Thursday, January 29, 2009

I am the Gatekeeper

Who am I?

To some, I’m the grunt. The guy who reads a three-foot stack of scripts in a week and distills each script into a write-up of three single spaced pages. I read the scripts so the important people don’t have to. I’m the colander who stems the flow of crap to their inbox, the guy who lets them know if it’s worth skimming the first fifteen pages so they can figure out if they should take the time glance at the remaining 100.

To others, I’m the guy who crushes their dreams, the one who says they suck and who takes pleasure in making them feel small. I am the nitpicker who needlessly questions the internal logic of the story, the guy who writes pompous reviews as if presenting a dissertation. I’m the guy who’s bitter he never made it as a writer so I spend my days tearing down the accomplishments of others. I’m the guy who hates everything.

Both characterizations have some validity to them, but the truth tends to lie somewhere in between. I’m the guy you – the writer – needs to get past. There’s one of me at every agency and production company, and the truth is that we don’t hate writers and we don’t revel in bad scripts. Quite the opposite, in fact. We’re hungry for good scripts. Every reader wants to make a discovery, to be the one to find that diamond in the rough. We’re after the bragging rights of telling our friends “I found that!” We want our bosses to be impressed with our insight so that we can keep them from thinking any intern could do our jobs for free.

True, some would have you believe that we PASS on everything on principle – there’s no risk in saying “no” and there’s every risk in becoming and advocate for a losing film. I can understand that, but the fact is that readers are low enough on the totem pole that advocating a weak script won’t spell doom unless it’s an utterly wretched piece of work, and one that shows your tastes are completely incompatible with your bosses anyway. Readers shouldn’t worry if they were the ones who found I Know Who Killed Me – the decisions to make movies like that are made well above their paygrade. All I do is filter out the 15 bad scripts in a given week so that one good one can get the full attention of the people who make the calls.

I am the Gatekeeper.

In this blog, I’m going to draw on my experience working for three production companies (two of which won Oscars for Best Picture), a Big Five Agency, and a company that gives professional feedback to up-and-coming screenwriters. However, confidentiality rules might occasionally keep me from going too deep into detail about specific projects. Don’t come here for industry gossip. This is largely a resource for aspiring writers, to give them a peak behind the curtain, and help them become better screenwriters.

I’ve started this blog because I’m bitter – bitter that so many aspiring writers waste their time and mine by writing substandard work. Probably at least 75% of what I read is amateurishly written, by people who appear to have little or now understanding of the craft. I’m tired of seeing the same mistakes, of writing the same notes, and the time has come to do something about it.