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.