Monday, May 04, 2009

Shut up about Shane Black, already

During the whole Medieval discussion Friday there was one name that got thrown around like crazy on all the blogs: Shane Black. "Only Shane Black can write like Shane Black," on person said. The script was a Shane Black impression. It includes "The world's worst (best) Shane Black-ism." "This is from the Shane Black school of writing." It would "make Shane Black himself blush".

You know what? Fuck Shane Black.

Oh wait, that's not what I meant. What I meant was, thanks, Shane Black. Now everybody shut up about Shane Black.

Here's why Shane Black is awesome. Before he came along, writing was terse. Every now and then you were allowed to write something clever, but you'd better keep that shit to a minimum because nobody wants to remember that somebody actually wrote this thing. It's a blue print, nothing more.

Then Lethal Weapon appeared, and with it Shane Black had the audacity to write like himself. He said hi to us. He told us a story like those prose writers do.

And then people said "Oh, you can do that?" and they started to do that. And thank God they did because I can't stand writing that dry, personalityless way. I can't do it. If Shane Black hadn't come along, I never would have been able to write a good script.

Or hell, maybe I'd have been the Shane Black of my time. I guess somebody had to do it first.

So I thank him very much for breaking that barrier, for allowing us to have a little more fun when we write.

Because that's what Shane Black did. He broke through that perception that you have to be boring and dry when you write screenplays. I know, I know. Writers weren't really boring. William Goldman talked about his exquisite kick to the balls and all that. But those lines are few and far between in most scripts, and rightly so - many people go overboard with them if they think they're okay, and a lot of people don't know how to do that anyway. But Shane Black made it okay to do it if you've got it.

The problem is, no matter how much of your writing is your own, people continue to act like it's always Shane Black pulling the strings.

If I put my personality in my screenplay, I'm just copying Shane Black. And nobody should copy Shane Black. There can be only one Shane Black, so you'd better not dare to try to be like him you hussy.

Why? How come he's the only one who gets to do it? I just said he broke the barrier and allowed us the freedom to be real people when we write, but then whenever we do it everybody's all huffy about our audacity.

No offense there, Shane, but I don't want to be you. I wouldn't mind having your career, but I like being me. I write like me. I can't help it. And when I write a screenplay I'm not trying to copy you. I'm just writing my own way because you opened that door.

So I have a request for everybody. Can we please stop acting like Shane Black is the only person allowed to have asides and fourth wall break downs? Can we thank him for giving us that option and then put our own spin on it without thinking it's automatically copying his style?

Because I'll tell you a secret right now. I know all about Shane Black and his asides because everybody likes to talk about it, and I've been told several times that I have a Shane Black style of writing, but until recently I had never actually read one of his scripts. I'm not copying Shane Black. Not everybody who writes with a wink and a nod is trying to be Shane Black.

Don't get me wrong. I'm flattered when anyone makes that comparison. But at the same time, I do harbor this great fear that everywhere I go people will think "Well she's trying hard to be the female Shane Black, but I dunno. He's a lot taller and he wears baseball caps."

Mike Finch and Alex Litvak, who wrote Medieval, were probably not copying Shane Black either. They were probably writing the way they feel most comfortable. And whether you like that style or not, you should judge it on its own merits, not constantly talk about some other guy who did the same thing as if he has the monopoly on clever writing.


  1. A-fuckin-men. I'm so sick of people always throwing out his name, too, when they read my screenplays. Actually, you assholes, I've never even read any of his stuff. I always have personality while I write stuff. So did Tennessee Williams (he wrote these staggeringly beautiful stage directions in his stage plays) and so did Thornton Wilder, where he'd write these funny, strange stage directions in his plays.

    Diablo Cody also has a fun, crisp style to her screenplays. I never get bored reading her stuff. Same for Quentin Tarantino. I laughed a lot while reading Inglourious Basterds. You can feel his vibe through it. that's not copying Shane Black! That's how he writes.

    yes, people. SHUT THE HELL UP.

  2. I wonder if those people get pissed because they are deathly afraid to write outside of the rules and hate it when they see others do it and sell their stories.

    To me, if writing isn't fun for me then I'm sure as hell not going to spend what little free time I have to write.

    The only rules I follow are I don't use camera angles and I don't use "We see" type shit. Everything else is fair game.


  3. Yeah I don't mind so much if other people use "We see" as long as they don't use it obsessively, but I don't like to use it.

  4. This post reminds me of something Shane Black might blog about.

  5. I love the (sorry) Shane Black style of screenwriting. I just wish more people did it well. I refer to it as the Shane Black styles as a sort of shorthand. Everybody knows what I mean when I say it.

    If you do it well, bravo. Emily's Shane Blackisms (again, sorry) were well done, witty, and kept the script fun.

    But I've also read a lot of scripts that do it, and do it poorly.

    And that's probably because the wrong writer is trying to be like Shane Black.

    Diablo seems like a rip off artist to me, while Tarantino is just his own crazy self.

  6. Eh. It's pretty common and accepted now to have pop culture asides and personal comment in screenplays. I think people point and shout at it when they don't know why they hate something.

    What they don't like is really the writer's voice. Shane Black et al are fun to spend time with. We like their voice. The MEDIEVAL twins, on the other hand, grate on your nerves, and because their voice sucks people start to notice that their voice is all over the script. Cue 'Shane Black' complaint.

  7. Real funny, Eric.

    Thanks, Matt.

    Xander, I didn't mind the asides in the script. I only minded all the movie references, which I think is more of a Tarantinoesque thing than a Shane Black thing.

  8. when I met you, I thought you WERE Shane Black...or, wait a minute.
    Yeah, naw, I feel the same way. My writing can be divided into BEFORE and AFTER reading what Shane Black wrote: If you're writing a spec for yourself and you're not having're doing something very wrong.
    (It could also be divided into
    BEFORE and AFTER I met Joe Sprosty, who tried to get me to buy a WW2 ambulance...or BEFORE and AFTER I found out about the Nicholl. This is a fun game.

    You showed me 'Tonight, He Comes'. That had a huge impact on me.

    BTW: I'm seeing 'The Limits Of Control' tomorrow afternoon, wanna go?

  9. Now that I'm back at work I almost never go out on weeknights.

  10. Anonymous6:45 AM

    Ever read the script for "Butch Cassidy" by William Goldman? Lots of personality there, WAY before Shane Black.

  11. That's exactly why I mentioned that script in this post. Did you read the post?


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