Monday, February 1, 2010

How do I do it?

Nicholas sent me this email a few weeks ago and I'm only just now getting around to it. Sorry!

I've been reading your site for a while. Love it. You give great advice. But to be honest, having never read or attempted to read a bad script, I never really knew what it was like to be a reader. Until just 20 minutes ago...

On a whim I decided to get a Triggerstreet account so that I could DL some bad scripts and learn from them. I immediately regretted my decision. Let me just say...the script I attempted to read was instantly painful to behold. No, seriously, it cause me physical pain. I don't know how, but it did.

So I attempted to read the first few pages of that same writer's newest script -- the forth they have uploaded. It was certainly better, but still so entirely cringe worthy.

How do you do it man? If nearly every script I read was that bad... Fuck, I just don't know... I'm not a drinker, but I feel like the only way I could get through being a reader is if I knocked back a bottle of scotch before heading to work each morning.

So really, all I wanted to say was: I feel your pain, man. I'm bitter after just 10 pages, and I'm not even required to finish the damn thing. I'd hate to find out how bitter you are after 6 years of this dreck.

I'm sure someone is going to pop up and defend Triggerstreet, but I will say that my extremely limited exposure to their scripts (a fact which goes back probably five years at this point) leads me to believe that most of what you'll find on that site is worse than what I read. Like I said, I haven't been there in a long time so for all I know, it could be a writer's haven, populated by only the best and the brightest who give insightful critiques to truly stellar scripts.

But I doubt it.

However, reading bad scripts is just part of the job. Sometimes the bad scripts excite me more than the good ones, to be honest. If it's a weak script, but I can see exactly where it went wrong and I'm pretty sure I know how to fix it, it really ends up stimulating my imagination. It's always fun to be able to write coverage that points out several flaws while still being able to offer a lot of intelligent solutions to them. How many jobs let you exercise that part of your brain?

And then there are the scripts that are beyond saving but are still entertainingly bad in an "Ed Wood" sort of way. These are rather rare, though. Most bad scripts are of the "boring bad" variety, and yeah, they can be total soul drainers. If you're lucky, they're bad in ways to entertainingly savage. Bad reviews are almost always more fun to write than good reviews. There are times where I'll write a really brutal, savage review of a script just to get it out of my system. Then I'll go back and rewrite a lot of it to make it acceptable for "agency-style" coverage.

Are there weeks where I'm bored to death and just frustrated with what I've had to read? Sure, all the time! But is there any job that doesn't suck at all? I'm sure that even the guy who gets to paint the bikinis on the naked Sports Illustrated Swimsuit models would have something to bitch about if you asked him.

Though I can't imagine what.


  1. At one time I was editing novels by nobodies. And, I agree, sometimes it was phsyically painful.

    Occassionally the material was interesting but it was always horribly written.

    The strangest and saddest one was potentially a good thriller. The writing was okay except sometimes the author would use a weird verb - that sort of meant what it should mean in that context, but not quite.

    It eventually dawned on me that he was using Word's thesaurus facility to choose a different word but had no idea what it really meant.

    It really can hurt.

  2. If you believe in sending the elevator back down, then you should understand that the elevator goes all the way to the basement. With the minimum standards required at Triggerstreet, an amateur writer has somewhere to start. That starting place does not determine how high the writer may travel in the elevator.

    There is a long learning curve for the screenwriting process. It's easy to learn the basics to get to mediocre and a much more difficult uphill climb to creating a screenplay of "surpassing quality". That phrase comes from McKee:

    Learning from "bad" scripts isn't about feeling superior. I've read way too many polished-turd sundae scripts from those superior writers. Polishing a turd (or worse a derivative turd) and adding whipped cream will never get you to surpassing quality. If you need to read a "bad" script to learn, you're lost prior to reading anything. If you can understand that the script is a turd or possibly a diamond in the rough and why, you've got a chance to learn something. That's why there are page one rewrites... Sparky.

    I'll be a member at Triggerstreet as long as they'll have me...searching for diamonds.

  3. Kevin Spacey on sending the elevator back down.

  4. My 09-10 holiday was spent with TS. I force-fed four scripts so I could upload my own, per requirements (the site has amazing process controls). In return, I got six reviews and "notes".

    Clear after the experience -- concepts are a dime a dozen, or free... there are just as many good amateurs as there are "bad"... first reviews can be an eye-opening kick in the... any writer openly bashing TS probably can't "hang"... readers suffer, even physically... "exposition" and its "on the nose" problem is not discussed often enough in the blogs... and that screenwriting is the most subjective craft that I've ever been involved in.

    In summary, it's an excellent, free, screenwriter resource and "don't knock it until you try it." Anyone who claims they won't upload for fear of theft is living in a disillusioned world of self-flattery, we are, in fact, not all that unique!

  5. Great comment, Brian Burke. Really liked what you had to say.

    There's a new spot you can go to either post a script and get some feedback, or read someone elses work that's getting pretty popular. It's called "Go Into the Story Club." AND if you're ever interested I posted Act I of a script I wrote in 2003/2004 entitled "Revenge of the Fat Chicks." It's posted under the ENTIRE ACTS subgroup. IF interested you can check-out the GITS Club at:

    LOTS of people posting loglines there.

    Love out to the Bitter Script Reader; I love it when you chim in on Scott Myers posts at "Go Into the Story." Your A-game rocks!!

    - E.C. Henry from Bonny Lake, WA

  6. I joined Trigger Street after I became a working pro, which is probably unusual ... but it was an incredibly valuable experience in that I came to understand how hard reading a script, a lot of them, can be ... and it improved my writing because now I feel for the reader as much as for the audience.

    There are a lot bad scripts there, no doubt (anyone can upload, so it's to be expected ... just like on American Idol, anyone can audition and you'll get a bunch of very bad singers before you run into anyone with talent) and also a few writers who know what they're doing and use the site as a networking tool, too.

    One of the best scripts I've read I read at TS ... but I read a whole lot of bad scripts first (and some were so bad I couldn't read past the first few pages).

    But for me the most valuable part of the site was exactly that, understanding what goes into reading and evaluating a bunch of scripts ... it improved me as a writer.

    I should add that it's also important to read really great scripts, too, so as to understand how high the bar is, and not be complacent with turning in a script that's only "not bad" - which can be a danger at TS ... otherwise one becomes satisfied with just being the fastest kid at fat camp, when the goal should extend beyond ... if you get the metaphor.

    Basically, it's important to know how a script reads ... you get that from being a reader, as a pro or on a site like TS ...

  7. I'm afraid to read bad scripts, but I agree with some of the folks here... reading a bad script teaches you how to avoid writing shittily...

    however I have NEVER faced physical pain while reading a bad script (play or film)... !!