Ethical Challenges as a Screenwriter

My name is Kiaya Mangan; I am a Catholic and I am answering the calling to be a screenwriter.  As a follower of Christ with aspirations in the motion picture business I anticipate some ethical challenges in my future.  I predict that my future career will include obstacles that will challenge me in many areas but mostly in content, business transactions, relationships, and everyday conduct on the job. In an effort to answer my calling, and remain faithful to my beliefs, I have written a code of ethics by which I can live and work. However, before I begin to describe my ethical code, I would like to include a prayer I wrote, which I consider to be the foundation.

Lord, let your will be done. Help me become who you want me to be. Help me achieve what you want me to. Help me become the instrument of your grace that I was born to be. Help me write the words and tell the stories you desire. Help me prioritize my life to give honor and glory to you. Help me to trust in you and others. Remind me that your plan is perfect and becoming who you want me to be is the ultimate goal. Lord, let your will be done.

The biggest challenge I anticipate in my writing career is on the basis of content.  Throughout the history of major motion pictures, cinema has evolved to push moral and ethical boundaries and recently even to the breaking point. Filmmakers and more specifically screenwriters have contributed to the construction of thought provoking films on subjects relevant to the times, but sometimes can also be controversial. I believe it is each generation’s responsibility to write scripts that discuss current issues, which lead and encourage audience members to continue talking about the circumstance long after the credits.  Film is the perfect medium that holds a distinctive power above all others; because movies can show, tell, and teach all at the same time. Making film one of the most universal and wide spread languages being understood by all in our modern world.

As a filmmaker I need to discern on the projects I sign onto, because as a screenwriter I am at the beginning of the process, where the story begins. My words wield intense power. I believe it is my responsibility to write scripts of great quality conveying a positive message, suggesting one thing, eluding to others, and prodding the audience to feel something. As a Christian and Catholic screenwriter I write trying to find the perfect balance between the profound and the gone too far, while still entertaining the audience.  In essence, it is my responsibility to write scripts which elevate the human spirit to a place of contemplation, inspire others to discover the moment of epiphany where creativity is possible, heal the broken, and lead the lost away from the ugliness of sin.

Furthermore, it is my responsibility to pass on a well constructed script, which is the basis of any film, to a production executive with a story which promotes morals I believe in, or omits details my morals do not support. Out of respect for myself, the audience, and our Creator I must deliver content consisting of dialog, plot lines, and overall themes, which may challenge others, but of quality which I will be proud to attach my name and reputation to. My scripts as an extension of myself, will not lead those who work to create the film and watch the film into temptation.

For example, as a screenwriter I anticipate coming across the dilemma of whether or not my unmarried characters should, “sleep together” and if they do, how much are you willing to illustrate through your writing in a script?  Although, it may be culturally acceptable to include a “sex scene” in a film, I personally do not agree.  Perhaps, a script may call for characters to interact in this way, but I will not use my words to describe anything explicit. I hope by choosing not to write and describe this in detail, myself or other filmmakers will continue to operate on the same moral wavelength and decide not to film the scene graphically, but tastefully, by not showing, but implying.  I never intend to lead anyone into sin, and I hope my good intentions will be carried over to the next step in the filmmaking process. I have the responsibility to write the best dynamic and captivating script my talent and work ethic will allow, but I also owe it to everyone who could one day be involved in the project. My responsibility begins with myself and ends with the audience.  But what about all the actors, acting out the scenes I have written? What about the crew, filming the actors? I also have a responsibility to write scenes that will help them maintain their dignity, innocence, and morals as well.

Another area in which I anticipate to be challenged during my career is on the basis of business transactions.  The entertainment business has a reputation as a profitable industry, consisting of wealthy and powerful people. However, what often goes unnoticed is how few and far between paying jobs can be. There may be moments when my bank account is full, but more likely there will be moments when it’s close to empty.  As a filmmaker and screenwriter I expect to experience some financially tight times. However, it is during these times that I need to not give into worry; rather I need to trust in the Lord, that He will provide.  In moments of plenty I will give what I can to others in need, and when I am struggling I will not panic; instead I will swallow my pride, and ask for help. In addition, after I have successfully navigated rough economic times, I will not be stingy or dishonest with others when it comes to business. All too often I have witnessed people around me, tighten their belts and eliminate costs from their budget, an appropriate reaction. However, after overcoming the obstacle the same people have not readjusted; instead the frugal practices have eroded to unhealthy behavior towards themselves and others often being dishonest.

