For all the screenwriters out there who is writing SPEC scripts hoping to break into the industry...
I came across this article recently, after reading it, hated how honest it is and couldn't help but understand where the writer is coming from...
I have written my share of SPEC scripts and I have come across a few of these producers types myself, thing is tho, I too have made some of the mistakes they talked about in this article, so may be there is something to be learned here...
The point of this article I think is not to discourage writers from trying, but to give them an idea of how someone on the receiving end of your script feels...
Having read it myself, I still believe that good writing will find its way to the hands of the right people... it might take a long time, but if your script is good, it will find its reader...
I will not read your fucking script.
That's simple enough, isn't it? "I will not read your fucking
script." What's not clear about that? There's nothing personal about
it, nothing loaded, nothing complicated. I simply have no interest in
reading your fucking screenplay. None whatsoever.
If that seems unfair, I'll make you a deal. In return for you not
asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my
fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking
court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is
that you do for a living.
You're a lovely person. Whatever time we've spent together has, I'm
sure, been pleasurable for both of us. I quite enjoyed that
conversation we once had about structure and theme, and why Sergio
Leone is the greatest director who ever lived. Yes, we bonded, and yes,
I wish you luck in all your endeavors, and it would thrill me no end to
hear that you had sold your screenplay, and that it had been made into
the best movie since Godfather Part II.
But I will not read your fucking script.
At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that
I'm a dick. But if you're interested in growing as a human being and
recognizing that it is, in fact, you who is the dick in this situation,
please read on.
Yes. That's right. I called you a dick. Because you created this
situation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acquiesce
to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very
definition of a dick move.
I was recently cornered by a young man of my barest acquaintance.
I doubt we've exchanged a hundred words. But he's dating someone I
know, and he cornered me in the right place at the right time, and
asked me to read a two-page synopsis for a script he'd been working on
for the last year. He was submitting the synopsis to some contest or
program, and wanted to get a professional opinion.
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
So. I read the thing. And it hurt, man. It really hurt. I was dying
to find something positive to say, and there was nothing. And the truth
is, saying something positive about this thing would be the nastiest,
meanest and most dishonest thing I could do. Because here's the thing:
not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot
discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer,
you're not a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, I've done
you a favor, because now you'll be free to pursue your real talent,
whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky
ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty
screenplays and asking me to read them.
To make matters worse, this guy (and his girlfriend) had begged me
to be honest with him. He was frustrated by the responses he'd gotten
from friends, because he felt they were going easy on him, and he
wanted real criticism. They never do, of course. What they want is a
few tough notes to give the illusion of honesty, and then some pats on
the head. What they want--always--is encouragement, even when they
shouldn't get any.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell someone that they've
spent a year wasting their time? Do you know how much blood and sweat
goes into that criticism? Because you want to tell the truth, but you
want to make absolutely certain that it comes across honestly and
without cruelty. I did more rewrites on that fucking e-mail than I did
on my last three studio projects.
My first draft was ridiculous. I started with specific notes, and
after a while, found I'd written three pages on the first two
paragraphs. That wasn't the right approach. So I tossed it, and by the
time I was done, I'd come up with something that was relatively brief,
to the point, and considerate as hell. The main point I made was that
he'd fallen prey to a fallacy that nails a lot of first timers. He was
way more interested in telling his one story than in being a writer. It
was like buying all the parts to a car and starting to build it before
learning the basics of auto mechanics. You'll learn a lot along the
way, I said, but you'll never have a car that runs.
(I should mention that while I was composing my response, he pulled
the ultimate amateur move, and sent me an e-mail saying, "If you
haven't read it yet, don't! I have a new draft. Read this!" In other
words, "The draft I told you was ready for professional input, wasn't
I advised him that if all he was interested in was this story, he
should find a writer and work with him; or, if he really wanted to be a
writer, start at the beginning and take some classes, and start
And you know what? I shouldn't have bothered. Because for all the
hair I pulled out, for all the weight and seriousness I gave his
request for a real, professional critique, his response was a terse
"Thanks for your opinion." And, the inevitable fallout--a week later a
mutual friend asked me, "What's this dick move I hear you pulled on
So now this guy and his girlfriend think I'm an asshole, and the
truth of the matter is, the story really ended the moment he handed me
the goddamn synopsis. Because if I'd just said "No" then and there,
they'd still think I'm an asshole. Only difference is, I wouldn't have
had to spend all that time trying to communicate thoughtfully and
honestly with someone who just wanted a pat on the head, and, more
importantly, I wouldn't have had to read that godawful piece of shit.
You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you
have an in, and even if you think it's not a huge imposition. It's not
your choice to make. This needs to be clear--when you ask a
professional for their take on your material, you're not just asking
them to take an hour or two out of their life, you're asking them to
give you--gratis--the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years
of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter
to paint your living room during his off hours.
There's a great story about Pablo Picasso. Some guy told Picasso
he'd pay him to draw a picture on a napkin. Picasso whipped out a pen
and banged out a sketch, handed it to the guy, and said, "One million
"A million dollars?" the guy exclaimed. "That only took you thirty seconds!"
"Yes," said Picasso. "But it took me fifty years to learn how to draw that in thirty seconds."
Like the cad who asks the professional for a free read, the guy
simply didn't have enough respect for the artist to think about what he
was asking for. If you think it's only about the time, then ask one of
your non-writer friends to read it. Hell, they might even enjoy your
script. They might look upon you with a newfound respect. It could even
come to pass that they call up a friend in the movie business and help
you sell it, and soon, all your dreams will come true. But me?
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