Friday, September 4, 2009

Psych 101 with scripts

I'm cheating a bit here, but there was a comment that came up in the discussion of the rape scene in The Last House on the Left. I responded there, but realized that given the age of the post, it's likely to go unnoticed.

Mr. Main Event asks:

I wonder if you, Bitter, have ever encountered a script where you seriously questioned the mental capacity of the writer? Have you ever read a script and thought, "this could be the next Eric Red" ( I recently had an experience like that reading a script about (I'm not sure what the rules are on here, so I won't say the name) a hospital for the criminally insane where the power goes out and the inmates brutalize the staff in the most grotesque ways possible. I checked the address on the cover page and was relieved to see that the writer didn't live anywhere near me . . .

Oh yes, there have been several scripts where I seriously questioned the mental capacity of the writer. One in particular sticks in my mind and it was one of the most vile, reprehensible pieces of writing I had ever been subjected to. There are plenty of times I'm reading a disturbing scene and think "This guy has issues," but this is one of the few times I legitimately felt like I was getting a glimpse into the psyche of a truly sick individual.

And when we readers get something that loathsome, do you think we Google the writer and the script? You bet your ass we do!

Imagine my shock when this script - which makes the collective works of Eli Roth look like Care Bears: The Movie and was full of so much misogyny that it made female circumcision look like a bikini wax by comparison - was a Nicholl Fellowship Quarterfinalist!

This why when someone counters a bad review of mine by saying their script was a finalist in a contest, I don't give a shit. There's a reason that few Nicholls-winning scripts have actually been produced.Now maybe the year in question happened to be a pretty weak year for Nicholls submissions... but still, this was such utter sleaze that the script deserved to be burned after the first read and the ashes returned to the writer as a warning not to put pen to paper ever again.

Am I being too harsh?

(Yeah, it might be bad form to recycle comments as a new post, but I'm sure most of you have a half day, so consider this a half-post.)


  1. I read an action/comedy script once where the writer, who clearly wasn't from 'round these parts, assigned racial slurs as names for each of the script's minority characters, as well as sight-gags such as sombreros and over-sized watermelons. His protagonist, a brawny white male driving a muscle car, would end nearly every scene by blowing half of these characters away with a shotgun while screaming "stupid ----'s" or "fucking -----'s".

    To your question, "Am I being too harsh?" Hell no. Stephen King wrote an interesting column about this issue following Virginia Tech:,,20036014,00.html


    "I don't think you can pick these guys out based on their work, unless you look for violence unenlivened by any real talent."

  2. It's not considered recycling. It's *promoting* comments.

  3. I think I know the script the author is writing about. It was a Zahler draft, I think, and I found it well-written but irredeemably nihilistic.

  4. Wow, I feel like I've "made it." Alex Epstein has commented on my blog! Welcome!

    and kgmadman - YIKES! I've read crap like that, where the writer was clearly taking too much glee in putting (or inventing) new racial and/or sexual slurs. (And what do you know... that aforementioned script I read was loaded with instances of an invented mysogynistic insult.) Usually it's a read flag that you're dealling with a racist or a pervert.

    (And yes, you can use those slurs in context... we're talking about when it's more than clear that the writer LOVES using those insults for reasons unrelated to the story.)

  5. At the same time, such over the top and past the line writing needs to be taken seriously because desensitization is a natural human phenomenon and we are always looking for something more to push us farther than before.

    If you think that some material is too gonzo, reality is often far worse. Just keep tabs on to see what I mean and if you need something more visual, cycle through images over at until you want to scream an anguished cry that last until you go hoarse and your eyes are red and your face wet with tears. You can reach a point where you cannot believe people do things like that to others and themselves.

    Sure some stuff if not most is self-gratuitous, just there to excite the writer much like Eddie Izzard improvising ideas that make him laugh first and the audience second, but I guess you have to take it case by case.

  6. I wrote a horror script last yr that was very dark & extreme. There's a rape and one char is sliced open & skinned, etc... I thought long & hard about the violence and it's effect-- and what I was trying to say thematically.

    I worried about what people might think of me-- that a was unstable or that i hated men (several are killed in gory ways).

    But in the end, I thought, this is a horror story, so there's going to be some blood spilled. It's to be expected. I trustd the reader would figure out my intent, & conclude the violence wasn't gratuitous, but there to serve a purpose.

    No one that's read the script has told me I went too far or that it's torture porn or whatever. But that could change if it ever gets a wider audience.