For example, I anticipate my integrity to be challenged almost constantly, when I am shopping a script throughout Hollywood and searching for the next contract to sign. I will again, have to find the perfect balance, this time between being honest and dishonest when pitching my script at each of the studios. When a studio executive asks, “So who else is interested in this?” I foresee myself being tempted to lie especially when feeling desperate to sell a script. I hope I will not answer saying, “Well, Universal offered me double what Sony offered, but I’d like to work with you, if the pay is right.” Or possibly even worse, I can see myself trying to rationalize lying; using the excuse I need to provide for myself and my family. However, instead of lying, I intend to just not tell all the truth. I can simply answer, “We are continuing to shop it around.” I do not have to disclose the details of other offers, if any. Operating under honest and dignified business practices not only shows your respect for the other party by telling the truth, but also displays the origins of your intentions are good natured.  I believe honest transactions will encourage repeat business resulting in more signed contracts.

However, more importantly how I foster and maintain relationships is another area which I anticipate friction from during my career. I have often heard the phrase, “It’s all about who you know” in regards to how to break into the entertainment business, this saying reveals more about Hollywood than you would expect. For the capital of the film industry, it is actually a small world, where news travels faster than the development meeting discussing the next bad sequel, which will be released straight to DVD. When conducting business it is important to remember not to burn any bridges, because in the heat of the moment someone might share my name with everyone on their contact list that saying I screwed them over, discrediting me, and working hard to ensure I will never work in this town again.

Possibly even more important I want to surround myself with people who will support me. As a screenwriter I surround myself with people who are willing to listen to me talk endlessly about my latest project, and offer honest and constructive feedback. I want to hold onto and cherish my group of trusted individuals who are willing to be there, to catch me when I fail, and celebrate with me after my successes, no matter how few or far between there are.

One specific challenge I anticipate in my future, as a screenwriter is dealing with balancing writing and relationships. Selfishly, I have a tendency to isolate myself, pushing the people I love and trust away, forsaking them. The viscous cycle begins when I throw myself head first into a project. At first I am excited and passionate, but soon I begin to feel overwhelmed with frustration and loneliness, which sometimes leads to a depressing mood. During this period my productivity comes to a sudden stop, until I reconcile with my loved ones. I then get side tracked with making up for lost time, opening slowly to the creative process until inspiration hits again and I begin writing something new; and the cycle continues. All too often I focus on my projects and simply lose sight of what is truly important; the relationships with the people who give purpose to my hard work.  The famous saying by John Donne, “No man is an island” and the biblical quote, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul” (Mk 8:36) are somewhat of a comfort, in the fact that others before me have also struggled with finding a balance.

I regretfully admit I have yet to come up with a system to balance, work and play perfectly. Perhaps, with more experience I will discover a method that works for me, or I might need to address this at the beginning of any project and tailor a schedule on a situational basis. However, what will go a long way to help is for me to also find the best environment to write. Until now, I have struggled with finding somewhere, as Steven King describes in his book On Writing, as humble where I can shut the door, to the tell the world and myself, “you mean business and have made a commitment to write.”  Once I find somewhere that is conducive to my writing process, finding that balance between doing what I love and spending time with those I love, will be easier to manage.

Another aspect of my career I anticipate challenges to arise are during the everyday happenings on the job.  In my experience already in other lines of work, I have witnessed small events that seem harmless from day to day; but, when I look at the big picture, those small things were indeed more flagrant than I thought at the time. Throughout my career I am going to come into contact with people from all different walks of life, and some of what those people do and say I am not going to agree with. As a screenwriter, I am inspired by so much; but, it is easy to lose touch with the connectivity people share. I try to be as compassionate as I can, but sometimes when I do not understand why people do certain things I fall into the trap of being judgmental, stereotyping, making unfair assumptions, and being down right divisive.   However, one quote attributed to Plato, grounds me pretty quick. “Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.”

