Wednesday, February 3, 2010

My apology to professional screenwriters

Craig Weisz made a comment on my blog post (Casting) and asked if I had seen the article below by Josh Olsen:

I re-read my post (What's the story?) and realized that it came off like I was making writing sound easy.  I meant no disrespect.  In fact, I too am a screenwriter and I KNOW how difficult it is.

Writing a screenplay is hard.  It takes a lot of time and effort to get a first draft.  It takes numerous re-writes to get a draft worth sending out for professional consideration.  And from there, there are numerous re-writes and notes and re-writes.

When you submit a project to an agency it will most likely be read first by a reader who is typically a writer too.  Positive coverage is screenwriter gold.  The reader knows this.  They only forward the best of the best or ones they think has potential (which of course is subjective).

Most people cannot write.  Period.  I do think most of us have a story to tell.  If we are willing to put in the time, we can create something worthwhile.  It may never get made, but that is statistically the norm.

For writers, part of the process is therapeutic.  You dig deep into your soul and pull experiences, emotions and thoughts from the memory bank and use them in shaping your fiction.  Even if you shelve your script once you write it, the process will have set your mind free.

Anyone in the film business has been in the position Josh describes.  Try being the acquisitions executive stalked by a producer who promises "The Matrix" only to show you an unreleasable mess.  Or being the sales agent trying to help a friend get a project off the ground only to have to tell them that the market is not responding despite all their hard work in putting a package together.

It is tough, as Josh says, to get a professional to look at your work when they have their own projects to work on and need to look at projects for pay from  their reps.

It is important for writers to observe etiquette when asking someone to read their work.  If they don't then the person being asked is not obliged to do them any favors.  Can you imagine asking your lawyer to review a legal document for free?  Or your accountant's response to filing your taxes without compensation?

In my post on writing I mentioned there are script analysts that you can pay ($150 to $1000) to review your work.  You could even find an out of  work reader with agency experience and get coverage for $50 to $75.  They will be brutally honest.  They will also critique and guide you to issues you will need to work on.  Some will offer script doctoring services or continued reviews at reduced fees.  I cannot attest to the value of that since I have never gone further than an initial assessment, but these services are available.

Once you use such a service and re-write your script until you get positive feedback from several sources, then and only then is it worth approaching a professional for their valuable opinion.  And when they give it, you will hopefully get a fair shake and be invited to submit future work because you did not waste their time.

What I have learned from my own writing experience is that my taste in material has ultimately improved.  I am much more critical of what I read.  I am also much more appreciative of the writer and his/her craft.  If I gravitate to better material I will make better movies.  And that is the name of the game.

What I want to say in conclusion is this:  It is tough to be a writer.  It is even tougher to be a good writer.  Many good writers never see their work make it off the page.  As much as there are reasons not to read someone's work, there are good reasons to do so.  While the pros don't have to cave in and read a submission just because, we should encourage newcomers to the industry because our industry is changing.  Brilliance lurks just around the corner!

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