Thursday, December 10, 2009

A Rant on the ScriptShadow issue

We had some good comments yesterday on the John August v. Scriptshadow post, and though I responded to some of them there, there was one in particular that left me with so much to respond to, I decided to make it the basis of today's post.

Scott brought up a few points that I've seen elsewhere, and so I'm going to take the opportunity to respond not only to him, but a lot of other ScriptShadow defenders across the net:

"I am not saying at all that people should have access to these scripts. In fact, the only people who should are the ones who need it to do their jobs. But what we know from practice is that scripts in production or development are widely disseminated. August even says thats how he got one of his first assignments because his script was passed around."

Okay, there are more than a few things I should probably discuss here. August didn't get one of his first assignments because a few interns passed a script around and it landed on the desk of an assistant who kicked it upstairs. John actually said: "I got my second writing assignment (A Wrinkle in Time) based on the script to my first assignment, a project that was still in active development. If that script had been locked down, I might not have gotten another job."

In a circumstance like that, what happens is the producers (in this case, the producers of A Wrinkle in Time) are looking either for a rewriter or for someone to flesh out their concept into a full script. Either way, they want to know that the writer they hire can work well in the genre and style they're after, and the best way to do that is to look at their prior work. Let's assume that at this early stage in John's career the only produced film he had to his name was Go - which isn't comparable at all to Wrinkle. Thus, John's name might not be at the top of the list.

But lo and behold, John happened to have gotten hired on an assignment that probably was closer to what the producers were looking for with Wrinkle. Clearly that film never got made and the script was owned by A Major Studio. Now, had A Major Studio locked down the script, John's agent would not have been able to send the script to Wrinkle's team, which effectively is denying John a job interview. Thus, John doesn't get the job and perhaps experiences a major roadblock in his career.

I'm sure there are a few posters who will say that it's not ScriptShadow's fault that A Major Studio wouldn't release the script. But in a world where scripts are not only being leaked, but passed to people who review them on the internet, how could they be sure that some intern working for the Wrinkle producers wouldn't take a copy of the script and slip it to Carson or a site of similar purpose?

Yes, the threat of such piracy has always existed, but until sites like ScriptShadow made it much more efficient for bad buzz to be attached to a script in such an open forum, the impact of that piracy had been minimal. And since the studios own the rights to the scripts, they have every reason to hunt down any pirates of those scripts. Just because they haven't gone after the PA who printed off a copy of TRANSFORMERS 3 and kept it in his room doesn't mean they've voided the right to pursue a guy who boldly posts a copy of the script on the internet.

Script swapping does happen within the industry, but it RARELY harms anyone. Take this example - a few years back I was a development assistant at a company that was readying the latest film in their big franchise. When the first draft of the script came in, the assistant to the head of Development sent out an email to everyone saying that the script was not to be copied or taken out of the office without her (that is, the assistant's) express permission. Yes, this meant that even I, who was working in Development, had been barred from reading it.

This was on a Friday afternoon. Monday morning, one of the Development VPs delivered the script to me personally, just to see what I thought of it. It was a moot point though because I had already read the script Friday night. How did I get it? Someone close to the director slipped it to me. Now, this individual had known me for a while and knew I could be trusted not to put it online, write a review of it, or pass it on to anyone who would do any of those things.

This is generally how the inter-industry script trading works. People pass to people they know with the understanding of "Don't screw me." It's not something we do to exclude the outsiders. It's not an elitist conspiracy to keep people outside LA in the dark.

And honestly, it's rarely even that unseemly when scripts get passed around within companies. Let me explain a little bit about coverage. What Carson does is NOT coverage. He writes a review and he often makes good points, but coverage is generally more in-depth than that. It's an analysis of the writer as much as the script. That's why more companies have two slots for the PASS, CONSIDER, RECOMMEND rating. One for the script and one for the writer. Good coverage tells the person reading it not only if the script is good/bad, but if the person writing the script knows what they're doing. Maybe the script happens to be a very well-written bad idea, or a good concept written weakly.

So that's why if you're reading for Joel Silver's company, you might find yourself with the latest Bruckheimer screenplay to cover. This could easily happen if the Bruckheimer film was a spec sale from a first-time writer and Silver Pictures needs someone to rewrite their next project.

