Monday, September 14, 2009

Why he shouldn't HAVE to read your F*ing Screenplay!

I really hadn't planned on writing a response to the Josh Olson screed "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Screenplay." Considering that within a few hours of it being posted it was already being discussed on several other screenwriting sites that I read AND that it got forwarded to me via email at least twice by personal friends, I figured I would have nothing new to add to any discussion. Besides - I agreed with a helluva lot of what Josh said.

So when I saw the venom being flung at him over at Deadline Hollywood. I was a little surprised. Outside of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Keith Olberman, I have rarely seen anyone so willfully miss the point of something so that they could instead bitch about a completely different issue than the one being discussed. There are a lot of commenters over at DH agreeing with Josh, but a fair number of them are also calling him a "dick" and flinging variations of "Where would YOU be, Josh, if someone hadn't once read YOUR script?!"

Read Josh's article again, people. Pay attention to a few key phrases like, "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."

And I fully agree with what works out as his central thesis: "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."

I'd argue that Scott's house painter analogy isn't entirely applicable to this situation. It's like meeting someone at a party, learning they're a house painter and asking them to come by and touch up some rough spots in your living room for free. For a close friend, maybe that's not an imposition. To ask that of someone you just met - that takes BALLS.

A lot of people invoke "networking" as a defense and say that Josh clearly had to get someone to read his script in order to get where he is. Thus, he's a hypocrite for not accepting every script handed to him in the name of paying it forward. There is an etiquette to asking a favor from someone - both in this business and in the real world. You EARN favors, you're not given them.

Think of it like this. You're at a bar and amazingly, the hottest girl in the place ends up next to you. Through an even bigger miracle, you somehow find yourself in an engaging conversation with her. She's paying attention to you and even laughing at your jokes. You can't believe your good fortune - this sort of thing never happens. So what do you do? Before you've even finished your second beer, you're asking her to go back to your place and fuck. You figure "I might never get this chance again so I might as well go for broke." Then, when she reacts badly to that and starts to give you the brush-off, you decide to take a shot at stealing first and second base because odds are you won't engage a girl this stunning again.

THAT, in essence, is essentially what you are doing when you push your script on a writer to whom you have only the barest connection. Would the hottest girl at the bar fuck you within ten minutes of meeting you? No? Well then why would Steven Spielberg want to read your script after having known you for five minutes? You have seduce the bar hottie, i.e. Steven Spielberg. Cultivate a relationship, get to know them, build up some trust and a repor.

No one likes to feel like they're being used - like you see them as a mere hurdle to leap in your quest to get to the next level. I have plenty of friends who have connections with people more successful and more famous than myself. And I won't lie, when I pass those friends the latest draft of a script, it would be great if they'd come back and say, "Do you mind if I give this to Mr. Big Shot? It's just what he's looking for and I know he'll have his agent working day and night to sell this for a cool $2 million." But I'm also a realist. I know that these people are all trying to build their own careers and that they're not going to be inclined to burn a favor that might be better spent on them. I'm sure that if they thought the writing was really awesome, it wouldn't be an imposition for them to pass it up, as discovering good material might also increase their own esteem in the eyes of their colleagues.

The thing is - I ask these people for their opinions not because I see it as a rest stop on the highway to success, but because I genuinely value their insight. I have a lot of respect for every person I've ever dropped a script on. It's amazing the things that they'll find in my own writing, or the left-field suggestions that they'll come up with that inevitably improve the script.

So when you seem to get that professional "in" don't be so overeager to cash in a favor you haven't earned. Know how to build relationships that might serve you better in the long run. Several years ago, I had such an opportunity placed before me and in retrospect, I could have played my cards a lot better.

But we'll talk about that tomorrow, and we'll kick off a new segment I call: Tuesday Talkback.


  1. I'm shocked at how angry people got over this mainly because this is one of those things that if you live within 30 miles of Hollywood and know anybody who's in the "aspiring arts" you've heard it a thousand times. Everybody has some goddamn script, demo tape, play, or two-man comedy show that they want you to check out so you can network it for them like you're their personal street team. And the only reason anybody ever does it is because they need and expect the favor to be recriprocated at some later date.

    More and more when I hear somebody ask "Will you read/listen/watch my work?" I just picture that retarded guy in There's Something About Mary asking everybody if they've seen his baseball.

  2. Biter Script Reader,

    BRILLIANT analogy with the guy in a bar and the hot chick, akin to the real issue behind the whole Josh Olson rant.

    "No likes to feel like they're being used." Good thing to consider for this pre-pro writer trying to break-in...

    There are a lot of GREAT lessons to be learned in this. Thanks for bringing them up, Bitter Script Reader.

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  3. If I go to a bar, I promise I can go home with a hot dude in ten minutes. But that's probably because of the boobs.

    I would never hand my script to someone I don't know personally. I'm still waiting for personal friends to offer to read my stuff. However, he agreed to read it and give notes. He could have said no. And his only notes were that this guy sucks and needs more classes. Those aren't notes. That's a helpful suggestion, but it's not what he said he'd do. If he didn't want to give notes, he could have said he didn't have time.

    Everyone knows when they read a new writer's script it could be awful. If this had been a brilliant piece of work he'd be running around town telling everybody how he found the next big thing. Instead he's ranting about the audacity of this guy to ask him to read his work.

    I understand his sentiment. I would never do what that newbie writer did, however, I think Olson is overreacting.

  4. You wrote Scott, but didn't you mean Josh?

  5. Good catch Joshua. I'm editing the post. That's what I get for writing at midnight.

  6. Thanks for defending house painters, of which I know many. Be leary of any offering free touch-up jobs, they're probably just out for your girl.

  7. Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,
    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread upon my dreams.

    -He wishes for the Cloths of Heaven, W.B. Yeats

    This is what came to mind when the brouhaha came to my attention.

    We should do well to remember that anyone asking us to read or view or listen is not only asking us for networking and promotion, they're asking for feedback. They're trusting us to give them an honest second look and risking us deflating their enthusiasm and maintaining enthusiasm is hard enough.

    While there's a right way and wrong way to get stuff read, overreacting isn't serving any purpose other than to give us something to feel bad about later when we realize our reaction was something we're not proud of.

  8. interesting moral dilemma...

    so what's worse? dropping your script on a successful writer you don't know at a party OR "cultivating" a relationship with a successful writer you don't know at a party and then dropping the script on him/her a few months/years down the road after you're "friends"?

    i think the second option could be even more manipulative than the first, depending on the intent.

  9. The only reason why I think that Josh got such a negative response from a lot of people is because of the tone of the blog. If you read it real fast you get the impression that he's being condescending and a jerk.

    But if you read it and put yourself in his place. You'll get it. It's not like he didn't read the synopsis. Have you ever read something and became angry that you wasted your time in the first place to read it? I have.

    And as far as relationship vs let's get it going right now. Do you really want the basis of your relationship to be all business?