Thursday, January 10, 2013

The ethics of script sharing

Last month, the new Black List was released and I was rather disgusted to see some of the usual reactions.  No, I'm not talking about people bitching that every script on that List sucked.  My ire was largely raised by the fact that within hours, people had compiled all of the scripts together in a zip file and posted the link for public download.

You could find it on Reddit, on Twitter, and even on a tracking board that charges its users for access to links like that.  In fact, the people behind that tracking board didn't just post the link, but were actively working to compile an archive of those scripts on their own.  That sort of thing doesn't sit well with me for a lot of reasons and - perhaps more importantly - it was clear it was not a welcome development in the eyes of several people ON the list.

This sparked a pretty interesting thread on Done Deal Pro.  (Notably DDP's moderators made it clear in no uncertain terms that posting a link to the scripts would not be tolerated, so kudos to them there.)  Several posters didn't quite understand what the big deal was and there was a (polite, it should be noted) request for people like myself to discuss our side of it.

One user, Anagram, gave a fairly succinct explanation of where the lines are drawn when it comes to the ethics of script-sharing.  I posted that I pretty much agreed with that, but there was a request for a more complete answer on my part.  Since some people here might find this interesting I decided to re-post it:

 - Any public review of a script without first obtaining permission of the writer - WRONG, for a whole host of reasons.

- Any public dissemination of a screenplay you didn't write, including but not limited to in-development projects and contest winners - WRONG.

You'll find zero negotiation from me on those points. Screwing over contest winners like Nicholl Finalists is something I find especially repugnant. I don't care how much anyone wants to read them, those winners deserve the chance to control who reads their script and know who in the industry is requesting their script. When websites and web posters make these scripts widely available, it deprives the winner of the joy of seeing everyone coming to him, wanting to look at their work.

Let's also make it clear that "public dissemination" means giving access to the script to people who you might not personally know. So if you're dropping scripts in a Sendspace folder that anyone can get to, that counts. Scriptshadow's email where he sends links to a "limited" list of a few thousand people? That counts.

Let's talk about the grey area people seem to want to find here...

 I don't think there's anything wrong with trading a script between friends, and it's understood between my friends that there are some scripts we can't share at all, and other scripts that if I pass it to them, they CANNOT pass it to anyone else. At the end of the day, that works because I'm accountable to them and they're accountable to me.

This is one reason why no one cares about assistants swapping scripts - because they're not going to fuck each other over. If Harvey's assistant gives a friend the new Tarantino script, that friend isn't going to jeopardize his buddy's job (and the friendship) by writing a review of it and emailing it to everyone in his contact list. In Assistant Land, there are consequences to that kind of thing and it basically keeps everyone in line. In Assistant Land, if you let the tentpole slip and the leak is traced back to you - it costs you your job.

But a writing hobbyist in, say, Idaho doesn't have that incentive. If they get JUSTICE LEAGUE or AVENGERS 2, what consequences keep them in line? Sure, there was that $15 million lawsuit over DEADPOOL, but the mere fact we're having this discussion means that clearly didn't scare anyone too much.

I only give scripts to people I know personally. And I have NEVER traded a script for a major film produced the companies I've worked for. I've been lucky enough to work for companies that have dealt in franchise films and nobody wants the grief that comes if those scripts get out.

I interviewed Scott Frazier recently, and damned if I didn't get people emailing me asking me to send them copies of his scripts. I was surprised at their boldness, but that's also the perfect example of someone I'd never give a script to. I don't those people. I don't know what they'll do with the script, where they'll post it. And they have no loyalty to me, so there's no real incentive for them NOT to screw me over.

Or here's an even better example.  Back when Scriptshadow was hyping up The Disciple Program for two solid weeks before his review, he didn't just slip it to a few trusted industry contacts.  He actually emailed it out to his entire newsletter three days before the script was reviewed.  Given the timetable that was later revealed this also would have been AFTER the script was in the hands of several agents and managers who were looking to sign the writer.

Blasting such a hot spec out to a newsletter of hundreds or thousands of people indiscriminately could have been a colossally stupid move.  At the time that newsletter was sent, a lot of people were trying to get their hands on the script and they all had to go through Carson.  Better still, it created a ticking clock where some agents and potential buyers were worried that their rivals had access that they didn't.  Thus, a fire was lit under them to react quickly if they wanted it.  Hesitation or inability to get the script could have meant missing out on a hot property.

This is the mentality you want your buyers to have to deal with.  It puts more power in your hands and it creates a bidding war.

Within an hour of the newsletter going out, three readers of MY blog had forwarded it onto me.  The emails were mostly variations of "Hey, this is the hottest spec in town and just in case you want it I figured I'd send it to you."  I'd never heard from any of these people before, and I'm pretty sure I haven't corresponded with them since.  They don't know me (outside of my blog).  They don't know who I work for.  They don't know what I'd do with the script or who I'd send it to.

