Vision? What vision?

In the comments of the last post, Eleanor asked:

So what does a writer’s vision actually look like? … you’ve mentioned a few of these now. — Yeah, big piles of dosh, but what do the producers actually want to see from the writer? Tell us, tell us, tell us!?

 Hmm …

So what does a writer’s vision actually look like?

A piece of paper with some black ink marks on it. If you’re lucky the ink marks make readable words, if  you’re really lucky the words are in the right order to make some kind of sense.

… you’ve mentioned a few of these now.

Yes, I repeat myself a lot. It’s to cover the fact I have nothing interesting to say.

— Yeah, big piles of dosh,

Sadly, no. Little piles, clumps perhaps, is more realistic. Big piles are but a fantastic dream.

but what do the producers actually want to see from the writer?

Producers want to see you lying in a pool of your own excrement, a broken psychological mess with bleeding stumps where once were fingers from slavishly actioning their increasingly bizarre and inane script notes. Producers are evil. They kick puppies.

Tell us, tell us, tell us!?

 Alright, alright, alright!!

The truth is, I’m not really sure. When I was first asked for one I queried the producer in question since I had no idea what I was supposed to write. His reply was:

Writer’s Vision – what story/message they hope to be told with their script. Their inspiration/motivation for writing it (yes, I know, I begged you to write it within 9 days – no need to mention this, because I’m sure I’d edit it … )

And he included a sales pack for a film as an example.

Not a very good example as it turned out because the words ‘Writer’s vision’ didn’t appear anywhere in the document. When I mentioned this to him he said he knew that and pointedly didn’t offer any further information.

So, what the hell is a writer’s vision?

Well, I can only tell you the two I’ve written have been accepted and approved, so whereas I’ve still never seen anyone else’s I know how I do them. Unfortunately, I can’t show you them because the films haven’t been made/released yet but I’ll have a go at describing what I did.

First up, I figured since it’s going in the sales pack it needs to be short (ish). A paragraph or two, definitely no longer than one side of A4. So mine are just a single page, title of the film and WRITER’S VISION written at the top and a few paragraphs of text underneath. The thing to remember is the text is going to be lifted and printed in the pack, so there’s no point trying to make it look pretty because it won’t be your formatting in the final version.

My first attempt talked about how the characters reflect, and are affected by, the theme. Plus a bit of generalisation about how people generally behave in similar ways. This draft was rejected because it was too cold and didn’t feature enough of ‘me’ in it. Assuming they didn’t want it written in blood (or other bodily fluids) I had another go.

The second draft related the theme to instances from my own life and how they had affected me and my friends. I talked about the mistakes my (mostly fictional) friends and I have made in our lives and how I hoped dramatising them might give other people pause for thought.

Which seemed to do the trick.

For this latest writer’s vision I’ve followed much the same format. It starts with an explicit statement about the theme – basically a logline which describes what the movie’s about rather than what actually happens. So whereas the logline might be:

“LOCK IN: A man trapped in a pub overnight comes to terms with the damage his alcoholism has caused his friends and family.”

(Which is a film I’d probably never write unless the pub was in space or there was a danger giant killer robots might attack at any moment.)

The theme statement might be:

“LOCK IN is about the way we conform to societal expectations of substance abuse and the bizarre notion ‘fun’ isn’t something you have, it’s something you buy in bottles.”

Then I’d describe why I thought exploring this idea was important, what I hope the audience will gain from the film (which for me is always entertainment first, thinking second – the thinking shouldn’t kick in until about an hour afterwards. Probably in the pub) and an example from my life of how the theme has affected me or someone close to me.

(Like friends refusing to come to the pub because they couldn’t afford to get drunk. I’d offer to buy them a drink, but that wasn’t enough for them, they had to get DRUNK or it was pointless – making me wonder what the hell goes wrong with your life that you can’t face your friends when you’re sober? It’s not the music, it’s not the location, the company or the atmosphere – the point of going out is solely to get drunk and if they can’t do that they’d rather sit in the house on their own.)

Next I’d relate the main character to the theme and explain how his journey represents the spiritual journey of all something somethings … I don’t fucking know. I’d make some shit up about him reflecting the binge drinking culture or something.

I’d wrap it up with another statement about what the film is and the message it carries:

“Alcoholism is rife because it’s the only drug which is not only socially acceptable but is actually socially EXPECTED. If you don’t take heroin, cocaine, speed, acid, hash or ketamine – no one thinks any less of you (depending on who you hang out with). Don’t smoke? “Good choice, I’ve been thinking of giving up myself.” Don’t drink? “Why? What’s wrong with you?” It’s the only drug you have to justify not taking and I want to make a film which … blah, blah, blah”

And then finish it all off with some punchy tagline:

“LOCK IN – every man’s dream is this man’s nightmare.”

But something good, for a script I’ve actually written and which actually makes sense.

And … yeah, that’s about it. That’s how I write my writer’s visions (all two of them) … hope it’s useful.

Categories: My Way, Random Witterings | 6 Comments

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6 thoughts on “Vision? What vision?

  1. I had to do a writer’s vision before when the producer who optioned my script was submitting it to the Irish Film Board. It had to lay out my intentions for the next draft. Which I found very confusing at the time.

  2. I’d have said:

    My vision is of a producer who recignises sheer fucking genius when he sees it and a film board who just give me the fucking money because there’s no way in hell I am changing one fucking word of this masterpiece … except possibly changing the name of the main character from Steve to Zandor the Unmissible.

    That would have done it.

  3. Darren

    I’m trying to work out why the ‘writer’s vision’ is important. Surely his or her ‘vision’ is in the script… in the story? Or have I missed the point here?

  4. Very useful! Thanks, Phill! 🙂

  5. Darren: you’re assuming the distributor or investor has the time and inclination to read the script. Believe it or not some people find scripts boring and/or non-sensical. In fact, money’s sometimes much more likely to be handed over if you approach an investor and say I want to make a movie about x starring x, this is my track record, this is how much money I can make you. The investor is unlikely to know whether or not a script is good and may have no idea how a script translates into a film, but everyone knows whether or not they like the sound of the story.

    Or something like that.

    Or it may simply be a case of reading a hundred sales packs before finding the ten scripts you want to read – in which case the writer’s vision can help the script make the grade.

    Or the script may not have reached its full potential yet but investment has to be secured now so it can film at a certain date before the lead actor moves onto another project. A vision of what the script will ultimately be about is sometimes more useful than a first draft which still needs those elements bringing out.

    I could probably think of some more reasons if I knew more about the business side of things. But I don’t.

  6. Darren

    Thanks for the explanation, Phil. I was, indeed, under that assumption.

    I’m still a little confused with the terminology too, I think; writer’s vision, logline, synopsis, treatment… it’s almost as if the industry requires more words ABOUT the script than is contained in the script itself.

    OK, that last bit is pure sarcasm (and probably not true unless it’s a short)… but you get what I mean.

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