Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Scriptshadow conundrum

A debate rages through the screenwriting world today. John August started it. And Done Deal continued it.

His premise is that Carson Reeve's website Scriptshadow, where "Carson" reviews both produced and unproduced screenplays and posts links to the scripts on his site. August says this hurts screenwriters because it puts their screenplays under lock and key so Carson can't get at them.

I gotta say, if that's true, Carson took less than a year to become one of the most powerful guys in Hollywood without even working at a studio. You know that's gotta get him a lot of tail.

I see what JA is saying. I think if I were a pro screenwriter I'd be pretty pissed if some upstart reviewed my script and said it was crap, but probably no more irritated than if some upstart reviewed my movie and said it was crap.

My theory on the subject is that if Carson can get the scripts, Carson absolutely should review them. I'm not so sure he should be posting links to them. As much as I enjoy having access to those scripts, I'm not sure posting them is okay. On the other hand, let's say Carson posts a bad review. I can download the script and read it for myself and I might disagree. In the end I think that should be the writer's choice.

Someone on Done Deal posted a viable solution. Tell the writer you will review his script and offer him the opportunity to give you a newer draft and to choose whether or no you want him to post it. The studio will probably object to it 9 times out of 10, but personally I don't go to Carson's site for the script. If I really really want the script I can get it elsewhere. I go there for the reviews and the following discussion and the opportunity it gives us to talk about what makes a spec screenplay work.

My two pennies.


  1. Here's the thing with Scriptshadow: I can see why it pisses writers off, but I myself view it as ESSENTIAL reading.

    Ultimately I say criticism is criticism. Would John August really be pleased if Roger Ebert stopped reviewing films he penned so as to not have to trash them? Of course not.

    Let me put it another way. If I'm blessed enough to sell one of my scripts I'd be honored to have Carson give it a review!

  2. No. Sorry, but if your script is 'out there' and being read, you have pretty much said the world can take a swing. I'm gonna send the guy a link to my final draft of my next project and hope he takes a look. I've seen him give positive and negative reviews and they seemed to be pretty fair.
    Other reasons I like the site?
    1. He doesn't charge you $12 and then fuck up and offer you a refund.
    2. He doesn't run out of time and then grab whatever scripts are on top of the stack next to the toilet and say, yippee, these are the winners!
    3. If he has good scripts, he doesn't just say 'abracadabra'; he shows you the actual script and tells you why it won.
    4. He doesn't insult you when you ask him to show the cards he's holding.

    Where was I?

    Oh. Right.

    Carson's okay.

  3. Chilly Writer11:39 PM

    To the best of my knowledge, Roger Ebert rarely reviews half finished, in-process films, and probably doesn't upload those half done films onto the internet. Rolling Stone doesn't post reviews and links to White Stripes demos for albums not yet released, either. But by all means, let's post and review scripts that are still in the development stage.

    I have sold scripts, and there is no way in hell I would want him to review them, positive or negative. The benefits are nil, and the risks are too numerous to list. There is only one reason a script is bought and greenlit (it won't lose money) and a million reasons why they can be killed at any second. There is no reason I would ever want to gamble on the one in a hundred chance that bad buzz from an anonymous blogger (who may or may not be angry because he has a similar script idea) or excessive spoilers would kill my movie. Just because there may be better or more likely reasons my script could be killed doesn't mean that I'm going to go into a meeting and call the studio executive's spouse an ugly cow.

    In general, I think the idea of asking the writer if he can post reviews or links is a great idea. I think most of the scripts you will end up with are the classic sort of development hell scripts, which will be educational without damaging films that are still being developed. I have scripts that I am proud of and ones that i am deeply embarrassed by that stand no chance of ever being sold, so someday I'd gladly toss them up if it helps. But so long as there is a chance that the script might change, I think I have the right to hold that close to my vest.

  4. I think ultimately it comes down to which side of the line you're on. The guys on the inside are arguing that it's hurting, the guys on the outside mostly view it as an incredible resource. It'd be interesting to hear from someone who's crossed the line in the last six months and can see it from both sides. Has their attitude towards scriptshadow changed?

    There IS an element of "I got to see it first" to the whole thing, but Emily's right; there are plenty of other places to get the scripts; what Carson has done is coalesce supply and analysis.

