Not that I'm in the same league, sport, country, continent, planet, or star system as Charlie Kaufman, but a couple of weeks ago I saw his play "Hope Leaves the Theater" at Royce Hall, performed by Hope Davis, Peter Dinklage, and Meryl Streep. I can't remember it, alas, but about halfway through there was a line that made me crack up, and virtually no one else laughed.
It occurred to me at the time that Kaufman probably thought it was hilarious too, and yet somehow I was one of, like, four people who thought it was funny. Like it was an in-joke that only screenwriters would get. Wait, I'm a screenwriter? Since when?
On a Sunday in March 2004 I was pacing on the front steps of a house in the hills north of Salinas. My wife and I had driven up that morning to attend her best friend's wedding shower. I, knowing virtually no one there, eventually retreated to the porch. Then my cellphone rang. My cousin Richard, the aspiring actor, who moved back to L.A. from his teenage years in exile in Grass Valley. He wanted to know about writing. He and two friends had decided that waiting around for people to cast you basically sucks, and wanted to take matters into their own hands.
I gave him some advice about writing -- what little I knew at the time, not that I know much now -- and eventually agreed to write something myself. A short film, about ten pages. I ended up directing it.
Then I wrote another one. One of the other guys directed it. He also directed the next one I wrote. Richard directed the fourth one.
So I technically have four produced screenplays. However none of them is longer than about ten minutes. My grand total of things written is four short films and five feature screenplays. Charlie Kaufman probably comes up with and discards more pages of material during any given urination.
But that's okay; everyone has to start somewhere. Now that I've had at least one "screenplay" made into a "movie" that probably about 50 people have seen, am I a screenwriter? Everyone's told me how much they like it. I assume they're all lying politely, because who wants to tell someone to their face that their work sucks?
I'll agree that I've written a good screenplay when someone pays me money for it. Not until. From one point of view, whether or not you are a good screenwriter, or you've written a good screenplay, is an irrelevant game of semantics. All that matters is whether they will pay me money for it or not... right?