Monday, February 4, 2013

Do pro writers try to sabotage aspiring writers?

Every now and then - usually in the darker corners of the internet - I see one belligerent jackass or another accusing pro screenwriters of trying to sabotage other aspirings.  Sometimes this is prompted by posts like one written by Geoff LaTulippe last week.  In it, Geoff lays out the long odds against one ever making it as a pro writer.  I guess that this provoked a few people into accusing Geoff of trying to discourage aspiring writers because he "doesn't want the competition."


This is one facet of an ugly attitude that I really, really despise, which is the "Fuck the pros!" retort.  I've met a lot of pro screenwriters in my time out here and I'm hard-pressed to think of any who weren't incredibly nice people.  I'm sure there are a few egotistical jackasses out there (they exist in every profession), but the vast majority of TV and film writers whom I've met have been very friendly, and often very encouraging to aspiring writers.  This is often tempered with some harsh realities, true.  But I've never met a writer who seemed driven to scare other writers away just to thin the herd of competition.

Putting aside that direct experience, there are other reasons to doubt a pro is trying to scare people away.  For one, being good enough to make it as a writer is HARD.  Let's say that maybe one percent of those who aspire to be writers are actually strong enough to be a threat to the working writer.  Is it really worth that working writer's time to set up some incredibly time-consuming resource like an advice blog, just so that a tiny fraction of those people who visit will be tripped up by disinformation?

Anyway, I bring all of this up because of a few blog comments from a recent post.  Brainman asked:

This relates a bit to the blog post by Geoff LaTulippe where he sort of offered aspiring writers some encouragement through discouragement. He was then accused of attempting to discourage writers so that he'd have less competition. Many came to his defense on twitter, and I recall F. Scott Frazier saying something like "a rising tide lifts us all".

I'm just a naive outsider, but I'm inclined to believe working screenwriters over aspiring ones. I do have trouble fully understanding how it can be true that more writers "breaking in" more often helps those writers that are already working. Could you shed some light on this for me so I can get it through my thick skull?

F. Scott Frazier gave a response that I found quite sensible.  Since I'd hate for that to be hidden and forgotten in the comments, I felt it merited being "promoted" to this post:

First off, let me say while I wish I could take credit for "a rising tide lifts all ships" unfortunately while my sentiment was the same, I said it in a much more awkward way. Someone else said the tide thing, and then I slapped myself in the forehead for not thinking of it first... 

The answer to your question / query about why working writers would ever want to help aspiring writers, and how any advice we give can be taken at face value is somewhat long, but I wanted to break it down piece by piece. In doing so, it's going to be a little over-generalized, but this is the basic idea behind why I believe what I believe. 

First off, let's say there are two ways writers build a career in the feature business: by selling specs and booking jobs. (Again, overly general, but let's start from there...) 

1) Selling specs is not a zero sum game, that is to say if I sell my spec today, you can still sell your spec tomorrow. In fact, if you look at the trends, you can see that spec sales usually come in waves. Studio A buys a hot spec, so Studio B doesn't want to be shown up and they buy one too. The more specs sell, the more other specs sell. Yes, of course, studios and buyers have budgets for each year as to what they can spend on buying scripts, but the chances of Studio C buying your script and running out money to buy my script are so infinitesimally small there's no reason in even worrying about it. 

2) On the other side of the equation, there are jobs, which unfortunately are zero sum games: if I get the job, you can't also get the job (but that doesn't account for rewrites and polishes which are a whole other can of worms). However, when jobs become available not every writer in town goes out for them. Lists are made, lists are cultivated -- winnowing down writers over everything from quote, genre, availability, desire, etc. So the idea that any professional writer would attempt to sabotage aspiring writers' careers because of the worry they might one day end up on the exact same on the exact same job is again, so infinitesimal as to worry about it... 

Anecdotally, I've never known any writer who got pissed or upset with another writer for getting a job. 

In all honesty, I personally think worrying about the veracity of advice from professional writers is akin to worrying about someone stealing your script. All it does it take time away from writing for something that, once again, is so unlikely to happen.


  1. Writers have always been treated like chattel in Hollywood, so it's absurd to think that Pro Writers could care less about what each other make/do, let alone amateurs.

    Sure, some writers are full of themselves, but that's with any industry. But overall, it's really utterly irrelevant to any writer what each other writes, or sells.

    Certainly some writers passively compete amongst each other in every specific genre, but even then the writers today are being treated like chattel and have to pitch their take on a movie, giving up their ideas at a chance at a job. But really, amateurs aren't going to be anywhere near those meetings, and even if someone got lucky, and got to pitch the studio their own idea, and were selected to write a script, it's not like the other writers are all, "CURSES! We must all now band together and make sure that those meddling amateur writers don't ever break into OUR system!!"