We all want to think the best of ourselves, I am no exception, but within the last few years I have felt a switch in me; from someone who was combative to someone who is now focused on how they can serve others. Perhaps, this is evidence enough of why I am in the entertainment industry, but as I write this I am thinking of several quotes from television shows and movies discussing how to right your wrongs. One in particular is from the movie Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan’s character says, “When you get bit by a snake, you’re supposed to suck the poison out. That’s what I had to do. Suck all the poison out of my life.” Or better yet from the television show Bones, Seeley Booth keeps track of how many people he killed as a sniper in the military, and considers it his responsibility to save at least that many lives, in order to counterbalance what he has personally done.

               I intend to live and work as a screenwriter with the same intention; righting what I have done wrong by serving others, and treating everyone with respect no matter what their job description.

For example, in the future if I am welcomed on set of a movie, I want to treat everyone with respect; from the director who might have changed something I wrote to the nervous production intern who sets up the chairs. Hours of labor intensive work, blood, sweat, tears go into making a movie and everyone from the beginning, meaning me, the screenwriter, to the editor at the end in post production deserves respect. However, what I am personally working on is rising above the conflict, when someone does not show you respect. My initial reaction is to get down and sling mud with them, but I need to rise above and see them as the child of God that they are, and forgive them on the spot.  I aim to let go of whatever caused the conflict while continuing to serve them with respect, instead of stewing over it.

In summary my ethical principles are: have responsibility and pride in what you write, do not lead anyone into sin. Be honest in business dealings, have courage and fortitude not to lie. Make a time to work, make a time for loved ones, not forgetting to trust God. Treat others better than you want to be treated, respect everyone, and serve all. Rise above conflict, by turning the other cheek, forgiving on the spot, and letting go.

I am a Catholic and I am answering the calling to be a screenwriter.  During my career I want to I want to follow God’s plan even if it does not always make sense to me, because He is the writer of my journey. I am the hero overcoming obstacles desperately seeking the goal, of writing scripts elevating the human spirit to a place of contemplation, inspiring others to discover the moment of epiphany where creativity is possible, heal the broken, and lead the lost away from the ugliness of sin.

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2 Responses to Ethical Challenges as a Screenwriter

  1. alex says:

    Time to get over the brainwashed mindset of “God” and his plan for you. It’s pretty pathetic and silly. If you want to make it as a writer of any sort in a creative field your gonna have to get a proper dosage of reality. However, your idea of God suggests that you have a very vivid imagination and enjoy the tales of mythological events which is a solid foundation of a screenwriters character. By the way, if god already has a plan for you “written” out why don’t you just sit on your ass and see if his magic touch gives you the ability to magically write a script?
    My advice? Get your brainwashed head out of your ass before you give your “Jesus loves me” ego to your pad of paper. Writing is above being open minded thought. The fact that you are dumb enough to dedicate yourself to an imaginary friend is enough evidence to tell anyone that your mind is already closed and locked with a dead-bolt.

    • Kiaya Mangan says:

      First, I would like to thank you for the comment as I do not get these often enough. Second, I would like to agree, to disagree with you, I respect your difference in opinion. However, I do not deserve your personal and insulting attacks. In addition, I would like to argue that I do have an open mind, as I am willing to hear you out. I am not speaking of “fire and brimstone” or condemning others, but am simply posting a paper I wrote containing a personal revelation. Isn’t the concept of having an open mind to listen in an effort to understand those that differ from yourself, and not to form judgement against or to the detriment of others. I ascribe to this, and by that definition, you are the one lacking an open mind. Diminishing my belief to pure stupidity, or a lack of grip on reality. Lastly, I would like to tell you, Alex, you are in the prayers of me and my family. God Bless.

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