Thursday, September 10, 2009

However, I Will Let You Buy Me A Drink...

I teach a couple of screenwriting courses, including a night class at the local university. This means I'll see twenty or thirty or so pitches and synopsis' and treatments and scripts cross my desk over the course of a semester. Yes they're from students, kids just starting out...but just because they have me at their disposal shouldn't make it any simpler or easier. Do the work, newbies...put the effort in...make whatever it is you're writing the best you can. Don't take advantage of the situation just because, unlike pro scribe Josh Olsen, who wrote this wicked piece for the Village Voice, I have to read your script.

Now, I normally have a standard response to people who ask me to read their scripts, and it's the simple truth: I have two piles next to my bed. One is scripts from good friends, and the other is manuscripts and books and scripts my agents have sent to me that I have to read for work. Every time I pick up a friend's script, I feel guilty that I'm ignoring work. Every time I pick something up from the other pile, I feel guilty that I'm ignoring my friends. If I read yours before any of that, I'd be an awful person.

Most people get that. But sometimes you find yourself in a situation where the guilt factor is really high, or someone plays on a relationship or a perceived obligation, and it's hard to escape without seeming rude. Then, I tell them I'll read it, but if I can put it down after ten pages, I will. They always go for that, because nobody ever believes you can put their script down once you start.

But hell, this was a two page synopsis, and there was no time to go into either song or dance, and it was just easier to take it. How long can two pages take?

Weeks, is the answer.

And this is why I will not read your fucking script.

It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)

You may want to allow for the fact that this fellow had never written a synopsis before, but that doesn't excuse the inability to form a decent sentence, or an utter lack of facility with language and structure. The story described was clearly of great importance to him, but he had done nothing to convey its specifics to an impartial reader. What I was handed was, essentially, a barely coherent list of events, some connected, some not so much. Characters wander around aimlessly, do things for no reason, vanish, reappear, get arrested for unnamed crimes, and make wild, life-altering decisions for no reason. Half a paragraph is devoted to describing the smell and texture of a piece of food, but the climactic central event of the film is glossed over in a sentence. The death of the hero is not even mentioned. One sentence describes a scene he's in, the next describes people showing up at his funeral. I could go on, but I won't. This is the sort of thing that would earn you a D minus in any Freshman Comp class.

Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.

The article is titled: 'I Will Not Read Your F***ing Script". Enjoy the rest of Olsen's words HERE...and newbies, take notes!

1 comment:

Rixx said...

Great stuff -- I sa.w that, too. Also check out this response:’s-fucking-script/