  2. I wouldn't call myself a 'pro' by any means, but having had experience on both sides of the aisle, I've found that established writers (ex. Scott, Geoff, among many others) have been unbelievably kind. One of the best parts of the job is being part of this community we're all in. Wouldn't have it any other way.

  3. Do I consider myself a "pro" screenwriter because I've had two scripts produced? Fuck no.

  4. For me the virdict still out about pro writer's attitude towards pre-pro writers; haven't had enough encounters with pro writers to definately say their is a pro writer issue. I can however attest that down in the mosh pits of the pre-pros, some pre-pro writers DO try to sabotage their fellow pre-pros. Why I just experienced that phenomenom myself last Wendsday at a Sherwood Oaks Experimental College event. Got my shot with someone in the industry, and I had to endure one of the most mean-spirited, snide comments by a fellow pre-pro your ever going to see this side of hell. Post-event, I couldn't believe what a fellow writer did to me. I treat others with respect, let them take their shots at making connections. BUT when it came my turn, and believe me I respectfully waited for my turn to come, this pre-pro writer took a shot at me -- in front of someone in the industy no less! Writers attacking other writers? Yes, it does happen. It happened to me.


  5. I asked Bitter Script reader to read my script and he not only replied with a nasty email, he Tweeted to all his followers my attempt to do so.

    I didn't know his policy, and if it were written somewhere I missed it, but he immediately turned hostile towards me and a genuine attempt to get his take on my writing.

    This is a vicious business, where everyone says niceness is important. You know why it's important? Because it's such a vicious business, with fiercesome competition and everyone trying to break in.

    It makes gatekeepers mad when unknowns approach them to ask their opinion. Mind you this isn't a celebrity we're talking about. This is Bitter Script Reader, a guy who plays with puppets on the You Tube and regurgitates Aristotles Poetics in his own words.

    Still I wanted his opinion, and was not only refused but mocked. So when he talks of niceness, take it with a grain of salt. He means he doesn't have to be nice, but you do.

    This guy is an arrogant prick, period. If he could employ all his advice in his own work he wouldn't be reading scripts, he'd be writing them.

    Peace out.

    1. Henry, you didn't ASK me to read your script. You sent me an email containing logline and a synopsis without so much as a polite introduction or a "Would you be interested in reading this?" Right there on my "About Me" immediately below my email link is a clear statement "Please NO requests to read your material." I find it rather rude when someone ignores that and it also causes me to take a dim view of their reading comprehension skills.

      But normally I just ignore emails like that. What earned you the direct response from me is the fact that you included a PDF of your script. And THIS is what I sent you:

      "Do not EVER send anyone a PDF of a script unsolicited. It's not only rude but it puts the receiver in an awkward legal position. I cannot read your work and as the instructions just above the link to my email explicitly state, I do not accept submissions.

      "Please do not make this mistake with any other bloggers or screenwriters you attempt to contact."

      You send an unsolicited script to a producer and they will have to destroy it unread. They'll also curse the idiot who did it because of years of litigious wannabes who have sued producers claiming that their work was stolen. Sending someone a PDF unsolicited is a great way to get on somebody's shit his for this reason.

      And yes, I did tweet about it, advising writers of the same thing I just said above. That this behavior is a prime example of how NOT to endeare yourself to someone I didn't tweet the title of your script or your name, though. I find it amusing that you basically outed yourself as a guy who can't read directions and breaks one of the most basic rules of email etiquette.

    2. I sent no PDF.

      That's a lie and my email service will confirm it.

      You call yourself bitter for chrissakes, and you are. You're a failed screenwriter or novelist or whatever but you're bitter as hell.

      I would never Tweet anything like that to thousands. It's not professional. It's girlie, like little high school girlie.

      You think that's professional and pretend you were teaching others the ramifications of asking you to read their script.

      Once again, I didn't see the disclaimer. And I know you're so buys reading the next piece of shit Movie #43 that you don't have time for unknowns.

      You're not that big a deal Bitter. You're a guy who knows something about the business, but you're just not.

      And if you have the PDF please tell me one sentence from page three.

    3. Everyone, pay attention. Henry's giving a master class in how to be professional.


    4. Says the guy with the puppet.

      Why do we never see Bruce Wayne? Huh?

    5. We never see Bruce Wayne? Not to feed the troll, but...that analogy doesn't track. I suggest taking a deep breath or two, then reading Mr. West's terse and fitting summation. The short-term insults may feel amazing flying from your fingertips but consider the long-term...what exactly do you hope to achieve with the names and aggressive nonsense?

      If BSR wanted to be a vindictive vitriol spewing blogger (as you accuse), he would have highlighted you specifically in the post, called you out by name, even mentioned the title of your script so others would be sure to avoid it. What we have here is a classic case of transference. You shot first...right in your own foot. Slap a tourniquet on it, let it go, and good luck in the trenches.