But they knew this was a hot spec.  And it made them feel cool to show someone that they had it.  They had nothing invested in the writer's success or failure.  I doubt they even knew the writer.  They just were feeling the rush of having something they believed was desirable and wanted to show people that they were on the inside.

Maybe you don't see how dangerous that is, but when it's a script you're attached to, I guarantee you'll think differently.


  1. Great post man. As the DDP thread showed, I think this is an important topic that needs to be discussed. People are a little too cavalier with the potential impact when they want something. I think pointing out the downfalls of public script sharing the way you have is a great resource for people who want to understand the debate.

  2. Screenplays by themselves have almost ZERO value. It is only PERCEIVED value that is attached to "hot" screenplays. 99.9% of the public could care less about screenplays. The only thing the public cares about is the logline, and the the trailer, and possibly who's starring it the movie. Nobody in the public not in the film industry, or a writer, is going to actually READ a screenplay.

    The only screenplays worth anything in the public's eyes are screenplays from already established properties. That is to say the script for the new Star Wars sequel would have some value to Star Wars fans wanting to know if the new movie(s) are going to be good, or a let down. But in 1977 the script for Star Wars was practically toxic in Hollywood, and even Sir Alex Guinness thought the script was rubbish.

    Bitter, ethically there is no real difference between some unknown dude sending you what he thinks is a hot screenplay, and you sending one of your friends at another studio what you think is a hot script (without the permission of the script's author/studio) The idea is that those who run Hollywood, including the assistants, the readers, the executives always know best and that anyone outside of this closed process can only disrupt it. And I have to say, this is true to a degree.

    I like to think of the screenplay game as a closed game at a blackjack table in Vegas with some skilled blackjack players. Now what would happen if, all of a sudden, two drunk guys pulled up a chair and forced their way into the game? The drunk guys would fuck up the game and ruin it for everyone else not because they're drunk, but because they're drunk AND they don't know what they're doing; they'd be taking the good cards away from the skilled players and blowing them on stupid bets.

    Back to the value of a screenplay. Screenplays are nothing more than blueprints, a structured outline of what a movie is going to be about. These blueprints can be reviewed and critiqued, but even then the value of the screenplay is limited in that it requires proper EXECUTION to bring its value to fruition.

    Back in 1977 practically everyone thought the script for Star Wars was terrible, with exception of Fox's Alan Ladd Jr. who even then was investing in Lucas, not Star Wars. But it was the George Lucas' execution of Star Wars, combined with the incredibly talented people who brought that movie to life, that finally gave the script its value.

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    3. Problem with this mentality is that once you ship out a script, doesn't matter if it's hot at that moment. But when it gets picked up, people will start FRANTICALLY looking for it.

      Then when the few people who get their hands on it and read it...guess what? THEY START POSTING EXCERPTS OF IT ON THEIR BLOGS!! Completely spoiling the potential future movie, laid out the plot details (possibly important ones) out for MANY more people to read. People who prefer to read top lists than news articles (which is a higher number, might I add).

      That's exactly what happened to the Michael Bat TMNT script. I didn't even read it yet when it leaked but I saw articles popping out blaring out the choices it made, in the form of a top list no less. I even read a couple, where they post the lines and scrutinized the writer's choices. Not knowing if that writer was forced to make those choices due to terrible notes and probably had a better script in mind.

      Now if that writer gets a new assignment, possibly a dream assignment they are allowed some free reign on, people will point out and say "HEY LOOK! It's made by the guy who almost ruined TMNT! Don't see that film!"

      It'd also be like leaking the script to the Sixth Sense while it was in production and people started posting the ending EVERYWHERE on the internet. Who in turn would tell their friends and family in real life. I doubt the movie would've been as big as it ended up being if that happened. Part of the reason was how surprising the twist was, not alot of people saw it coming (though Shyamalan's credibility has been ruined since).

      If it starts to get this bad by the time I start shipping my material out, i'm investing in a typewriter and only giving xeroxed copies with unique watermarked identifiers so I can know who the culprit was!

    4. This is very different from script sharing - a completely different topic. What you're talking about is the review of a writer's work for personal profit. Sites which do this to gain page hits from viewers and earn revenue from advertising (ain't it cool news, Scriptshadow, etc.) are a very different matter from people getting new scripts to read and learn from. VERY different scenario.

  3. The Buzz, or anti-Buzz of a hot script, or writer in Hollywood is going to always be spread by those in the industry anyway. In reality, so what if some anonymous guy with a blog gives a hot script a "pass?" All that really matters is what those people tied into the system think. Those people already in the system are the ones that assign value to screenplays internally, so it is irrelevant and quite silly to care about -outside- buzz of a script; what 200 people thought about it on a
    Scriptshadow comments section, or to think that that one website, or some no name people on a Done Deal forum think, let alone have INFLUENCE over the process.