This is how and why scripts get passed around Hollywood. This is why people end up reading scripts for projects they're not actively working on, and yes, along the way it's likely that a few interns, PAs, and other employees snaked a copy for themselves - but let's be honest, these people value their jobs. When you take a job working for a producer or a studio you sign a ton of confidentiality agreements that essentially mean that if a leaked script is traced back to you, the best you can hope for is that you'll be fired.

So yeah, if someone got caught slipping Carson a script, their ass would be grass. The fact is, it's pretty hard to catch those people but since Carson is the one who brazenly posts the scripts we CAN catch him. He might not have signed confidentiality agreements but he is trading something he doesn't own and he's doing it out in the open. Thus, since his actions have had some unfortunately consequences, it's not a surprise that writers are calling for changes.

Also, I've seen the argument put forth that Carson always takes down the scripts if asked to do so by the writers, so that (1) the writers shouldn't be crybabies, (2) this means that every script and review is still up their with the tacit approval of the writers, plus (3) it's just too hard to track down the writers beforehand, so if Carson waited for approval, he'd never get it. Thus, no one's been hurt and Carson is in the right.


I'm sorry, that was hasty of me. Allow me to rephrase.


My readers often email me asking if I'll give them notes on their script. At present I don't, but suppose YOU sent me YOUR script and I not only posted a blistering review of it, I uploaded the script itself so that any original idea you had there was free to be plundered by anyone who came across it. What if I posted it on Triggerstreet, and left it to be disseminated and torn to shreds by even less-experienced writers than you?

Even if you came to me and told me to pull the review and the script, anyone with any knowledge of web archiving could retrieve the old review even after I deleted it. Plus, on the off-chance that someone was so motivated, they easily could have downloaded the script from me and put it up on another site. So even getting me to take it down wouldn't put the genie back in the bottle.

Yeah, you'd be pretty pissed too. How does it feel to know that every time your name is Googled with the word "script" the first thing anyone found was something calling you a hack who couldn't write their way out of a paper bag? That might make it difficult for you to send that script around and get representation, wouldn't it? (Because let's be frank, readers almost always Google the scripts and writers they're reading, if only so they don't end up accidentally slamming the spec that Peter Berg's company just optioned.)

Meditate on that a bit. Then talk to me again about how Carson's burning need to review a script outweighs the writer's right to stop someone from distributing his work illegally.

Bitter, out!


  1. If you want to argue that he's doing something illegal, that's fine. Go after him.

    But when you complain that he's a rank amateur and is not as qualified as people 'in the business', then you sound just like print journalists complaining about bloggers breaking stories. And we know how that turned out.

    Learn from the mistakes that RIAA and newspapers have made in dealing with the internet. If your business model is changing, change with it. The law will only protect you so far.

  2. I don't recall referring to Carson as a "rank amateur," nor did I state he was not as qualified as people in the business. What I DID say was that his reviews are not "coverage," which is plainly obvious to anyone who compares a ScriptShadow review to any example of industry coverage. Much in the same way a Roger Ebert review is not coverage either.

  3. "suppose YOU sent me YOUR script and I not only posted a blistering review of it, I uploaded the script itself so that any original idea you had there was free to be plundered by anyone who came across it."

    i'm a big Script Shadow fan, but i totally agree with you on this. it's pretty much my only gripe with what Carson does -- not knowing if the uploaded scripts represent a particular writer's best work. i certainly wouldn't want the public to see anything but my own best and would be horrified if one of my drafts that wasn't as close to perfect as possible, were available for all to see. and that's not even including any possible damage to my career -- i'd just be horrified that ANYONE was reading a draft that i personally didn't consider to be ready for showing.

    but as someone with no connections to HW, the access to scripts is just too good for me to ignore. reading an amazing unproduced spec script is such a different learning resource than reading the script of a movie that's already been made, no matter how stellar. it's like giving someone all you can eat kobe beef then asking them to go back to White Castle b/c it's the right thing to do. Script Shadow is far from perfect and i feel absolutely horrible for any harm it may have done to working writers, but it's just too good of a resource for an aspiring writer like myself stuck in Dirty Jersey to give up.

  4. I can appreciate people being upset with scriptshadow and its methods, but I'm surprised at the level of it. I've probably seen five separate blogs devoting time to it, and it's stirred up a pretty heated debate among the online screenwriting community.

