Who Will Read Your Fucking Script?

A History Of Violence scripter Josh Olson's recent article, quite simply entitled I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script is a highly entertaining piece of work. As m'learned colleague Stuart Perry has blogged today, it also provides food-for-thought on the ways in which screenwriters can legitimately advance themselves. Here's my take on it. (Incidentally, none of the following will not refer to screenwriters as "aspiring" or "fledgling", as I dislike those self-imposed, self-limiting terms - see here for details).

Is Olson saying that scripters should never approach more experienced writers, asking for feedback on their one-pager, their treatment or indeed their painstakingly-researched 140-page Crimean War drama? I don't think he is. He's simply getting across his own standpoint in such matters, in hilariously matter-of-fact terms, and explaining the unfortunate incident which led him to that conclusion.

The world owes us neither a living, nor a script-read. I don't doubt that most established writers have a strong sense of altruism and the desire to help less-established writers up the ladder. But here's the rub: there's rarely time for altruism. The credit crunch's effect on the UK TV industry, in particular, means that even established writers are having to fight their corners and preserve their positions. So sitting down to scrutinise and assess 60 pages of script from anyone but Close Personal Friends won't be all that high on their agenda.

Does that mean writers shouldn't attempt to get their scripts in front of people who can help them advance, either via notes, advice or contacts? Of course it doesn't. It just means that we need to be careful, thoughtful and, above all, respectful, in the way that we go about it. Time and time again, we're told that this business, like any other, is about relationships. And we're told this, time and time again, because it's true.

Relationships need to be nurtured. Unhurried. Time and familiarity will help deepen them. Introduce yourself to Gosford Park scribe Julian Fellowes at the Screenwriters' Festival, for instance, chat for five minutes, then ask if you can bung across a PDF of your true-life tale about badger-baiting for his perusal, and you can surely imagine what a dim view he might take of that. If, on the other hand, it's the third year that he's enjoyed speaking with you, he can tell you're serious - and most importantly, suspects you might be quite good - he might well suggest you send it to his agent.

Perhaps one of the most important points made by Josh Olson, and almost certainly the thing which raised his ire the most, is that Treatment Guy hadn't taken the time to attain a high standard. Certainly not the kind of standard which befitted a document being absorbed by the brain behind the excellent A History Of Violence. Olson felt somewhat emotionally blackmailed into reading the document, then felt downright insulted by what he saw. Treatment Guy had completely screwed it up for himself and, as it turned out, others, by not learning the basics. Anyone approaching an established writer should make darn sure they've got something which is worth their time and attention. Otherwise, they might as well stumble over to Picasso and proudly show him a cock-and-balls doodle.

No-one should ever expect an established scripter to teach them how to write. That's every beginner's job - or, if you like, the job of books, classes, courses or however they choose to pull together their basic toolkit. Obviously, it would be brilliant if Paul Abbott decided to take someone by the hand and give them a crash-course in scriptwriting, but it's never going to happen. Notes from an established writer are the very most we can expect, and they're gold-dust.

This Summer, I've had a few established TV pros read one of my spec scripts. One of them, I corresponded with for literally three years before even asking. The others, I asked slightly sooner, then patiently waited for a year while the script sat on their hard-drives. I didn't mind at all. Never once asked them if they'd received the script, and certainly not if they'd read it yet. It was enough that they had agreed to read. Eventually, they did - and thankfully came back with huge sighs of relief that I could write. That must be a major reason why established writers mostly turn script-reading down - the fear that a script will turn out to be "All work and no play makes Jason a dull boy", written 5000 times. That, of course, and the ever-present fear of some writer springing up with a lawyer five years down the line, claiming that their precious, unique ideas have been stolen.

Put yourself in an established writer's shoes. Why would they want to read your script?
1) They like you. (Except that weird clicking noise your jaw makes, but they can live with it.)
2) There's something in it for them. This could either be some way in which you can help them out in return, or just the satisfaction of having given something back to the talent-pool from whence they came.
3) You are humming nursery rhymes while pressing a gun muzzle against their perspiring forehead. Effective, but a short-term strategy.

So. Josh Olson will not read your fucking script. But another writer might. Consummate timing and the utmost respect will help determine whether they do. Seriously delivering the goods will help determine whether they end up glad they did.

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5 comments:

drettworlb said...

Good words of Advice - thanks for chiming in with your opinion and also revealing that doubt and insecurity afflicts even the more experience amongst us.

Good Dog said...

As you say, like comedy it's all abou-- timing!

My only problem with what Olson has to say is that most of his rant was cribbed from Harlan Ellison.

Chuck said...

Interesting, but I can read between the lines of what you've said. This is just a very clever way for you to say "Now that Josh Olsen is out of the way, I can offer my free script reading service to the the world!!!!"
FX
A CACKLING MAD LAUGH WITH REVERB

Chuck said...

OMG, just finished reading through the replies on Josh's post. The world is just full of assholes and it seems most of them want into show biz. I think James Moran said in a long ago post, "Rule 1, Don't be a dick", or something like that. I can't believe all of the hate towards Josh being spewed. We can only hope that these people remain in their day jobs as sadistic prison guards

Jane Richards said...

Sometimes people WILL read your ****ing script. See here for proof...
http://jrswritingblog-jr.blogspot.com/

But make sure they have a good reason to read your ****ing script before asking them.

I have sympathy with both Josh and the people who want him to read their scripts. And I'm not a pushy person in general (far too polite to want to give offence to people I admire).