    There was some buzz a few years ago about Scriptshadow (apparently) fucking up some deal, or almost fucking up some deal for some really shitty screenplay that didn't deserve to get made because it was terrible. I think that was about the time Carson went to the private script link email system. But once again, really, if a screenplay is shaky enough to be sunk by some anonymous writer, on an anonymous blog, it doesn't deserve to get made, and perhaps natural selection ran its course.

    Let's take this scenario. I'm about to close on deal to sell my script "Blood Baskets" to a studio. That day ScriptShadow comes out with a review saying it's just an okay script, giving it a "worth the read." So what? The very fact that Scriptshadow is reviewing it means that more than likely an assistant passed it on in the first place. That's the trick. These "leaked" screenplays don't get onto the web for Scriptshadow to review without someone putting them there.

    Ultimately it is how the movie turns out that really means anything. Even Robert Evans had to yell at Coppola into cutting "The Godfather" into the movie we now know today, despite having the perfect direct, writers, cast and crew; it came down to how the movie was edited that made the movie work.

    Nobody likes bad press, but to say a blog, or forum on the net can scuttle a (totally unknown and original screenplay) before it's even got off the ground is borderline paranoia. As if it is already bouncing around amongst assistants and readers and execs in Hollywood, it's already been judged.

    The only scripts that are much rarer to see in "public" circulation are those of established properties (Star Wars, Hunger Games, etc.) or remakes. That shitty Deadpool script got leaked and that poor woman PJ and her little script group were utterly decimated by the lawyers at Fox, even though they should have gone after the much larger websites (Aint it cool) that "leak" scripts.

    But with these remakes, 99% of them deserve to die on the vine. Look at the Robocop remake. I have no confidence in the movie whatsoever, not because of the (supposedly) leaked script that proves the movie going to suck, but because of the fact that a Robocop reboot even exists. But to go further, the director of the Robocop reboot has gone on record saying, that the Robocop remake has being the worst experience in his whole life. He said that out of 10 ideas he proposes, 9 are flat out rejected."

    It's a double edged sword. If you get rid of Scriptshadow, you have to get rid of the black list. Ethically they're the same thing. The only difference is that the black list is put together and voted on by industry workers trading screenplays amongst themselves, hoping to highlight great unproduced screenplays and (now) trying to find that next great unproduced screenplay.

    Scriptshadow is doing the same thing, although outside the system. The only difference is the perceived loss of value of a screenplay by Scriptshadow sharing unproduced scripts with the lowly amateur writers who have no real influence over anything in Hollywood whatsoever.

    But that won't really mean much soon anyway as Carson is desperately trying to legitimize himself, and I surmise the script links will soon vanish, or become part of a VIP Scriptshadow feature.

    1. I disagree with just about every point you think you've made, but as I've belabored most of those points in the past, I'm not going to repeat them. I can't let your comparison to the Black List stand, though.

      The annual Black List bears no resemblance to Scriptshadow at all. It's an incredibly poor analogy. It's merely a list of the most-liked scripts. It doesn't distribute these scripts and there's no category like "What the hell did I just read?" It's all very project-supportive.

      Even the Black List 3.0 is a terrible analogy to ScriptShadow because every script on that site is up there voluntarily with the writer's permission and they can remove it at any time. The only part of SS that this is at all like is Amateur Friday, which as many people have pointed out, no one really seems to have a problem with at all.

    2. Yahbut, even Amateur Fridays have an ethical worm to go with the apple. At least, they have since Noscrac jacked his coverage rates up to $800-$1500 a pop. The implication is that if you pays up the top bill, you gets moved to the head of the Amateur Friday line.

      Which is precisely why I dropped out of ScriptShadows and have posted, at length, on DoneDeal (as "M.O. Schrenck") about the glib internet script vampire "Carson Reeves."

  4. Senator,

    You are way off on this. Publicly trading and reviewing scripts in development is wrong. An Assistant is not giving SS those scripts, he lived in Chicago and did not work in the film industry or have any connections. He just recently moved to L.A. and has never worked in the film industry. He was downloading the scripts from the net and sharing them like Napster.

    But, Bitter's post was about sharing scripts, which for me is something that needs to be addressed. It's very confusing.

    I feel the internet has completely changed everything and downloading things the don't belong to people is very easy. So what are the ethics of downloading "Rocky" or "The Matrix". The reality is, I don't want those scripts in a book at Barnes and Nobles. I want a PDF copy that goes on my iPad. The internet easily provides that option.