    6. @Henry Margolis - This blog has a very large number of followers, many of whom are aspiring writers. It is perfectly reasonable for Bitter to have a 'no submissions' policy as, if he didn't, he'd be spending 24 hours a day plowing through everyone's spec scripts, as well as trying to get on with his own work.

      As well as being a matter of simple common sense, his 'no submissions' policy is stated right above his email address as well as elsewhere on this blog, so there is no excuse for missing it. It is in your best interests to understand that, to avoid getting a bad reputation, you should never send even a logline to anyone uninvited; so his response is fair.

      He tweeted about it because clearly, as you have proven, the message that he does not accept scripts is somehow not getting through to some people. He didn't name you in the tweet, so the classy thing for you to do would have been to leave it at that and nobody would have known about your faux pas.

      Script reading and writing are very different skills. Bitter both reads and writes, but some of us choose to be readers and NOT writers because the two require a very different set of skills which not all of us find equally enjoyable. So please do not insult readers such as myself by suggesting that we are all 'failed writers'.

      If you had perhaps taken the time to proofread your original post, you may have picked up on your multiple grammatical and punctuation errors. This would have made your argument perhaps a little easier to take seriously. I do hope you take a little more care over your script writing - in my experience, truly solid writers are automatically thorough when composing any written missive, however casual.

  6. I believe they call that a "massive fail." But I'm no expert. Insulting someone for your failure to do effective research and display basic query etiquette? Outing yourself when BSR was kind enough not to use your name? Ouch. Better luck next time, Henry. I humbly suggest seeking out that other screenwriting blog...the one that actively asks to read amateur scripts.

    As was mentioned by others, every hub and spoke and wheel of the capitalistic machine has its cut throats and cold hearts. And, it has its mentoring souls who display patient wisdom for the new crop. I see absolutely no point in decrying the cruel mathematics of reality, other than to stroke your own sensitive ego.


    1. People query all the time. Companies and producers who don't accept unsolicited material.

      One innocuous email sent this piece of shit on a Twitter tirade, and probably this will too. When all I asked was if he would read the script/ I sent no PDF/

      Its not the first time someones lied in the business. But whats the reason? Because he's bitter.

      Preach all you want about professionalism and niceness. There's nicer ways to say "no", than the one this puppet guy did.

      And I can take the vitriol. But see in it his hypocrisy. It was unprofessional. And ineloquent as well.

  7. Getting back to the original subject of the post...I attended the Austin Film Festival for the first time last fall and was pleasantly surprised at how approachable and helpful all the panelists were. I'm sure I was asking the same stupid questions beginners always ask, but they patiently answered each one (even when it was the last panel of the entire festival and everyone just wanted to go home). Every professional writer I spoke with that weekend was incredibly encouraging and generous with their time.

  8. Wow. The truth is, professional writers don't sabotage amateurs. They take care of that themselves.


  9. Bitter keeps bitching on Twitter.

    Maybe you're the asshole, puppet man.

  10. It's hard to know who will make it as a professaional screenwriter. Of course it takes talent, but along with that it takes attitude, timing, and just basic luck.

    Though I feel I can fairly say that Henry Margolis will never be a professional screenwriter.


  11. Wow, this is kind of a dead blog. Not even worth starting a fight. Even with Steve the Creep.

  12. Somehow, I always end up comparing screenwriting to playing in the NFL; they're both dream jobs that require a vast amount of talent, dedication, and timing, and the odds aren't in one's favor. If an NFL player speaks about how difficult the journey is, quotes depressing statistics, and discourages aspiring athletes from pursuing a career, is there a public outcry accusing him of trying to dodge the competition? No.

    Unlike sports, there is no system in place to whittle down aspiring screenwriters. You don't get cut from the team, or sat on the bench for the season. There's no public humiliation, only polite, private rejection. So when a professional writer gives sobering advice that I might not want to hear, I take his words as the voice of the coach I never had. And then I get back to writing.

  13. LaTulippe is right though. It is "innate and developed" and if you don't have the former, the latter is pretty much useless.

  14. Most experiences with pro writers have been helpful and polite. I haven't had many be obnoxious or rude. Are there obnoxious pro writers? I'm sure there are. But how many ass holic doctors and lawyers in the world are there? There are jerks everywhere.

    By and larger I find most professional writers to be helpful and sincere. They do often warn of just how tough an industry this is, which I find helpful and realistic. You can't get discouraged after a few rejections.

  15. Pro writers have 'made it' because, as well as being talented, they love what they do so much that they put in a LOT of time and effort to get there, despite the odds seeming to be against them.

    As such, all the pro writers I know are very encouraging of new and aspiring writers because it gives them joy to share their experience of doing what they love.

  16. Agree with above. Add one thing, from my experience. A writer competes with himself, and true pros know that they don't know everything: everyone faces the blank page. Pros have it worse -- they have a public standard to maintain. That keeps them a bit more humble than pros in professions where you excel by beating the competition.

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