I may risk going off on a tangent here (no change there then), but it suddenly occurred to me the other day that the one area of creative endeavour seemingly uninfected by the virus of celebrity is the screenplay. Sure, there are celebrity screenwriters, but they tend to be people who are first and foremost writers, and not celebrities double or triple-hyphenating their way across from other branches of the media and/or creative arts.
The cult of celebrity in the publishing trade is well known, to the extent that the use of ghostwriters is now commonplace – Naomi Campbell is reported as stating that she has never read the novel that has her name on the cover (Black Swan), and it’s obvious that all of Jordan’s ‘novels’ have been ghosted (by Rebecca Farnworth just in case you were wondering). For the most part, the name on the cover acts as a marketing hook – the celebrity functions as a brand name that can be utilised to sell anything from perfume to fitness DVDs to underwear and, of course, novels.
So why doesn’t the same exist in the world of screenwriting? Or, perhaps more to the point: should it?
Of course the economic model of filmmaking is entirely different from that of the mass market publishing industry, where the mantra is ‘pile ‘em high and sell ‘em cheap’. However, it does seem a little odd (to me at least) how screenwriting hasn’t necessarily been ‘contaminated’ by celebrity in quite the same way that the publishing industry has.
That said, not so long ago it seemed that wherever you looked, some celebrity somewhere was penning a screenplay: Toby Anstis, David Emmanuel (well, maybe ‘celebrity’ is too strong a word, but you get the idea) – you name ‘em, they were all hitting the keyboard in the belief that it was the one surefire way to fame and riches. And you know what? Good luck to ‘em. Far be it for me to dictate how Toby Anstis spends his time, just so long as he’s not clogging up the airwaves with more bottom feeding reality shows.
However, Toby Anstis aside, perhaps the collision of screenplay and celebrity is a marketing tool worth exploring by aspiring and established screenwriters alike (I’m not entirely sure if I’m being sarcastic or not here, so bear with me).
A screenplay is a blueprint – of course it can function as a commodity, but unlike a novel, it isn’t a ‘reader friendly' format. However, if there are celebrities out there who are convinced that their screenwriting talents are going to bear fruit, perhaps it should fall to the screenwriting community to ‘assist’ them in their endeavours? After all, a screenplay with the name of a well-known celebrity on the front page would no doubt generate a certain degree of interest (depending on who the celebrity was, of course). So what if the words inside aren’t written by that celebrity? If the name on the front helps that screenplay gain attention, then surely that’s a good thing – right? Also, as and when that commodity is sold, the celebrity screenwriter could then be used as that all important ‘marketing hook’ to provide ongoing publicity for the production up until its release.
The most important thing from my own point of view is that this would almost certainly open up a new (if somewhat limited) market for spec screenplays. So, rather than Toby Anstis slaving away over a hot keyboard, his agent could simply shake hands with a ‘ghost screenwriter’ and have a product ready to hit the market that afternoon (maybe Toby Anstis is the wrong example: think Robbie Williams, Anthony Kiedis, Victoria Beckham, Katie Price).
Also, wouldn’t the whole concept of ‘packaging’ become a little more fun? Rather than trying to excite interest in a screenplay with the name of an actor attached, why not just attach the name of a celebrity as the writer? It could work. That said, knowing my luck, I’d probably end up with the Cheeky Girls or Michelle (‘How low can you go?’) Bass, thereby guaranteeing a slow, embarrassment laden death on cable TV.
That said, perhaps I am being sarcastic (but maybe just a little bit).