    It's not cool that one guy's opinion (allegedly) killed a sale, but then you have to question how much weight the creatives in question are prepared to give that that opinion. It sounds like a pretty feeble excuse considering Carson is essentially a Hollywood nobody (no offence Carson), even if he's a bigger nobody today than he was a year ago.

    It's real thorny ground and I could spend all day trawling through the arguments on JA's blog and DDP. But then I wouldn't be writing.

  5. I wish Carson would review one of my scripts, only because I'm unknown. If I'm ever produced then my attitude may suddenly change.

    In legal terms, it's unauthorized copy and distribution... but I'm no lawyer.

    If I get into a relationship with a big prodco I don't care what anyone posts about me... except for those pics from Cancun.

  6. And this is why screenwriters are the second-class citizens of the creative field -- because you let yourselves get treated like crap... and some of you encourage it.

    In any other creative field reviewing a work in progress would be incredibly offensive. You don't steal a draft of a novel while the author and the editor are making adjustments and then publicly review it. You'd be sued.

    Novelists would be enraged. So would musicians. So would playwrights. So would painters.

    It's one thing to say to a screenwriter "Hey, I found this draft of yours online for this film in development, are you cool with me reviewing it" and giving them the chance to say "Yes or no".

    It's quite another to find a random draft online of a work in progress, review it behind their backs knowing that it isn't finished, and then posting what you -- someone with zero credibility -- think of it.

    Screenwriters have less creative rights than any other artistic medium -- and now you're throwing away the ones you do have because you feel entitled to get a sneak peak at something that isn't finished?

    He's already (allegedly) cost one screenwriter a job. That's thousands of dollars -- potentially a career -- down the drain. Because someone wanted to do the "me first" thing.

    There are thousands and thousands of scripts for films that are already made or never will be made. Review those. Dissect those. Look at the selling draft AFTER the movie comes out.

    There are so many different ways you could do the same thing, yet script shadow takes the least ethical of all paths, and screenwriters continue to take it. It seems to be at this point we're so used to letting people take advantage of us, why stop now?

  7. Even John August admits he's not talking about getting rid of Script Shadow. He just wants Carson to alert the writer or ask permission when he reviews the scripts. I don't agree that he should only review produced screenplays, but I do agree that he should make the writer aware of what he's doing to give them an opportunity to object.

    And as I said, I definitely don't think he should post script links without permission.

    But his site is extremely useful to new writers largely for the discussion on film that takes place there.

  8. Anonymous9:38 AM

    Here I've been wasting my time on rewrite after rewrite, paying for script reviews, and doing everything I can to hone my specs until they are the best work I can do before sending them out. And now it turns out all these Hollywood insiders are just sending out unfinished first drafts, doodles, notes on scratch paper, the grocery list, whatever, that this Carson guy is somehow unfairly reviewing. I never realized.

  9. Anonymous12:13 PM

    It's all about entitlement and privilege. Some of the angry shouters on John August and DoneDealPro even come right out and admit it. Passing around early drafts of unproduced scripts is a privilege of the cool kids in Hollywood, and they are simply livid that Carson has let the great unwashed masses have a tiny peek into what used to be their exclusive preserve. Why are all these writers who are so offended not going after the interns and PAs who leak their scripts all over Hollywood? Because they are part of the cool kids club, too, and have many of the exact same screenplays Carson has posted sitting on their hard drives right now. Did they ask permission of the writer first or jump through all the other hoops they are now demanding of Carson? Of course not. But they earned the right to violate copyright by making coffee runs and picking up dry cleaning for 5 years - how dare those bumpkins out in the sticks who haven't suffered get even a sliver of the same access.

  10. As a weekly contributor to SS, I can say with good authority that SS is not responsible for "stalling" a writer's career.

    Do you honestly believe that a review Carson posted caused the studio to sit on the script that SOLD, and not allow the writer to use it as a writing sample?

    Some people are just looking to BLAME someone for their own personal hiccups. I'll put this into simpler terms:

    Write something BETTER. And take responsibility for your own work.

    And if you're complaining about a fucking writing sample, get your agent or manager to send out one of your other scripts that doesn't quite make the cut but would make a good "sample".

    I admit, by contributing to SS, I am operating in a gray area. But I guarantee you that just as there are pros who are detractors, there are just as many, if not more pros who are supporters.

