On Friday morning, I finally caught wind of the hilarious post by Josh Olson on the Village Voice blog. “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script” says what we (even us unproduced writers) think, and why. I so enjoyed the piece, I re-tweeted it on Twitter and posted a link on Facebook where a friend pointed out the ire in the comments section.
I rarely read or leave comments on blog posts. I know. Bad blogger etiquette. But when I returned home at the end of the day, there were hundred of comments, both proclaiming Olson a hero and decrying him a hack and/or douche. What was most disturbing was the writer-on-writer hatred. “Real” writers denounced screenwriting, stating it was a way for them to make a quick buck but that it took no skill. It was a simple formula. It was not an art, nor a craft. Oh, really? I’d like to see one of them try it and manage plot, structure, character, dialogue, scenic description and nuance all within a rigid format and a limit of 120 pages. I will happily read that fucking script…which would likely take that kind of writer 2.75 years to write only to get a “Pass” by your friendly neighborhood development intern. Screenwriting is not that easy.
I have written a novel, independently published a non-fiction tome (okay…I cringe to tell you this, but it does fall under the category of ‘self-help’), and, like most writers, I’ve written poetry since childhood. However, the art, craft and discipline that is required to write a screenplay would make most writers wince. Which is probably why the “real” writers are so bitter at us “hacks”.
Another reason for this vitriol is, yes, screenwriting does pay much better than the average book deal. I nearly cried when I heard what first-time writers typically get. A literary novelist friend of mine got rather prickly when he found out what a first-time screenwriter would get under the WGA (for a union film). Apologies. Discussing money is indeed gauche. But, as artists, we know the financial burden we are always under as we pursue our passion. So, again, I get where “real” writers would resent us “hacks”.
I would think, out of all mediums, writers would be a team. I believed we would rally and support each other, no matter which format we expressed ourselves. I don’t resent other writers. Do you? We all know how daunting that blank page can be, how draining it sometimes is trying to get it on the page exactly how it is in our heads, and how wonderful it feels to have others respond to your work. But, even outside of Hollywood, it seems screenwriters are again at the bottom of the totem pole. Disregarded and disrespected, almost as if it were a sport. I was very disappointed to read what those “real” writers had to say. I only have one reply: SUCK IT! Stay bitter. It’s good for your craft and it makes you truly interesting a cocktail and dinner parties. Really. We all love a “serious” writer. Can I get you another scotch?
Okay, now that I’m off that soapbox, let’s talk about the wannabe screenwriters who also don’t see screenwriting as an art, but as a paint-by-numbers craft. They are the reason I hesitate before saying that I am a writer. I’m a native of Los Angeles, so I know all too well those who just want to be famous…or hang out with famous people. They are annoying. I also know — all too well — those who befriend you because of how you might be able to help them. Very annoying, too. I have lost friends and strained relationships because I have given honest feedback, or politely passed on their screenplay, never because it was a steaming pile of merde, but “He/She/They have another similar project in development. So sorry. Good luck!” You can never really win with those people (and it’s sad when they happen to be friends). Like Olson, I’d rather come off as an ass hat at the get-go by saying, “No.”
Will I read someone’s fucking script? That depends. I’ve learned to ask some key questions first: How long have you been working on it? What other screenplays have you written? Do you belong to a writers’ group or have you workshopped the script? I try to weed out those who haven’t studied screenwriting (and I don’t mean going from seminar to seminar and book to book…those would be the “over-studied”), those who only have one idea, and those who figure writing a script is the quickest way to get into Hollywood. I also ask how many revisions they’ve done on their own. If they haven’t done one, I suggest they do. That, too, puts me in the asshat category. I just try to wear it well.
It’s not that I don’t want to help other writers. I do. I champion everyone who says, “I have an idea for a book/screenplay, but…” I stop them there. “Write it,” I say. If only to get it out of their system. Do it. Because, if you aren’t a writer, you will know it soon enough, and then you can move on to something else. I will give encouragement and advice ’til the cows come home. And that will typically take less time than reading and critiquing a script…and I’m less likely to be thought of as an asshat for it.
Writing is hard. It’s not for everyone. And writers know this better than anyone, which is why we can be a tough audience. But, I would hope that writers would at least be a team. Sure, there are crap screenwriters who have somehow made successful careers, just like there are crap authors who have done the same. All we can do, as writers, is try to get better with every page we draft. There are no shortcuts. There is no easier form than another. I think real writers understand this. The rest are just hacks.