Give it up girl: Writerly advice on creative control

It’s always interesting when my worlds collide as a writer and actor.

A while ago I auditioned for an independent film that, really, sounded like a fantastic project. The story concept was novel and sharp, the characters were relatable but not cliche, and a surfeit of zombie killing was inevitable. I was thrilled.

I went to the audition, submitted my headshot and information, and was handed sides to go over for the read. But the script I was given wasn’t full of zombie-killing awesomeness. It was a scene from “Pretty Woman”. I was confused… and slightly nauseated. When I asked the casting assistant what was up, she gave me a loaded look and shrugged.

Actor hat on. I dug in, read, and felt pretty good about it. The next day the director called me and said I was being considered for the female lead, and would I meet him for a second read. I said yes of course, and asked if he wanted to send me sides to prepare. He said no, because he trusted no one with his script, not even his sister, and that I’d be required to sign an NDA to even look at the script in person. Long story short, you won’t be seeing me killing zombies any time in the near future. Sad, but true.

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Here’s the thing. As a writer, your words go out into the world, where you can’t protect them. They run around and party with bad words, misspelled words, and words that make no sense. You can’t shield them from corruption or abuse. Hollywood knows this, Silicon Valley knows this, hell, TMZ knows this. Yes you have implicit copyright, but creative control is hard to wrangle when you’re blasting buckets of text into the internets. I’d hazard to guess it’s pretty much impossible. Just like photography… (and if you know me you know why I say this), the copy/paste option can create a lot of conversation in a model’s life. At some point, you just have to stop thinking about it. It’s out there. Deal.

Writing is an art, and like many artistic endeavors, it’s highly collaborative. Yes you can create art alone… I’m not saying you can’t or that it doesn’t happen. When I start a project it’s usually when I’m alone. Most artists I personally know do start working on their own. But it can get lonely sometimes, and you can get a little bit of what scuba divers call “rapture of the deep”. You lose perspective on a piece and forget which way is up. Aside from perspective, a lot of projects simply require collaboration. Directors use actors, assistants, makeup, hair, and wardrobe people, DPs, grips. Painters use models, other painters, muses. And even the solo, curmudgeon-y writer has editors, publishing house readers, proofreaders, and yes… even a boss sometimes. We have to trust each other and work together, knowing that the end result might not match precisely what is in our minds’ eyes, but that together, for all of us, the vision should be something we’re all pretty happy with.

A willingness to share is risky, no doubt, but in the end, it’s part of why you’re making art in the first place. To share.

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1 Comment

Filed under Arts and Letters, Writers on Writing

One response to “Give it up girl: Writerly advice on creative control

  1. Julia Sherman

    Hi Cyndi,
    Copyright applied for: this used to be the first thing to hit the eye of any prospective publisher receiving a manuscript. But it’s insulting and signing a secrecy agreement is beyond insulting.