Monday, August 18, 2014

My appearance on Chicks Who Script podcast, and the Hollywood echo chamber

I'm proud to announce my appearance this week on the new podcast Chicks Who Script, featuring hosts Emily Blake, Lauren Schacher, and Maggie F. Levin. They focus on screenwriting and film-related topics, and while they do give a lot of attention to women's voices in Hollywood, that's not the exclusive focus of their show. As it happens, I was their first male guest.

You can find the podcast here.

From their description: "Bitter Script Reader stops by to talk about the Internet echo chamber, "crap plus one," rape scenes in screenplays, lesbians on television, and Bitter's love for Brians Scully's script Merciful. Plus, we take our first trip through the mailbag and ask Maggie and Bitter how they got started reading scripts professionally."

First, I apologize for my occasionally-fast delivery. I'm terrible at this when there are multiple people in the room and I think it's because subconsciously I want to get my point out before the topic moves on. The show moves fast and in at least one instance, I don't think I did a good job of explaining why I was making a particular point.

Emily and I had privately discussed our frustrations with "echo chambers" on the internet.  An echo chamber is when members of a certain community who hold a particularly opinion or set of opinions about a contentious issue end up seeking out those who agree with them. There's nothing wrong with that, unless your perspective on an issue is entirely informed by this interaction. When you surround yourself with the same 50 or 100 or 1000 people who agree on the issue with you and are just as angry as you about it, you can convince yourself that this is the only perspective on the topic, or at least the only correct one. After all, everyone you've talked to agrees with you, right?

This is why knuckleheads who get their political news exclusively from Fox News (or even worse, that biovating lump of calcified puss, Rush Limbaugh) have convinced themselves that Obama is a secret Muslim terrorist who right now is cutting a deal with the Taliban while converting us to socialists under his fascist regime.

To put it less flippantly, back when being a "birther" was all the rage, Fox devoted a substantial amount of airtime to those claims that Obama was not a U.S. citizen. It got so much attention (on Fox) that it must be true (if your only perspective on the world was Fox's). So once expert after expert (who were often easily discredited or impeached via other outlets) made hay with this issue, the average Fox viewer instinctively rejected any "evidence" that the President's birth certificate was legitimate. And they found easy support amid their own echo chamber.

The Daily Show regularly uses Fox clips to show how that network works to stay "on message" and then fan the flames of a story. It's something you can take note of pretty easily in politics, but to be honest, you can find echo chambers on just about any topic on the internet: sports, religion, baking, technology.

And Hollywood.

So when I used the example of geek websites to explain how an echo chamber works, my intent was to pivot and talk about how some communities for aspiring writers are not helpful.  They can be supportive, full of a lot of well-meaning people. And they can also be havens for angry aspirings who find it easier to blame the industry for their shortcomings than to take a good hard look at their own work.

I touched on this a little while back when I discussed the development process at one company where I worked. I wanted to debunk some of the myths about "Hollywood." (People on these sites always speak about Hollywood as if it were some sort of monolithic collective.) There's this idea that all movies are made for reasons solely of commerce and never for artistic passion. While commerce is always part of the equation, that doesn't mean that the people fronting the money for the films are completely indifferent to the subject matter they deal with.  It's not uncommon for producers to seek out something that excites them even in a project that was made for the most cynical of reasons.

So when someone posting a comment from Idaho starts pontificating about everything wrong with "Hollywood" and how no one in that town has any idea what they're doing, I get a little annoyed to see a chorus of "Right ons!" as if this person as any idea what goes on in the development process. They act as if bad movies were made specifically to piss them off, and I don't think it's very helpful at all to give advice who's foundation is built on supposition and a half-remembered interview with some insider.

I also get really annoyed when writers convince each other that readers are the enemy - especially when readers are confronted with brilliant writing. One of the biggest myths is that a script reader will never support good work from another newbie because they're jealous that they haven't made it yet. In this way, the unrepresented convince themselves that the problem isn't their own work (it's clearly brilliant, right?) but those evil people who stand between them and their rightful career.


Readers LOVE finding awesome scripts. It makes us look good to our bosses when we can be the first ones to discover something hot. There's a lot of excitement to being the guy who found that one lump of gold amidst the sea of mediocrity. True, we don't want to waste our bosses time on something they might hate, but that doesn't mean we're timid to the point of stamping everything with a PASS.

Some of my best days as a reader were when I could walk into an exec's office or shoot him an email that said, "You really should take a look at this when you get a chance." The sad thing is, there just aren't enough good writers to make those days abundant.

In the echo chamber, you might weigh your work against the crowd and assess yourself as the biggest fish. Indeed, perhaps the other guppies might agree with that. "Dan is the best we got, how is it possible he got a PASS from ICM? That reader must have been envious of his talent!" Or maybe Dan is just a big fish in a small pond. Until you've seen the regular sort of submissions that an agency or a production company gets, you have no idea what the standard is.  Sure, you might have read some of the most exemplary scripts by writers like Sorkin, and you've probably seen the worst movies to grace the box office and convinced yourself that you just need to be better than that week's worst release, but that's not how it works.

Strive to keep perspective. Don't always retreat to the comfort of your message board or your website community. If you find your community is built on a lot of resentment and anger, leave. If it seems like every week is little more than whining about some injustice done to your career and how much Hollywood sucks and is run by stupid people, leave. Cynicism is healthy - but bathing in it daily is like spending an entire week in the sun without skin protection - it'll eventually give you cancer.

Most importantly, remember that a lot of people on those sites are talking out of their asses. It's possible to have educated oneself about the entertainment industry without having worked in it, but always give the proper level of authority to proclamations from people way on the outside.

1 comment:

  1. Not everyone who watched Fox News is/was a "birther", and BSR, not all of Fox News pundits were "birthers". Glenn Beck and his conspracy theories got so old that Fox ditched him years ago. Do I still watch Fox News? sometimes. Because when they do make a good point, they otfen beat it into the ground and then some.