The somewhat bleak tone of the previous post elicited a perfectly reasonable question in the comments:
"John, what's the appeal of being a screenwriter as opposed to a print fiction writer? If the two are evenly matched for difficulty (in breaking in, in making a living at it, etc.), it seems like the novelist has much more autonomy and creative control. Does anything that makes it to screen ever approximate your vision of it? Doesn't it bug you to have to work with so many other people just to come up with a script, and then you hand it off to so many other people to do with it whatever they will?"
Heck yeah. I believe it's in the second chapter of Adventures in the Screen Trade where William Goldman explains that screenwriting is the only art where you will never, NEVER see your idea expressed as you wish. And that will, eventually, drive you insane.
But as Andy Cosby said, we write movies because we love movies. We love those pictures up on that big screen (or on the little glowing one in your living room). We love how they make us feel, and we want to be a part of it, want to help other people feel the same way. We don't wind up in this craft because we wanted to be writers, went down the list of options and arrived at "Screenwriter". Whatever little itch that's scratched when a novelist gets a piece of writing just perfect, that little itch that makes you chase your art, we get that itch scratched in other ways.
I remember the first time, in a Cosby script, I typed "EXT. ROOF". Showed up on the Tuesday, walked onto the soundstage --- and there it was. They'd built the roof of the house. Full-scale, sitting there on the soudstage. Bill Cosby as walking around on the roof, looking off into the fake Queens horizon. I can no more explain the little spike of pleasure I received from that moment than an addict can explain the nuances of his heroin ride.
The times an actor's found something in a line or character, something which expands on your idea of who this person is ... or makes a choice to express this character in a way which is far more illuminating than anything you thought of ... that's when the idea of a collaborative writing art pays off. Michelle Forbes told me what (in her mind) Miranda Zero did at the end of each day, and it was quantum levels more interesting than anything I could have come up with. But then you build on that, back and forth, forging something new and delightfully unexpected.
I'm a screenwriter instead of a prose writer for the same reasons my friend Lisa spent 15 years of her life studying violin instead of tuba. That's her instrument for her art. I love writing with the intent that actors will eventually speak these lines, with the nine thousand layers of execution, sub/meta/ur-text and intent inherent in that knowledge. I love writing a good action line -- one of the reasons I get a decent amount of work, I'm convinced, is that I spend a fair amount of time on the prose style of my scripts. I love solving a problem within the structure of the screenplay, much as a poet finds both limitation and freedom within the structure of a sonnet. I love discovering that little telling moment, made even more so because I'm anticipating how an actor will deliver it or a director will shoot it. I love writing a joke that will only work when spoken aloud. I know, because I've felt, the difference in effect between reading a description of something and the chest-punch of seeing it on screen while lost in the emotionally open, hypnogogic alpha-wave state of viewing images. I love sweep and scale, I love imagining these images and vistas up on the big screen ...
I suppose, what it boils down to is that I love the way good film or television makes me feel, and I want to be part of that. I want to try to master the process of evoking those emotions, telling those stories -- frankly it comes down to the root of all storytelling regardless of form: I want to somehow touch the inner minds of strangers. Add it all up, and somehow it worked out screenwriting was the way for me to do that.
One of the few things I still use from my Catholic school education are the ideas of vocation and avocation. Your vocation is your calling, your avocation is what you do for a living. They don't necessarily have to be the same thing (and often aren't). What I'm cautioning beginner writers about in the previous post is that, just like them, I know that writing is a vocation. But you cannot, must not forget that it is also an avocation, and that we must carry our skills from the real world, our practicality, our work ethic into our calling.