Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Preparing to celebrate 10 years as The Bitter Script Reader

For most of us, the dawn of a new year is the impetuous to look forward. The next twelve months are a blank page waiting to be filled with story that - hopefully - will be better than the 12 that proceeded it. This year, the start of 2019 is provoking me to look backwards and reflect, for it brings us closer to the 10th anniversary of this blog.

My first post appeared in this space on January 29, 2009, in a post laying out the mission statement of this blog. At the time, there were few resources available from the perspective of a script reader and I wanted to contribute to the screenwriting community from the perspective of the guy who says "no" to a lot of writers for many of the same reasons. My still-evolving vision of this site was that it would be a repository of "Don't do this" or "I'm sick of this" and the occasional gossipy detail about films I'd seen go through the development process.

Because there seemed to be a risk in slinging some dirt about how a few agencies dealt with the coverage process, I opted to hide behind a pseudonym. Since the definition of my job was to be a gatekeeper, I settled on... Zuul the Gatekeeper in what I'm sure was an obvious attempt to invoke the pen names of those who wrote for sites like Ain't It Cool News. The blog was titled "The Bitter Script Reader" because I sought something immediately reflective of what the site was about, even as I made ironic use of the retort many writers used when presented with unfavorable coverage. 

Because "Bitter Script Reader" seemed like such a mouthful, I doubted anyone would take to using it as my name, hence the brief adoption of "Zuul," stolen from GHOSTBUSTERS. For some reason it escape my imagination that people could just call me "Bitter." Before long, that became the preferred moniker, though, and so if  you ever wondered why my email was "ZuulTheReader at Gmail" now you know.

As I look at my first few months of posts, I see a lot of things I would be unlikely to do today. After having spent a number of years reading scripts where the formatting alone was a warning that the next hour was unpleasant. As I soon discovered, even just advising people on formatting leads to people complaining you're being a "formatting Nazi." This isn't helped by the complaints of pros who loudly argue against any "rules" and act as if anyone giving guidance is some kind of flim-flam man.

"No one ever passed on a script because it was in the wrong font! No one ever passed on a script because their action paragraphs had seven lines instead of three!" Yes, that's true. But good writers often forget there are a lot of things they do innately BECAUSE they are good writers. They're not consciously following rules because they have internalized so many facets of writing in a way that keeps them from making these kinds of mistakes on instinct.

In other words, they think they're rule-breakers, but the truth is that they're operating on such a higher level that they've forgotten how those at the very start of the race still need guard rails. So when I say, "Don't turn in a script written in Times New Roman. It tells me you don't know what you're doing!" a retort of "CHINATOWN would still be CHINATOWN in Times New Roman" is kind of missing the point. I often look at a script as a job interview for a film and when I go to a job interview, I dress the part.

I wish I'd found a better way to express that at the start of posts on formatting rules. It would have saved me a lot of emails over the years from people taking exception to the idea of a writing rule rather than looking for the "note behind the note" of this DON'T.

But if you want a look back on how I addressed formatting in the early days of the blog, jump into the Wayback Machine and take in these posts:

For the rest of this month, we'll be taking a look back together. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

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