    I don't read scriptshadow, so I don't care one way or the other, but I just don't understand it. Since when did this one blog matter so much? Aren't there lots of other sites that post up scripts? I can also probably name three or four other blogs that do almost exactly what scriptshadow does off the top of my head. Why didn't people bring this up months ago? I've never heard a complaint till john august posted, and then it exploded out of nowhere.

    I'm not really interested in debating the subject anymore, but I just feel like a lot of people didn't care before, and now are just jumping on the bandwagon.

  5. Oh yeah, I've also noticed you refer readers to scriptshadow before.I'm just curious. Do you regret that and was it John August's post that changed your mind or did you have doubts before? Sorry for the double post.

  6. As far as I'm aware, screenplay leaks on the net do very little to the film. Sure, it made a dent with J. J. Abrams' SUPERMAN (though I'd argue that had it been made, it probably would have been something of a box office hit, even so), but other than that, the ones who come in contact with the script or the script reviews are a very small segment of folks, and generally, it seems to have little-to-no effect on the commercial success of the film.

    So while I'll grant that this stuff is illegal, I have no idea why the studios are so concerned about it.

  7. so obvious you don't know who "Carson" really is.

  8. also, nobody reads his reviews. he's so silly. however, the script links are just fine, so let's not get all pinko about it hun, k? Great, thanks.

  9. beowulf - You're correct. John August brought up several points that I had not considered regarding ScriptShadow, and it completely changed my mind. This has only been reinforced by the dozen or so screenwriters who have said that the reviews on ScriptShadow have directly impacted their work and how they have to do work. Most of all, once John pointed all this out, I felt like a moron for not having considered all of his points before.

    If it was my site that was responsible for something like that, I'd be horrified. As it is, I feel bad for not having considered John's points while reading Carson's site everyday.

    Part of the reason this has gone on so long is because a significant portion of the "pro-script postings" debaters refuse to give any ground even in the face of very cogent points made by people on John's side. Too many defenders of SS have stuck to ridiculous arguements like "Fuck the rich writers!" and "But I wanna read the secret stuff!"

    Note that neither John, nor I, nor most anyone on the "anti-SS" side of the issue are trying to shut ScriptShadow down completely. We're just supporting the very reasonable compromises that John has proposed.

    Namism - Don't be so sure... I have no interest in "outing" Carson, nor do I care even debate his motives. He has said he's out to help writers and I believe him. However, since we know that his actions are having conseqences, I'm merely arguing that he should make the changes that John has proposed - and I'm attacking the rather naive attacks that others have made on John's positions.

    Though we haven't seen any public comment from him, I do hope that Carson is in touch with the screenwriters who have shared their stories of woe and is working on some changes that can make everyone happy. I also feel he would do a better job presenting his position than the mob that has taken up his cause - but it is his right to remain silent.

    The fact that the last few days of posts at SS is "business as usual" has angered some, but I'm willing to assume that - like me - Carson often writes his posts days in advance and might not have had the time to compose a proper response.

  10. Okay, lets break it down once again, sigh...

    There are sites on the internet that post scripts for movies still in production.

    There are sites that review scripts that are in production.

    There are sites that both post AND review scripts that are in production.

    There are PAID tracking boards where users pass around scripts to one another and post their reviews.

    Then there are the internal studio trackers who do the same EXACT THING.

    What in the hell makes Scriptshadow so damn important? Do the people on the internal trackers talk amongst themselves, "Wow, did you see that review that Carson gave that new horror movie? They'll be lucky to make it into production now that Scriptshadow gave them a bad review."

    Has Hollywood become so insular that its opinions can be swayed by a ONE LOW LEVEL PRODUCTION ASSISTANT/READER WITH A BLOG?


    We're not talking about Harry Knowles here, were talking about a dude who's pretty much at the lowest level in Hollywood. It is absurd.

    The truth is that everyone that's complaining about Scriptshadow is simply angry that what used to be internal and visible to only a "select" few, is now visible to all of the general public, of which only .0000000000001% care, and those people are wanna be writers. It's absurd.

  11. "Part of the reason this has gone on so long is because a significant portion of the "pro-script postings" debaters refuse to give any ground even in the face of very cogent points made by people on John's side."