    Also, professional people like Bitter preaching to the unwashed amateurs (like me) can get old. I hope this doesn't turn into that.

    1. Dave,

      The sharing of scripts is going to happen no matter what. Assistants are always looking for writing samples or certain properties - so trading, regardless of the author's wishes, is still going to happen.

      The thing that is definitely unethical, like you said, is the SS review and distribution because it encourages the evaluation of incomplete work to generate an opinion. I think this is absolutely wrong. But BSR then expands his argument to decry tracking boards and reddit - two smaller communities (and r/Screenwriting is a small community), which provide us - the amateurs - with a finger to the pulse of what's going on. One can only reach the apex by studying good work and understanding why bad work is bad work. Which is why accessing a database is a wonderful tool. But it's one thing to put your foot down and another to put your foot down and say "but what I'm doing is OK" - because it flies in the face of the argument and pushes forth an "outsiders belong on the outside" agenda.

  5. While I agree with your evaluation of the SS blast emails delivering scripts to people, your argument is invalid and your article contains a glaring factual inaccuracy. the t.board that you are referring to in question did not compile the list - someone compiled a list and posted it first on reddit which then wound up on that site in question. And the minute you say "I see nothing wrong with swapping scripts with people you know/friends" you violate the two points that you say there will be no negotiation on - the fact that you are disseminating the work of a writer that is not you. And i've heard this argument before - you tried this on twitter a few weeks ago and just won't let this die - and the full scope of your argument is "fuck people outside the Hollywood system - they aren't allowed to read scripts." And you deny that there is an actual value to reading scripts posted on the BL: it gives you a viable understanding of the market and what is popular which ultimately determines whether you're going to style yourself after someone like Guggenheim or a writer lie Frazier. People want to break in, they want to know what to emulate and what to inoculate themselves against by studying the intricacies of a craft and market that is very volatile. So I don't agree with your argument. I feel that the most damage you can do is to review that work and post those reviews online - as Carson does - since the general public doesn't care about reading screenplays, but latch onto negative reviews like the plague. So you kind of have to restructure your argument to concede that you're guilty of what you're railing against other people for or reassess what you're actually against. Otherwise you're just a hypocrite.

    1. I've seen the emails where one of the people behind that tracking board was asking for all the scripts. Also, it would be fairly easy for that tracking board to moderate and remove the links. As noted, Done Deal Pro has a strict policy about doing that for just about all the reasons noted.

      Dave deals with this too, but this isn't about "fuck everyone outside the Hollywood system." I am perplexed that it's so hard for many people to grasp when you work in the industry, there are certain things we do in order to do our jobs successfully.

      Someone came up with a great analogy using music demos. People in the recording industry might swap demos back and forth as part of staying abreast of internal elements, but that doesn't mean everybody who likes music is entitled to those demos to.

    2. I've seen the emails BSR. And the user in question wasn't the one who compiled that list - it had been distributed among assistants and wound up on reddit before it surfed on that site. And the fact that you're pontificating from the supposed "moral high ground" is that much more grating when you're acknowledging that you are a member of the site you are lambasting. Despicable behavior towards a community of genuinely kind hearted people.

      And in regards to DDP - don't act like script trading was not happening there. In fact, I recall that it was only explicitly banned after the Deadpool lawsuit occurred - which means they don't allow it because they're limiting the liability of a potential law suit in case they were the initial ground of a leak of that magnitude. So to suggest that they're playing to the moral side of the spectrum is misleading as well.

      And it's not hard for people to grasp what needs to happen when you work in the industry - because aspiring writers are all sitting back and trying to do the exact same thing. Your mentality is exactly a "fuck everyone outside the system" mentality - look at your argument and show me how you don't make a caveat, an exception for yourself while stoning everyone else who would dare dream of being included among those precious group of writers out there making sales and getting paid doing what they love.

      The analogy about music demos, while potentially relevant on the surface, highlights another one of the weaknesses of your argument - you're assuming that everyone who likes movies is going out of their way to hunt these screenplays down. They're not. Sure you'll have that one person who can't wait for the bloody thing to be released, but that's not usually the case. The people who are going out and joining these sites are the people who legitimately want to learn from their peers and that's something I would never dream of denying them. The fact that the studios aren't taking measures to break these kinds of sites illustrates just how much "damage" they're doing.

    3. You're making a big assumption that someone who's a part of that community didn't forward me the emails, especially after I had tweeted and RT'd several Black List writers who were politely asking people not to support such script sharing.

      And this goes to everybody - I've never met a pro-writer, agent, manager or reader whose attitude is "Fuck everyone outside the system! We gotta keep them out for our own self-preservation." You're describing an attitude and a motivation that doesn't exist.

