectations. They also remind you of the importance of showing rather than telling. They’ve told you before.

Screenplays are a visual medium and dialogue should be kept to a minimum. You challenge them by asking how does the audience know it’s your birthday if there’s no birthday card or other mention of it. Audiences may not know what “Act One” means and you don’t want to confuse them. Set the scene and move on.

Good point. They concede and add “Happy Birthday” into their screenplay (Sorry, conversation. Sorry dialogue). Who knew screenwriting could be so complicated? They add some additional dialogue, “Let’s go. I’ve got a big day planned to celebrate our three month anniversary. I love you so much. You mean the world to me.” They frown and shorten it to, “Let’s go.”

They grab their notebook and their laptop and stuff them into their satchel. “Laptop? Seriously?”

“You never know when inspiration might strike,” they defend themselves.

“Okay, that’s it! The laptop or me!!! ”

An argument ensues. They relish the moment. An argument is conflict and conflict is character. And character is story.

Arghhhhhh!

You agree on calling it a plot reversal. They seem a little offended. Misunderstood. It’s more of plot twist than a reversal.

Silent tension cuts the air. You finally break and demand to know where you’re going for breakfast. They gleefully inform you they haven’t planned anything. You’re staying in now. It’s a screenwriter’s prerogative to change their mind.

What?

They’re in the mood for Netflix and chill now.

WHAAAAT??? Is that code for something?

You threaten to disconnect their Netflix viewing privileges. Hulu and Amazon too. Drastic times. Drastic measures.

Your partner smiles and asks if that argument/conflict/ plot twist (let’s call it a complication now) was an authentic emotional experience? Are they messing with you? They ask why you reacted like that. What’s the subtext of the argument? Do you feel under-appreciated? Do you feel that the screenplay is the third person in your relationship and you’re always jostling for attention?

You smile. They do understand you in their own way.

Was the conflict resolved in a satisfactory manner?

What are they talking about? Nothing’s been resolved yet. You’re still mid-argument. Maybe you should date that accountant your friends keep telling you about? They earn six figures and live in a swank house. And they pay their bills on time. At least you won’t be competing with a laptop. Now you’re raising the stakes. You have to find a way to make them jealous.

They smile again. They reveal you’re going to Skyhigh – that revolving restaurant on the fiftieth floor of a skyscraper with 360-degree panoramic views of the city. If you don’t stop complaining, you’ll be late.

Now the significance of  the 7:47 text becomes clear.

They grab their satchel as you say, “Fade Out.” You exit the apartment. (nice the short description)

Maybe some Hulu and chill later? Is that even a thing?

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