    You are kidding, right? You yourself said that you used to link to it but have reconsidered following the posts. I think most people have said that, if it is hurting working writers, then these suggestions are reasonable.

    If anyone is not giving ground, it is the pro writers and their supporters. Basically comparing what he does to stealing screenplays from writers laptops, posting them and laughing gleefully while twirling his evil mustache.

  12. Yet again, people continue to gripe that this is about "elitism." How charming that not even people who aspire to be screenwriters care whatsoever about the difficulties faced by working screenwriters.

    The truth is, ScriptShadow's fans don't care that the site hurts working writers. They seem to have nothing but contempt for working writers. So, no logical argument is going to sway them; they'd rather stick their fingers in their ears and say LALALA.

  13. I just deleted a comment that had personal information about Carson Reeves, including his real name and his day job. I know this information is popping up on other sites, and that there is a certain poetic justice in robbing Carson of the privacy that he has taken from other screenwriters...

    But I will not allow this site to be party to that. PERIOD.

    Any post that violates that will be deleted. Carson's real name and profession are completely irrelevant to the discussion of if his site hurts working writers.

    Yeah, it might be fun to take a cheap shot at the guy because his day job isn't within studio walls, but that's completely beside the point. Every writer got their start somewhere, and most writers - particularly novelists - have to hold down a day job to pay the bills. Mocking his chosen profession is juvenile.

    I don't care if he's a social worker, a gardener, or the head of Fox. None of that is relevant at all. This isn't about Carson as a person - this is about the impact of his site.

  14. That was my post you deleted. My point was not to name and shame him (I've known who he was for a while), nor to mock his "alternate" profession. My point was that "Carson" isn't anyone of importance in the industry. He's not a creative executive, or a successful producer. He's writer, and from what I understand a studio reader. I don't care what "Carson" does for his "other" day job, as I've done just about every horrible, dirty job there is.

    The only "power" his opinion has, is that which you give him. In reality he's just a guy on a blog, NOTHING MORE.

    Oh, and Carson isn't a magician. He's not breaking into up and coming writer's apartments and stealing the drafts off their hard drives. Whatever he manages to snag is already in circulation around the various tracking boards.

    All this discussion is moot anyway. VERY soon "Carson" is going to get a nice little letter from one of the studio's lawyers and that'll be the end of the script parade. He'll be lucky if he survives this mess unscathed.

  15. "What I DID say was that his reviews are not "coverage," which is plainly obvious to anyone who compares a ScriptShadow review to any example of industry coverage."

    Why on earth should ScriptShadow write coverages? He's not a reader, he has no boss who needs coverages.

    ScriptShadow is more about initiating a discussion about a script. And because this is a blog everyone is free to join the discussion. That's what the whole exercise is about. It's not about SS sitting in judgement, pretending to be some sort of auhority.

  16. This is just getting damned silly.

  17. Bitter Script Reader said:

    "Just because they haven't gone after the PA who printed off a copy of TRANSFORMERS 3 and kept it in his room doesn't mean they've voided the right to pursue a guy who boldly posts a copy of the script on the internet."

    I'm in complete agreement with you on this whole issue. But you're being too kind here.

    The fact is, according to U.S. copyright law, if a studio knows about that PA who printed off a copy of TRANSFORMERS 3 and chooses not to do anything about it, they WILL void their right to go after people like Carson Reeves. In fact, they lose ownership of that copyright forever.

    The difference is that with that lone PA, they don't know. With Carson, they can't help but know. Therefore, they are required to go after him or lose the rights to the screenplays he posts forever.

    Web sites like The Daily Script are a different matter. The screenplays there are for movies that have already been made. Therefore, the value of the copyright on those screenplays isn't worth much anymore. But with Reeves' site, the screenplays haven't been made and so the studios can't afford to lose their rights to them.

  18. @ annida

    I never said ScriptShadow SHOULD write coverages. I was merely discussing studio coverage and its purposes, while pointing out to the uninitiated that what SS does is NOT coverage. Since many SS defenders have argued that the site is their only window into Hollywood, I wanted to make sure we were all on the same page.

    But coverage is more in-depth than the reviews Carson writes. That's a fact - much in the same way that a term paper is more exhaustively researched than an essay.