In this corner... blogger and screenwriter of such films as Go, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Big Fish.... Jooooooooooooohn August!
And in this corner... a blogger who - in the words of Wired Magazine - "says he wanted to celebrate the writer, promote talented unknowns, and acquaint newbie scribes with the art of the craft".... Carsoooooon Reeeeeeves!
The issue: Does blogger Carson Reeves actually hurt working screenwriters with his review site ScriptShadow? If you want background on John's position, check out this post and then his follow-up. Read what he says in his own words, so that there can be no complaint that I am slanting the arguments.
John claims that because ScriptShadow has made studio screenplays far more available to the non-professionals, this has resulted in studios taking stronger measures to protect their intellectual property. He describes how the studio cracked down after ScriptShadow published an early draft of an upcoming project earlier this year:
"I was suddenly given extraordinary restrictions on exactly who could read the script. I couldn’t send it to the director, the producers or anyone other than one executive at the studio. These were by far the most restrictive terms of any film I’ve written at any studio.
[...] "The more often sites like ScriptShadow poke that hornet’s nest, the bigger the reaction is going to be. The revised terms — I couldn’t even send the draft to my agent — may become the norm. Assistants will get fired for sharing scripts. In the long run, it will be crippling for the industry, and screenwriters will suffer most."
As he details, the "suffering" will come in the form of writers not being able to send out scripts of their aborted projects as writing samples, with is a fairly common way for writers to get assignment work. That's pretty serious.
Carson tweeted yesterday that he doesn't intend to comment further on the matter, which is his right and his prerogative. However, he has a loyal mob of defenders who have been commenting on John's post and - with a few exceptions - I feel it's not unfair to characterize them as a group of entitled, aspiring screenwriters whose legal knowledge seems to have been derived from a marathon viewing of the worst Law & Order spinoff (SVU, if you're keeping score).
Many of these commenters are saying that Carson shouldn't get blamed for a bunch of executives acting like assholes, because it's always easier to throw stones at a few rich fat cats and say it's their fault for making us want their unproduced scripts so much.
The fact is:
1) The studio owns the scripts.
2) They have every right to fight copyright infringement.
3) Recognizing that getting something off the internet is like getting pee out of a swimming pool, they realize the only way to keep this material private is to raise the security measures surrounding it and applying further punitive measures. That's their right. And that is the situation that John August says is happening.
Let's say I rent an apartment in a complex that is in a nice enough area that no one even has locks on their doors. It's a crime-free paradise. There is no crime and thus, no one misses their locks. Then one night, some people down the block realize that they can enter the complex and any apartment at will, plundering each unit of its goodies. The owner, realizing the situation has changed, now has to pay to install locks and pay for security, which results in a rent hike. This naturally pissess off the tenants, who feel they're being inconvenienced.
Now imagine if when those tenants tried to seek redress against the thieves for both the theft and the resulting expenses, the intruders blamed the owner for overreacting and trying to keep these trespassers off his property. That they bore no responsibility for the consequences of their theft and that their real beef is with the asshole owner.
THAT is essentially the position of the mob defending ScriptShadow against John's charges.
One commenter, Synthian (comment 37), offered a better and even more succinct defense of John's position:
"Nabisco does not owe you the recipe to the next cookie they’re building in development. (Even if you ARE an aspiring bake chef. And it would be terribly educational for you.)"
If it was meant to be released, it would have been. Do attorneys publish their inter-office memos and first drafts of their closing arguments before a case gets to court? Does John Grisham post his first draft of his latest novel online “just so readers can see the process?” Do painters release the early sketches of their work before applying pigment to the canvas?
Let's not forget that these sorts of leaks have killed major films before. Back in 2002, AICN's Moriarty got a copy of J.J. Abrams first draft of SUPERMAN and write a long, spoiler-filled review decrying every bad choice made in the script. This stirred up a lot of controversy on the net and Abrams later said that the blacklash was a major factor in the project being killed at Warners.
Full disclosure: At the time, I cheered the death of Abrams' SUPERMAN because the draft was terrible (read it for yourself - it's only a Google search away) and at the time I was exceptionally grateful to Moriarty for getting an incredibly stupid comic book movie killed. Am I a hypocrite now, or do I just have greater perspective? You decide.
As I said in comments yesterday, I'm an avid reader of Carson’s site, and I'd never actually looked at it from John's perspective. I think Carson has only the best of intentions – to educate and to help aspiring screenwriters develop their craft. He’s also run several contests aimed at helping non-repped writers get representation. So in that sense, I separate him from some of the guys at AICN who write articles with insider “scoops” just so they can bring themselves more publicity.
Just making it clear, I am NOT trying to pick a fight with Carson.
I never thought about the unintended consequences that John August says are happening, and if it’s actively making things difficult for working writers, then perhaps some restraint is necessary
I was really disappointed to see so many people dismiss John simply because they're sticking up for their buddy. I think the “Fuck you, rich boy!” and “We have a right to everything on the internet” attitudes are deplorable. Why should John’s right to privacy on his private intellectual property expire simply because he’s famous and successful? Or to take the tone of another argument, because the commenter in question feels that John's movies were sub-par? (Do bad writers get fewer rights than good ones? How come no one told me?)
Beyond that John himself proposed a few ways that Carson could carry out his stated mission without contributing to the problems listed above, and as he noted in his update post, "So far, few of them have addressed my two proposed changes:
"1.Review screenplays of movies once they’ve come out.
"2.Ask the writers before posting reviews of unproduced scripts."
This is something of a timely controversy for me. It's always been my policy not to spoil scripts which come into possession via my work. For this reason, I have long avoided doing script reviews of upcoming projects because I don't want to have to deal with repercussions from my bosses. However, through means outside of work, I recently came into possession of a first draft of GREEN LANTERN, and in fact, was in the middle of writing a review for Thursday, using it to point out some lessons that could benefit screenwriters. The draft is almost two years out of date, so I assumed it wouldn’t contain too many spoilers. In light of John's post, I have decided to hold off on this and other reviews until after the film is in theatres.
Carson seems like a good guy and I genuinely believe he has the best of intentions. He's educating many newbies about the art of screenwriting and of script criticism, and I truly hope that his site doesn't go away. Having said that (Curb Your Enthusiasm ref), I don't see why he couldn't continue to do the same work under the terms that John proposes.
Surely Carson never envisioned he'd be the catalyst for these problems, but now that he is aware, why shouldn't he work with professionals to hammer out a compromise that leaves everyone happy?
I'd be interested in hearing what everyone else thinks of this, if they're not already burned out on the subject.