Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Times They Are A Changin’

NOTE: The following was written a month after 911 happened while I was living in Manhattan.  It was written to the members of the Dallas Screenwriters Association of which I was past Vice President.  In the wake of the recent international crises such at with the Ukraine and Syria among others that have put the world on alert again, I thought it appropriate to republish. 

New York. Oct 11, 2001. In the fallout of the World Trade Center attacks there has been a conscious and unconscious change in the way we Americans look at entertainment.  Not since the Great Depression and World War II has an industry been thrust into a situation that can make it glow in the eyes of a nation.  As screenwriters we have the ability and in many respects the responsibility to guide our fellow citizens through anxious and fearful times that will define our future.  Whether it is through documentary-style realism or escapist entertainment, we can both enlighten the populous and take their minds away from the terror that fills our heads.

Here in New York, the entire communications industry – from the news organizations to the television dramas shot on the streets of Manhattan – has a distinct difference in their attitudes towards what they offer their viewers and how they do it.  As a writer in New York in the wake of what has happened, you cannot, not change.  From walking down the street and seeing posters on every lamp post and phone booths from friends and relatives of the missing to the vigils set up in parks with candles and flowers to the pictures of killed or missing fire fighters that adorn the facades of every fire house – it’s a different world than it was September 10th, 200l.

Of course, there is the welcome patriotism that has come across the nation.  But there is also a Ford F150 full of emotions, from fear to anger, that also has blanketed this country.  These emotions are swirling about like an Okie twister and it is the screenwriter who can capture them and turn them into compelling storytelling – features and TV shows that will help a nation, not just a demographic, heal and gain a sense that the future will be better.

Not that I was ever an aficionado of the big action adventure genre that has dominated theaters for the last twenty years but for the most part you can safely say that it has had its day.  Sorry Andrew Marlowe.  Americans of all ages are gong to want compelling dramas that help relate to the feelings that are dominating their lives, flat-out funny comedies and romantic comedies that can make them laugh and forget about the troubles at home and abroad.  You can bring back quality family entertainment that can put a smile on not only a child’s face but that of their parents and grandparents who try to shield their kids from all the bad stuff in the world.

So remember DSA’ers, as you sit in front of your word processors (or manual typewriters for you purists), that YOU have the power to help heal and lift a nation over this hump of terror, war and economic uncertainty.  You may find the uplifting screenplays you churn out might also help lift your own spirits.

Good luck and good writing.

Rich Burlingham
DSA Vice President (ret.)