Earlier this week I said that writers who haven't broken in shouldn't write about screenwriters. Today, I want to give a broader note along those lines - don't write about Hollywood.
There is nothing more frustrating than reading a script about the industry you have worked in for years, and stopping on every page to tally up the numerous ways the writer has gotten the basic attitudes, tenor and tone of that lifestyle wrong. As you might imagine, it's pretty irksome when some writer from Iowa - who's probably never been to L.A. - writes a story that is cast as an insider take on dealmaking, packaging and movie production.
A quick sidebar: a few people have asked how I end up reading the work of writers so naive to write about writers, or write about Hollywood. The short answer is that this town is a town of back-scratching. Just because I'm on the inside, it doesn't mean that I only get material from insiders. One of my gigs is reading for a production company, and there is a fair amount of utter shit that comes in. Sure, there's a healthy diet of material from agents, but there are also scripts that come in as favors.
These scripts could be anything from something that the company president's nanny wrote, to the script that some VP's college buddy sent him, to something submitted by financiers who've funded projects in the past. There are a hundred reasons why I end up reading a script written by someone less experienced than many who read my blog. I've stopped trying to trace the path back and just accepted that in any given month, I'm going to get several assignments that are horribly amateurish.
So this is my plea to those writers who don't live in L.A. and aren't immersed in the industry: stop writing about Hollywood. Stop thinking that Entourage and a half-remembered viewing of Get Shorty back in 1995 counts as research into how people in the industry behave. I'm sick of seeing the same stereotypes - the screaming agents, the bimbo actresses, and the overly arty directors. Do these types exist in this town? Hell yes! At one time or another I've been in a room with sterling examples of each of those. But here's the thing: Ari Gold already exists! There's no need to clone a less-nuanced version of him.
If you've never been on a set, don't write scenes about film production. Trust me, you'll get the details wrong. If your main character is assistant to an actor, writer or director, make sure you've got a good idea what that job entails.
And if you don't have any real understanding of how agents put their clients up for jobs, negotiate sales and cut deals - PLEASE don't write about it.
There's nothing wrong with honing your craft while you live outside L.A. There are millions of stories out there in the wide world. Tell one of those.
And yeah, sure there are plenty of people who write about subjects where their first-hand knowledge might be lacking. I wrote a legal drama and I've never been a lawyer. However, I've worked for lawyers, I've read lots of law memoirs, books on major cases, seen several law documentaries and watched a lot of legal TV shows and movies. And you know what? I'd be willing to be that there are still errors in that script that a real lawyer would nitpick.
But here's the thing - when I want to get this movie made, I'm not sending it to a lawyer. It's going to be read by someone who likely is less knowledgeable than I am about the law. Those little details I get wrong aren't going to be noticed. If I write a medical drama, the same thing applies.
But you don't know much about Hollywood, and you're going to write about it? And you're going to send it to someone who lives and breathes that world?