Thursday, September 16, 2010

Don't write about Hollywood

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?

Good luck.


  1. I am kind of guilty of these crimes, in that I wrote a spec about the goings-on at a porn studio (and what happens when a 'real' writer ends up writing porn scripts). Rather than doing a lot of research into porn production, I opted to make my best guess.

    As you can imagine, this saved a lot of time (research time, and explaining-to-my-wife time).

    My counter question is this: Does it really matter if we get something accurate as long as it's entertaining? If we miss details that nobody would notice save for actual Hollywood insiders, would it really be a deal breaker?

    I would think that accuracy would take a back seat to a good, well-written story.

  2. And in reverse, I dislike the way a lot of people in Hollywood make movies and TV shows as if they have no idea how anyone outside of the biz lives, what their houses and cities and income levels and families and work lives are like.

    If you haven't done anything but be inside the show biz bubble since you were 20, make sure you have your script reviewed by plenty of other people who have had an actual life in the Real World. Even, perhaps, people who've lived in that not-at-all-insultingly named, "Flyover Country."

    I've heard Detroit 1-8-7's pilot has a character talk about drinking a soda. Flying Spaghetti Monster, you only have to be in Michigan a week to know it's POP, people.

  3. that is common sense. I'd really love to write a war movie, but I've never been in the military or been to war-ravaged Iraq or Afghanistan so I never will try. Maybe someday I'll meet someone who have been in the war and would want to write a script and maybe I'll help him/her with it...

  4. Wow, Amy. You don't like the insult "Flyover Country" but then you use the insulting term "Flying Spaghetti Monster". Practice what you preach?

  5. Since when is "Flying Spaghetti Monster" an insult? Are you mocking Amy's deity?

  6. I should also add that people who live in Hollywood and know the industry know better than to write scripts about Hollywood as well. You can count the sucessful films about Hollywood and making movies on one hand. These scripts just don't sell.