Current mood: adventurous
Category: Writing and Poetry
I’ve made no secret of my day job as a screenplay reader for a couple of movie studios. It’s work I fell into years ago and it is work I adore, occasionally stumbling across genuine gems I yearn to champion.
Sadly, the last time that happened was when I was gainfully employed by a major studio, which last year laid off a lot of us in the fallout from the Writer’s Strike. I’ve been lucky to still find work coming my way because I’ve been doing it so long and I think my passion for words still shows.
Oh, I grumble and groan about the quality of work I read and this hasn’t changed. I’m stunned by some of the submissions I am sent from the studios which receive them from agencies, management companies, production companies, indy film studios and the occasional attorney who has a relationship with some big studio head.
Many of these submissions are by established, successful writers!
Never does a screenplay reach a studio via unsolicited submission. Meaning if a writer sends in their work unrepresented, it will be sent straight back, unread.
I’ve heard of rare cases where an unrepresented writer signs a waiver and their screenplay is read – by somebody like me – but I haven’t actually heard of anyone getting produced this way.
Recently however, I was assigned the happy task of assessing screenplays – for free – for a screenplay contest.
I did it for the man who asked me to do it. He gave me my first big break. I was also keen to see what kind of work unrepresented, hard-working, aspiring screen writers are turning out.
I think I may have suffered permanent brain damage as a result.
I’ve never read such utter crap in my life.
I know zombies are the new rage in fiction in general. I’m seeing it trickle down to erotic fiction. I blame the move 28 Days Later for this. It was a brilliant piece of sci-fi that made every writer in the free world think “this looks easy.” Since that movie came out I have seen nothing but pale imitations of it.
The same thing happened with the Mad Max movies and The Passion of the Christ.
I learned very quickly that zombie movies are a metaphor for politics and let’s face it, our current world political climate is a fertile womb.
But hell’s bells there’s no semblance of reality in any of the 20 samplings I judged. Even the “normal” screenplays show me that the plethora of info out there about how to write a screenplay is being ignored.
Writers have a duty to the muse, but they also have a duty to have some idea of what is commercial, what is filmable, plausible and what the hell is watchable.
These are some of the eye-popping moments I found in just a few screenplays:
* A script tailored to Brad Pitt (according to the hopeful writer) featured the lead character taking an extensive dump – in close-up. There was a lot of detail about sphincter movement that was quite…revolting. Now come on, could you really picture Brad Pitt doing this in a mainstream movie? Could you imagine a studio releasing it? Could you imagine watching it?
* A woman driving on the freeway shooting heroin into the corner of her eye as her boyfriend goes down on her. Really?
* A screenplay set in the future had a bunch of guys racing cars on the sun. The Sun! How? I was intrigued for a page or two wondering how the writer would work this one out. By Page 10, the death page, I gave up. If you haven’t given me a good hook by page 10 your screenplay doesn’t work.
* A comedy script had a nine-year old brother putting his toddler brother in the dryer and turning it on. The baby screams as the nine-year old eats soup at the kitchen table. The dryer shakes and rattles with the impact of the little boy inside it.
Are you laughing yet?
Finally the nine-year old releases the toddler and kisses his teary face. In reality the toddler would be dead and the nine-year old well on his way to a life as a sociopathic serial killer.
* A western set two hundred years ago had the lead character walking around with a Chihuahua. A funny image for a macho cowboy to have a small critter like this except that these dogs didn’t exist then. They are actually hybrids genetically related to Mexican hairless dogs. It wouldn’t have taken the writer long to find this out on Google. The Internet is your friend. Use it.
I remember when I read screenplays at Paramount Pictures a few years ago there was a story going around – and it was true – that the movie Ghost was originally panned by the script reader. i actually have a copy of the coverage. It makes me wince to look at it.
I read the screenplay itself and can honestly say I loved it. I also loved the ensuing movie. However, it is all subjective. If you give a ghost-love story to a reader who can’t get past the premise, it won’t work.
Still, Ghost had everything going for it. I have no idea why it was initially rejected.
Yes, my job is to be open to everything, but I’m not open to stupidity. Writing a good screenplay is like writing a good book. Read the best ones you can find. Think about the visual impact of what you’re writing. Keep it in your own voice. And above all, have fun.