Last week, after a playwriting class that did not go particularly well, I got to thinking about all of the scripts I’ve written in my young career. I’ve made peace with the fact that I’m currently better at prose than scripts, but I still wanted to figure out why some of them work better than others.
As of now, I’ve written one movie, four TV pilots, a full-length play, six one-act plays, and a webseries. And the only one that could possibly be considered compelling is the webseries. Which I suppose is a good sign, because that’s the most recent thing I’ve worked on. But statistically speaking, that’s still not a fantastic track record. So what did I screw up on previously that I avoided this time around?
As I so love to mention, Ratio, my new webseries, is a sitcom about political partisanship. It follows six insufferable young pundits with diametrically opposed views, who find their companies purchased by the same conglomerate and are forced to share an office. It’s simultaneously a love letter to and an indictment of the way Twitter affects politics. A Twitter addict myself, I can confirm that the site allows us to follow news with more speed than ever before, and it helps expose us to the hilarious everyday details that make politics fun. But it’s also rendered civil discussion impossible, and elevates even the smallest arguments to apocalyptic proportions. I have a very complicated relationship with the service, but can’t tear myself away from it.
So Ratio was clearly written from a place of passion and personal experience, but my connection to the script goes deeper than that. I like to tell people that the politics in the script are just allegories for bigger problems with the way we live our lives. I’ve personally come to the conclusion that obsessing over politics, especially at the federal level, is a total waste of time. There are countless other ways to make a much more meaningful impact on the world, and caring too much about election results is one of the fastest ways to become an unhappy person. I’ve noticed that the times in my life when I felt the least personal and professional fulfillment were the times when I obsessed over politics the most. And as my life got better, I stopped caring about everyday news cycles, and felt my happiness increase exponentially. This is an idea that I feel we don’t hear nearly enough these days, and it was on my mind as I wrote every page.
All this to say that Ratio is my best script because it’s my only work that actually has something to say. I had a message I was passionate about, and I let the story follow. Which is ironic, because I typically hate writing that has any kind of political message. When I discuss classical scripts in my drama classes, I always reject New Historicism in favor of Aestheticism. I prefer art that exists in its own vacuum, rather than trying to comment on current events. But I realized that there’s a difference between staying out of current events and having nothing to say.
While Ratio has a plot that depends on current events, its message is still apolitical and evergreen. But unlike my other scripts, it actually says something, which is a good start. It made me think about some of my other favorite movies, ones that I previously thought had no message whatsoever. Even the most escapist films have some underlying point of view. It can be as simple as saying the message of Rounders is that poker is cooler than people think. When you think of it like that, my weakness becomes clear. I was writing scripts without any point of view, and once I added one, they got better.
When given the choice of doing something meaningful or meaningless, something personal or something impersonal, the choice is pretty clear. Adding meaning not only makes work more fun, but the resulting end product is often better.