More than ever, it's critical for screenwriters to branch out and create stories in all types of writing mediums. Jay Thornton, one half of the writing team Them Thorntons, shares the journey he and his brother Chris have taken from screenwriting to novels to audioplays.
Let’s get one thing straight, before we start: I don’t know shit.
I’m no expert on finding and cornering an audience as a writer—so don’t expect to come away from this with some newfound arcane knowledge. It’s not in a demagogic but pioneering spirit that I write this. I aim not to educate, but to (hopefully) inspire.
I am, along with my brother Chris, a screenwriter by trade. No, you haven’t seen any of our films or television shows (yet)... we’re those faceless folks grinding along in the trenches, the ones who so often slip through the cracks. We’ve placed in screenwriting contests, made some of those “best of” annual spec script lists, secured a manager and top agents, written for movie stars, been flown to Europe to break stories with directors, adapted novels for producers who owned film rights, optioned original TV shows to disgraced Oscar-winning powerhouse producers and even scored a dope development deal on another original show we’ll be pitching networks soon. We’re in the Writer’s Guild and by most accounts, to the aspiring storyteller, doing okay. We’re on our way.
Except that whole “no, you haven’t seen any of our work yet,” thing leaves a really bad taste in our mouths.
Maybe you love and admire Emily Dickinson and you’re super-cool with dying alone surrounded by your bundles of secretly scrawled soliloquies—but that ain’t us. Call us attention-starved, but Chris and I got into this storytelling racket in the first place to entertain (as you hopefully did too, fellow storyteller—if not, kindly let me know so I can avoid your work in the future). And, until you and your reps and the creative executives and producers who passionately champion your work can collectively shoulder that gravity-of-a-thousand-suns boulder up and over the hill… you will, as we have, toil in obscurity as a screenwriter.
It is thus we find ourselves, even with the success we’ve had, feeling quite unfulfilled. We realized along the way—though we are finally deep into post-production on our first feature film, a psychotic little micro-budget horror/thriller called Cactus Jack—that it’s not the singular high of getting a film or show made and distributed that we seek. We don’t crave fame, or fortune. It’s much more innocent than that, rest assured: we crave the simple satisfaction of entertaining an audience, of captivating imaginations around a campfire. Of spinning yarns for eager eyes and ears as our literary and filmmaking heroes had before us.
Spurred on by that desire, over the last couple of years we have struck out to find our audience. No longer will we only throw ourselves at the mercy of Hollywood gatekeepers. We will, as technology allows all of us to now do, put our stories out into the world. We will “build it,” with the faith—or at least hope—that “they will come.” We have clandestinely penned novels and quietly self-published them on Amazon, to stellar if scant reviews. Though those who have read them have genuinely loved them (mostly, ha!—can’t please everyone and our motto is “like it or don’t”), we’ve put little to no marketing push into the books yet and are admittedly still wondering and researching how best to go about that. We’ve published novels, stories, and even a book of poems on Wattpad, where readers can unearth and enjoy them for free. And today we’re launching a YouTube channel where we’ll be posting text-tandem audioplays across all manner of genres (starting with a deliciously deviant post-apocalyptic thriller called The River that’s narrated by our ultra-talented lead actor in Cactus Jack, R. Michael Gull).
Our philosophy—or grand experiment if you will—is to hustle to be as prolific as we can in creating high-quality works across a myriad of storytelling mediums, and build a catalogue of content that can be discovered at any time, by anyone… in the hope that at some point these small sparks might lead to a fire. Maybe they never will. Who knows? Maybe they’ll remain embers, forever unnoticed and smoldering in the dark. But at least they will be out there, in the wild, waiting to be stumbled upon and appreciated by someone. Maybe even by you.
As a consumer of stories myself and someone who knows just how often boundless talent tragically gets shackled in the system or even by one’s own insecurity, I encourage you all to do the same. Take your cracks at scaling the walls of Hollywood and the traditional publishing paradigm, by all means.... but don’t be afraid to just send your stories out into the world as well. We are waiting for them, and we are hungry. Feed us your fire.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jay Thornton (along with his brother and partner-in-crime Chris) is a writer, screenwriter, filmmaker, gadfly, binge-eater, non-practising humanist and one half of the Thornton Brothers. Member of the WGAw and represented by Rosa Entertainment and UTA. Check out their REAPERS novels on Amazon, and look for oft-uploaded content on Wattpad and YouTube. Twitter and Instagram: @themthorntons