    4. BSR, are you really going to try lying to my face right now? The big assumption here is that you think I don't follow you on twitter. I do. Which is how I knew about this article.

      As for the second bit, your entire stance is that attitude! You make yourself and your friends the exceptions when you're the microcosm for the very problem you're decrying in the first place: the dissemination of material you say you have no right to distribute.

    5. If you follow me on Twitter, then you should have seen the RTs the day the Black List came out. But let me be clear about this. I do not subscribe to the tracking board in question.

      And I'm done arguing with you on the other point. If you really don't seen the difference between people working in the industry trading scripts in the course of their job and people outside the business doing the same, then we have nothing to discuss.

    6. I am a follower and I've seen the RTs from that day - flooded everyone's feeds. Any writer who has a problem with the distribution should take it up with the assistants who were compiling the lists to begin with - because it was one of those individuals who leaked it. The site you're lambasting was the LAST site that got them - a fact that you're conveniently overlooking.

      You're done arguing? That's fine. I don't need you to argue your position - you made it clear. Now I'm making it clearer by pointing out the underlying message and the hypocrisy of the argument that "inside trading is good, outside trading is bad." The ethical standard remains the same regardless because you said "Any public dissemination of a screenplay you didn't write, including but not limited to in-development projects and contest winners - WRONG.".

      Your words. Live by 'em, die by 'em - I don't give a shit but don't give me a bowl full of crap and tell me it's chocolate ice cream. You want to focus on something unethical, by all means, please keep drawing attention to and raving about the SS reviews - because that's the real thing hurting writers.

    7. The key phrase there is "public dissemination."

      If you want to understand why private dissemination among working industry players isn't seen as an issue by writers or their reps, check out this post, which features a story of such from me, and a reply from manager Michael Botti.

      I won't say that whole DDP thread is worth reading, as it eventually veers off track, but it does get into some rather good discussion about the issues here.

    8. Ok, so I read the post - it's a great success story and I hope many amateurs get to experience it but you're still on shaky ground with your argument. Just because in-industry dissemination helped build buzz and got it on the BL does not change the fact that the people involved are still distributing a copyright holder's work without express permission. You can't argue that one is better than the other without acknowledging that they are one in the same. The site that you've referred to throughout charges a fee to maintain it's operations as website hosting and job/news posting requires a staff. That fee basically ensures that it is a private community.

      At the end of the day, writers have to simply accept that their work is going to be read by people that they never gave permission to. But if those readers aren't posting malicious reviews on the internet and are simply trying to enjoy the story - learn what works and what doesn't, how can it be any less wrong than industry players passing around a script to facilitate a sale? Because your argument is assuming malicious intent.

  6. Jim P,

    You can read Guggeheim's "Safe House" after it is released - the studios usually give away the scripts at that point. But, you can't read and share "Black Box". It's not your script to read and pass around.

    Also, Readers in Hollywood have always had access to the latest scripts, do you know how many of those readers have become successful writers? About 0.0000001% of them. I can only think of John August as a reader that turned pro writer. If you consider him a great writer? By being a reader of the "secret scripts" how many readers have become as good as Woody Allen?

    I'm not sure what the advantage is of reading the hot scripts over reading: Rocky, Matrix, Ordinary People, Amadeus, etc. Having the hot latest scripts gives you the illusion that you have secret knowledge and are hanging with the pro writers. But, it's a total delusion.

  7. Dave,

    Numerous writers in Hollywood have supported themselves by doing reads. One of the most successful examples is Michael Arndt - who was a reader before LMS and Toy Story III cemented him as a writer with a solid track record. In fact it's one of the pieces of advice I keep hearing "read good work when you're not writing."

    The suggestion that reading the latest scripts is a delusion is an incorrect assumption because as much as you would vehemently deny the advantage - there is one. You see the quality you need to aspire to, the common trends and arcs in what is selling and most importantly the genre of work that is selling. You can learn the basics from the films you mentioned, but they will only take you so far. The best way to become a better writer is to consistently read and write. Period.

    And your opening paragraph is wrong. Studios do not "give away" scripts in the way you suggest and the notion that it's "not yours to read" doesn't hold up - especially if you're an assistant trading. At the end of the day, you put out a script knowing that it will be read by others. If you're not comfortable with that, you shouldn't be writing in the first place - because trading was going on around the Industry well before these sites came up. The only thing that wasn't happening were reviews in a public forum: the real issue here.

  8. The studios gave away about forty scripts this year and last year. Including: Toy Story 3, Silver Linings Playbook, Django Unchained, Wreck-it Ralph, Flight, etc. You can easily learn from those and from older produced scripts like Rocky.

    You're saying if you read the script for "Flight" in October 2012, that's an advantage over reading it in Jan 2013? How? You don't know how the movie will turn out and if it will be a movie that will be remembered. You could have read "Silence of the Lambs" and been better off.

