How To Strike Out with a Screenwriter

Back in September, a History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson let loose with a brilliant rant called I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script. It's a must read for any writer, so if you haven't read it yet, you better have a damn good excuse. Go read it now, then come back.

Are we all on the same page?


Although I am not yet at a point in my career where people are shoving scripts into my face from every side, I found myself totally relating to this rant, enough so that I felt the need to compose this rant of my own.

Don't get me wrong. There is nothing I like better than to read a fellow scribe's work, no matter how wet behind the ears they happen to be. See, I figure, if someone actually takes the time to sit down and write an entire script from FADE IN to FADE OUT, then they deserve to be given the time of day if I have it to spare (which Josh clearly doesn't...ohhh to have those problems...) No matter how bad it is, if a person commits to putting pen to paper and gets it done, I'll give them my honest critique. It may not be pretty, but that's the chance they take when they put their pages out into the big, bad world.

Am I altruistic?! Hell no! I'm too selfish for that. I simply know that I am not so advanced that I cannot learn a thing or two from even the roughest of scripts. And hey, anything that makes me a better writer is a good thing. Even your piece of crap little masterpiece.

And sitting around with creative types for a wild session of shotgun brainstorming is one of the best fully clothed activities out there. I love artists of all shapes and sizes. This post isn't directed at them. (Have I covered my ass enough so as not to offend...?)

It's the other 99.7% of the population that drives me nuts, and leads me to a place where I can totally nod my head in amused yet sad recognition of the truth behind Josh's rant. That 99.7% who has never actually seen a real life script, or been on a set, or ran lines, or taken a high school drama or creative lit course, or even had a friend who knew a chick who had a second cousin play an extra in some movie a few years back. These are the people that make me foam at the mouth when they leech my time and energy simply because I happen to write scripts.

What's my beef? What is it that they do that drives me to the verge of shouting like a madman from the rooftops? It can be summed up simply as --

Stop telling me your lame-ass movie ideas.

If you've told anybody outside of the creative pool that you write screenplays, you know too well what I'm talking about. The conversation usually goes something like:

Some Average Joe: You write movies? COOL!!!!!
You: (smiles politely, knowing damn well what's coming)
Some Average Joe: Oh my God! I have this great movie idea! You're gonna love it.

Sound familiar?

Note to that Average Joe : Guess what? I'm probably not going to love it because your idea will most likely be half baked at best, but more usually, consist of one thirty second chase scene that seems uber-cool in your mind, but has absolutely no story, characters, or even anything remotely workable to back it up. But you'll go on and smile expectantly, and wait for me to react like you just gave birth to the second coming.

Fellow scribes, if you are stupid enough to get yourself into this mess by admitting you write scripts, there are two ways to deal with this - encourage or baffle.

I suggest that you go with baffle. Leap onto their idea and start talking character and themes and subplots and settings, and budgets, and shooting schedules, and basically show them just how much work actually goes into a script. Soon, their eyes will glaze over and they'll make some excuse to get away from you fast. Problem solved without having to break the news that their idea makes mating with dead horses look appealing.

The other option, encouragement, is bad. Really bad. Don't go there. It may seem polite, but even the smallest bit like, "Oh that sounds cool. Have you tried the onion puffs?" will translate to some sort of partnership agreement in their warped minds, and next thing you know, they'll figure that you're going to somehow take their amazing idea and turn it into a workable script from their vague ideas like, "A cat that wears pants. Friggin' awesome idea!" Then you guys will share in the boat load of profits it's sure to bring in. Sure, I'll just whip off a draft and have it to you tomorrow.

Don't do it. You'll never get rid of them. They'll track you down through a friend of a friend of a friend because you clearly LOVED their movie, until you're forced to tell them that it is totally unworkable. (Unless, of course, they have a boatload of cash, in which case, whip up an agreement and make it workable damn FAST!) But most of the time, you're stuck with having to tell them that their beloved baby is DOA.

It's enough to make any grown screenwriter lie through their teeth when confronted with the 'so what do you do' question. Proctologist or fireman are good cover stories. (And yes, I have pulled the second off with my 100lb frame).

It's a nightmare. But it's not the worst-case scenario. Which brings me to the point of this long winded rant --

It happens on dates too.

You would think that when the potential next great lay love of your life says that they write movies, a wise person would jump all over that and use it as a chance to bond over favorite films, directors, or even actors (not writers - nobody remembers writer's names). But no, the mere mention of scripts leads to the inevitable, "Oh my God! I've got a great movie idea that you're going to LOVE!" The slightest hint of Hollywood seems to bring out the inner-narcissist in everyone like star struck Pavlov's dogs. And who the hell wants bonding when you can dazzle with an idea that you slaved over for a whole 30 seconds (it doesn't matter that you've been masturbating over the same idea for 12 years, it still only took 30 seconds to come up with, and it still sucks.)

Do guys think that their unicycle chase scene will impress me? Or that their thriller idea will get them laid? (Buddy, it sounds like a bad rip off of some really bad thrillers already losing money out there!)

There is only one thing more likely to guarantee that a guy will never get into my pants, let alone see the inside of one of my scripts, and that is the movie date where they grace me with their verbal diarrhea insightful commentary from the moment the lights go down until the last line of dialogue. (Not to mention walking out before the credits even begin to roll, and they don't even have to pee!)

Definitely not the way to get lucky with a screenwriter.

And these aren't stupid people. We're talking doctors and lawyers and the occasional bartender. I would never dream of trying to bond over new ways to deal with blood clots in the brain, so why do these dates think it's a good idea to talk shop like they have a clue what they are doing?

And this phenomenon is not limited to men trying to get into my pants. Women are just as bad. Kids birthday parties, in the waiting room for annual pap tests, no place is sacred. Seems like everybody has a blockbuster they've been sitting on for years just waiting for a lucky screenwriter to come along.

It's not like I have my own ideas to work on. I can totally drop everything and work on your half-baked idea.

This makes me wonder how Josh Olson dealt this problem early in his career. Or maybe he was a total babe magnet and the only small talk he had to worry about was, "Your place or mine?" Or better yet, maybe he was getting laid regularly in a serious relationship and could avoid the whole outside human interaction thing altogether.

It's not like I don't appreciate the enthusiasm and honest attempt. They are my target market after all, so I do want to know what they want to see on the screen. But unless they're willing to fund it, I wish they'd stop telling me their one 'brilliant' movie idea. Hey, I come up with fifty a day, and if I'm lucky, maybe four of them a year are worth pursuing. Maybe I've been jaded. Maybe there are some amazing script ideas waiting to be milked from the armchair screenwriter pool. But I've heard enough bad ideas to pretty much go with my fireman story full time now.

You want me to listen to your great script idea? Then write it. I'll read it, I promise. I'll even give you notes.

But an idea won't get you laid. And clearly (since I've never had a former date send me a script), writing one is too much work even for great sex with me, so unless you know what you're doing, stick to talking about movies that have actually been made, or hell, even your astrology sign or favorite color.

'Cause your lame-ass movie idea? It's a total turn off.

Appropriate image by dirtyfeet