Sunday, May 16

Screenwriter Café Culture

Janelle Brown talks about screenwriter café culture in this New York Times article. Screenwriters are the oddly homeless architects of Hollywood. Their scripts are the foundations of movies, and yet they can’t afford to pay rent on a shoebox office. And since writing is a solitary job which requires long hours of sitting in a quiet place, and yet too much quietness can drive you, as one writer says, “stir crazy.” You want to be alone, and yet not that alone. So you go to a café, a diner, a restaurant with many electric sockets where you can plug your laptop and pound away—without people peeking over your shoulder. That’s just one rule of this café writing culture: don’t peek at another writer’s work. Then you shouldn’t also unplug their laptops, talk on your mobile about movie deals, don’t ask them what they’re working on—that sort of thing.

There’s this bit about how diners and coffee shops in Los Angeles are over run with out of work screenwriters. The person who serves coffee, the dishwasher—everyone has a screenplay stashed in somewhere, everyone wants to be a screenwriter. It’s gotten so that one café owner blurts that in L.A., “you can’t throw a rock without hitting a screenwriter.”

The entire episode reminds me of this quirky Will Self short story, “The History of the English Novel,” where two people traverse London restaurants and they are assaulted by waiters who aren’t really waiters. They’re all novelists and writers who work on a meantime job before they cinch that 6-figure advance and publish the “Great English Novel.” If the Writers Guild of America registered 50,000 scripts in the last year alone, just how many people are there laboring in their off hours, pounding away until they produce the next great film classic? And how many people are there in the Philippines who dream of writing that will actually be published or produced?

A whole lot of scripts (and books, probably) are written in this kind of space. I don’t know if the same set up will work in Manila, where the screenwriter caucus will most probably fall in the Tomas Morato-Timog Avenue area. Where I come from, not all writers are equipped with laptops, and the majority still prefers to slave it out in their own dungeons at home. But here and there, we see smatterings of people gathering around laptop screens; the occasional book reader curled up in a corner. The coffee shop is still for lounging around and meeting friends. Not surprising at all for a country that doesn’t really read, do watch some movies, but would prefer the spectacles offered by Hollywood, and brewed by waiter-slash-writers in coffeeshops all over L.A.

Read the NYTimes article here. Registration required

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