    Michael Arndt wasn't a studio reader. He was a celebrity assistant to Matthew Broderick (In NY not L.A.). And we know how he wrote Toy Story 3. He was removed from the world and living in Pixar headquarters in San Francisco. He watched all the old Pixar movies to see how they worked, then utilized their formula. He didn't stay on top of hot / trendy / current / Black List / scripts to write that script. Which completely disproves your point about learning to write a great script.

    Toy Story 3 is great, right? How did he write it? He watched older movies.

    1. Dave's making some really good points here. I'll add the caveat that the ONE thing to be wary of with older scripts is the occasional formatting difference. These days, there are so many current scripts available, I doubt anyone will be misled if they happen across a screenplay from 1940.

      I think chasing the latest trend is a bad idea. First, you don't need to read the scripts to know that, say, zombie specs are hot at a given moment. You just need to read the sales. Second, if you chase the trend after the sale happens, you're going to be way behind the curve once you finish your spec and are trying to get it into the hands of someone who can do something with it.

      Just ask most of the people who finished a zombie spec in the last two years.

      Don't chase the market - go your own way and hope it comes to you. When you're inside the gates, sure, pursue the hot assignments. But when you're writing on spec, worry less about what the last guy did to break in.

    2. Those are some good points. If I'm incorrect about the Micheal Ardnt point then I concede it - I'd read an article which stated he was a reader before he was an assistant (which makes sense as that is part of the job for some assistants who are just starting out).

      But you're presuming that he had no access to scripts and speaking for him (which, admittedly, I did as well) - truth is we can't speak for him or his process.

      And those scripts being "given away" are actually being posted for awards consideration - but it's after the film has sold and been made. You want to know what's selling, what genre, what skill level you need to be able to produce work on - you get that from reading the latest scripts. Not everyone will do it - a key point - but quite a few of the people I know do exactly that and have become better writers for it. And to suggest that there isn't an advantage is foolish.

      But none of this changes the fact that the distinction BSR is making his argument is fundamentally difficult to swall because - simply put - it's only OK if you can give the project traction.

    3. "It's only OK if you can give the project traction."

      So where does that line get drawn? The arguments on both sides illustrates how slippery this slope is. BSR says it's OK for him, but not for someone not "involved" in the industry.

      Hypothetically, let's say I can get scripts into the hands of a high ranking studio exec - someone way beyond BSR's network and pay grade - but I don't work in town. I'm just an aspiring writer in North Dakota and just happen to have a network of friends that are in the industry. Is it OK for me to read the latest hot scripts?

      Change the hypothetical where my friend is just a reader. Or is the wife of a reader. I can still get a script some traction - just not as much as my first scenario.

      What exactly does tacit approval hing upon when it comes to reading these scripts? Unfortunately, I just don't see how there can be any bright line test. Because, if a studio doesn't care about BSR and his pals sharing scripts, then, legally speaking, they really can't complain about the scripts being shared (not reviewed) between those that are card carrying members of the Scriptshadow nation.

      Ultimately, this has really all boiled down to semantics. What should really matter is writing - if you're serious about the craft - just get to it - right?

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    1. You make an interesting point.

      I'm not arguing against your overall point or anything like that. I just want to I try to give you my perspective. Please bear with me.

      I've written a dozen or so scripts but I'm not someone that is entitled yet. I am someone that likes to read scripts, both good and bad, so I can get better at writing them myself.

      I've only read one script that was "in development". It was sent to me in an email a couple years ago by someone I submitted a script to. I assume on accident.

      It was on the Black List. I wanted to know what a good script looked like. There was no "need", but there was also no evil intent.

      I had read plenty of scripts from other non-pro writers that no one was interested in. I'd also read hundreds of scripts that were released AFTER they'd been made into movies. But I'd never read a script that people at that exact moment were really interested in making.

      Here's why I bring this up - A year later I saw the movie once it came out. It was DRASTICALLY different than the script I read. As a person aspiring to get paid to write screenplays, I consider this one of the most important things I've learned in my continuing education.

      You hear stories about rewrites, last minute changes etc but actually seeing how the script changed from when it was hot to when it was on the screen was eye opening for me. I think most non-pro writers could really benefit from seeing this type of thing as well.

      Anyway, thanks for sharing your point of view.


  10. I recently turned in a spec to Manager, and his response was "Hey this is really great, but it's too similar to Spec That Just Sold For Lots Of Money."

    He wanted me to rewrite it, taking out the elements that made it similar to the other project. In order to do that, I had to read the Spec That Just Sold For Lots Of Money to know exactly where our stories overlapped.

    Turns out, Manager's totally right and there are too many similarities. Now that I've read Spec That Just Sold For Lots Of Money, I know how to adjust my story to make sure it doesn't remind everyone of that script.

    At this point, the point at which I actually NEED to read an unproduced spec, there are three or four colleagues in addition to Manager who could all get it for me. I am in that position - I have worked my way up and made enough contacts and earned enough trust that I can get scripts I need.

    But this is the first time ever that I can honestly say I needed to read an unproduced spec. I've been writing a long time, reading a lot of scripts, but really, before now, I never NEEDED to read a specific script. And now, when I do need it, I can get it through private sources.

    People who can't get the script from private sources don't need them. You WANT them, but you don't NEED them. You can write just fine by reading what's available to you already. There are great scripts available through Amazon. Need a spec, not a shooting script? John August and Terry Rossio post some on their sites. Make some friends, and maybe other writers will send you theirs. If you want to know what's selling - check the trades. You don't need to read the scripts to know what kind of projects are making money.

    It's not about US vs THEM. It's funny to me how people love to rag on John August for his ire toward Scriptshadow, but August hosts a podcast that helps writers enormously, he blogs advice, he posts his own material for people to use as examples. He practically invented helping new writers. He just doesn't want people outside the system passing around his material, and he ESPECIALLY doesn't want them reviewing it. He has that right.

    You will want that right too, when it's your turn.

    1. Emily,

      This is not a SS vs. August debate - I am firmly planted in the anti-SS camp and have been staunchly against his reviewing practices. But regardless as to whether your post is just a response to the BSR article or one of the comments I - or anyone else here - posted, it was a disgustingly condescending read and illustrates the very US vs. Them mentality you claim doesn't exist. Your argument is "I earned the right and made the connections" so everyone else should do the same - without acknowledging that the person in middle america flipping burgers during the day and writing at night does not have the means to make those very connections. Great job with that post, you're definitely going to win their votes. But your example also brings up a great reason why Amateurs need sites like the tracking site BSR mentioned - which I am fully aware you are a member of. And as I mentioned above, that site is not public - just more accessible to aspiring writers.

      There is no question in my mind that writers benefit from reading good writing. But times change and what sells changes with it. By reading, writers get a better sense of what they're looking for and can adjust their scripts to be more or less like something in the market to improve their chances of a sale or getting representation. But congratulations on pursuing your dream in LA and making the connections necessary to facilitate those private trades - writers on the other side of the continent or across the globe who don't have those connections there need a way to put a finger on the pulse of the Industry if they're to have a shot at breaking in.

      No one should be arguing that the reviewing of unproduced screenplays won't have a detrimental effect on writer's. That's not what the key issue here is. The point is dissemination of the material. At the end of the day, everyone's going to have their preferences on where they get their materials but let me make this crystal clear: BSR is advocating private dissemination of material - clearly it works and gets the ball rolling for great specs - but at the same time he's arguing that the distribution of those scripts to people with an interest in reading and learning is just as bad as what Scriptshadow does. At the end of the day, both practices violate the standard that "you should not be distributing copyrighted materials without the author's permission." So no, it's not a right - it's the risk you take when you submit your material out into the world. In this case, it's the need to acknowledge that they aren't as different as BSR would lead his readers to believe: either all sharing of an author's work is wrong - public and private - or you it's alright; provided you're not the kind of person who takes the material and then reviews it for page hits and to build a reputation for yourself in order to garner followers and sell a notes service. That's profiting off of the blood, sweat and tears of others and I don't approve of that. But when my material gets submitted, when it inevitably ends up on tracking sites and others ask for reads - I don't begrudge anyone the chance to read it and learn from my mistakes as that's the age we live in.

    2. For the record, the people I know who would send me scripts if I asked for them - they're all people I've met online.

      The Internet has provided all the burger flippers in Iowa the opportunity to make connections without ever having to set foot in Los Angeles.

      Sounds to me like you read what you want to read in the comments. But good luck with your scripts. Hopefully soon you will have an informed opinion about this, because your work will be traded around. Good luck!

    3. Nope, read the comment exactly as you presented it - condescending capitalization and all. But thanks for the passive aggressive well wishes and nice little jab at how "informed my opinion is." I'll take it to bank for what little it's worth.

    4. Condescending capitalization? What on Earth are you talking about? Now I know you're reading into things.

      I didn't read most of the comments before posting my original response. I was simply addressing this idea I've heard over and over that amateur writers NEED to read unproduced specs. That's the reason a lot of people give as why they should be able to trade freely, why it's unfair that they can't. But very few people actually need to trade. I've been writing a long time, and this week was the first time I really needed to read a specific spec.

      So, you don't think your opinion would be more informed if you were in a position to have your work traded? Okay.

      It's weird. I've never made a feature film. It would never occur to me to tell someone who has how they should feel about people bootlegging their movie.

      This reminds me of when I used to be a teacher and people who'd never taught a class in their lives told me all about how to do my job.

      It's exhausting.

    5. Then let me start with this: if it wasn't intentionally condescending, then I apologize. This entire thread has been operating on an ethical scale in terms of industry placement in regards to the issue. The higher you get the more contradictory it seems.

      One doesn't need to have their work traded to have an informed opinion - just as one wouldn't need to go to war to have an opinion on it. All you need are facts. At the end of the day, we are writers. When we send our work into the world, we let it go - knowing that we have no more control over who sees it. I write from the understanding that this is inevitable now. It is a way of life. My opinion is very well informed and if you read the parts of my response that are less catty - you'll see that I do, in fact, have a very valid point about the ethics of this situation. And it is dealt with in absolutes. There's no moral gray here.

    6. I don't think any writers NEED to read the hottest unproduced specs. But I do think that writers need to read some unproduced scripts. Reading a script when you already know who will star, you've already scene the trailer, you've already read reviews, is a very different experience than going in cold. I know it has benefited me tremendously from reading screenplays where I had no knowledge of the final product.

  11. Trust me, once you are sued for $15 million dollars, you have a whole different viewpoint on script sharing.

    1. Excellent point. I can only imagine the sorts of things you'd like to shout at both sides of this debate, were you not essentially prohibited from doing so under the settlement.

      Listen to this woman, folks. She spent a year of her life caught up in this kind of litigation.


    In all seriousness though, excellent comments on a subject with one hell of a slippery slope.

    I suppose it comes down to that golden rule. Do unto others...

    Writing and reading is an interpretive process. The words may be the exact same for one hundred readers, but those one hundred are going to have a slightly different reaction. We fill the space with our own issues and imagination, and for any of us to act as though our perception is judge, jury and executioner is beyond bullshit when it comes to harming the potential for a writer's work. That's why I appreciate the BL's "do no harm" policy.

    If you must review a script and post it on the internet, do so after the movie has been released as a compare/contrast piece. Otherwise, if you're using the script as instruction, keep it to your damn self and work harder. As some have noted, even when a reviewer believes they are helping said writer by blowing sunshine up the script's ass and shooting off emails to connected friends, the collateral damage can be significant.

  13. Around the time this article was published, Carson decided to take the Scriptshadow site into another direction, with less reviews of active pro scripts under development and more amateur reviews to pump up his $1,500 script management program where he pretends to read your script, but really pawns it off to one of his underlings.

    Carson finally realized that pretending to be a Hollywood agent/manager/whatever is more profitable than pissing off practically all of Hollywood.

    1. "his $1,500 script management program where he pretends to read your script, but really pawns it off to one of his underlings."

      Whoa! Come again?

      I know he's got other readers that you can specifically request. Are you saying even submissions to Carson get done by other readers?

  14. I had heard it was $1000, perhaps he's upped it?

  15. Hey, Jim Parsons,

    You're not mistaken; Emily Blake loves to revel in the fact she's "broken in" and rubs it in the faces of those who haven't every chance she gets. (QUOTE: "I am in that position - I have worked my way up and made enough contacts and earned enough trust that I can get scripts I need.")

    She has a total us vs. them attitude, but she's also incredibly passive aggressive so the denial is part of her approach. What else is she being but SNARKY when she hopes you'll one day have an "informed position" about the issues. Puh-leeze.

    Funny thing is, you should read her stuff, as I'm in a position to do -- averagely written action clichés. And keep in mind she's sold NOTHING.

    But enough about the small fry, on to the larger issues.

    Yes, Jim, you're right, it's all total hypocrisy -- everyone in town has access to most scripts and believe me, there's lots of "reviewing" going on in the form of "I read Writer X's script; it's terrible." At least the blog guys give reasons!

    So don't believe all the BS from people like Bitter; it's not guys on blogs that wreck writers' careers, it's too many people on the inside not liking the work and that getting repeated around town.

    Keep writing and keep studying scripts, Jim.


  16. Jim, you're getting lied to here more than a cop at a pot convention.

    Michael Arndt was a script reader for HBO Films for years -- everybody knows that -- he found "A Simple Plan."

    Don't be so fast to apologize, Jim, especially around these BS artists.

    1. Bloody KNEW he was a script reader. I truthfully just didn't want to waste time looking it up. Thanks for the fact check.

      I hadn't thought about this thread in a few days and returned to see this - it's good to know that I'm not completely off base in this ethical debate.

      Thanks for the encouragement to keep on reading and writing. Thanks for an inside, alternate perspective. Really appreciate it - I just thought that since this was an article trending on twitter it would be best to actually give people real perspective on the matter.