    I just look at my inbox and I can say this with authority. I too can give anecdotes, but I can give ones were a project I've championed has made it a little farther towards success for the writer.

    The professionals who are bashing the site haven't really taken the time to read through the reviews. Their reactions are knee-jerk. Because if they did, they would see that a lot of thought and work goes into "covering" these scripts.

    Bemoan me for writing a bootleg review, but I would just as happily write a review for a bootleg album if I were a rock journalist.

    This is the world of entertainment, not corporate espionage.

    But the fact is, this is the world of PDF scripts we live in.

    If anyone has downloaded a script from SS, or traded or gotten from other sources, you're just as culpable concerning this gray area.

    I like John August's work. I agree with many of the points he makes. And currently, I have taken lengths to ask for permission and to conduct interviews. Recently, we have come up with guidelines concerning the newer projects, and with the exception of "Supermax", I will be mostly concentrating on older specs.

    This is not something I do for personal profit. My own writing career is completing separate, and I'm doing just fine.

    What I don't agree with is becoming an assistant to an agent or exec if one wants to be a screenwriter. Apprentice yourself to a screenwriter if you want to be a screenwriter. Otherwise, professionally, you're just grooming yourself to become something other than a screenwriter.

    Unless of course, you write your ass off in the downtime.

    -Roger Balfour

  11. Actually Roger I love your reviews. You and I have similar taste.

  12. Chilly Writer7:04 PM

    @Roger Balfour
    I think you highlighted a large part of the problem, unintentionally. You don't see a problem with a rock journalist reviewing or linking to unfinished studio masters. That means that you don't understand the process of creating an album. And that fact that you don't understand the difference between a shooting script and a script in development means that you don't know enough about screenwriting and filmmaking. The kids on tracking boards aren't the special kids because they got coffee. They just know a marginal amount about development, and you apparently don't.

    Listen, I don't agree with Scriptshadow, but they do have my sympathy. I don't think they set out to destroy people's careers or quash movies from being made. But let's be fair and say that they didn't really start out to champion the underdog, either. I think they started a little site in a corner of the internet for other frustrated screenwriters to check out interesting movies and get a little schadenfreude from seeing successful people fail. The big mistake was probably Wired magazine. That attention, coupled with John August and Done Deal, was probably more than they anticipated, and now they're backed into a corner where they and their supporters have to defend what they perceived as a fairly innocuous little site. As much as there may be writers who appreciated the attention, there are still a number of writers/agents/producers/executives that are (I still believe rightfully) pissed that in development scripts were put out there. The sad thing is that enough people know the real names behind the site, so that their lives are Scriptshadow for the time being, as opposed to any potential careers as screenwriters or producers. Hopefully if they take a lot of the suggestions about seeking permission, they might be able to save themselves a lot of hassle while still saving face as 'Champions of Art'. If it doesn't work out, that's too bad for everyone involved because I don't think anyone wants to see anyone else lose their livelihoods.

    Now that you read all that, are you a little annoyed that someone who doesn't know anything about you or your process or running a website ran his mouth off? It's kind of crappy when people without all of the information set out to badmouth you and your supporters anonymously and threaten your livelihood. But, it is educational for anyone thinking about starting a script review site, so...

  13. Emily,

    Thanks. I'm a movie and story freak and I hope the proof is in the pudding.

    Chilly Writer,

    That's mighty presumptuous of you.

  14. Gotta do a followup here. First off, Chilly Writer, you make a solid point. Roger Ebert, to my knowledge, rarely reviews an incomplete film, unless it's a rare case, like "Greed," where the complete film is missing or destroyed.

    Having said that, Carson often mentions that a poorly reviewed script may or may not be the fault of the writer at all. This may be small comfort to the writer him/her self, but I think most, if not all, of Carson's readers have at least SOME idea of how the system of drafts, notes and new writers works.

    Now, let's face it, those who are unhappy with Carson's posting unproduced scripts on Scriptshadow have a valid criticism. For a writer to actually LOSE WORK because of one of Carson's posts, however, says more about the state of the industry than it does about Scriptshadow.

    Let's just say that if "Battle L.A." or whatever it's called bombs, it won't be because of Carson and the folks at Latino Review.

  15. One last word for Chilly Writer: you make some good points, but seriously dude, you gotta keep the pompous thing in check. You claim you're a professional. Fair enough. State your case in a professional manner.

  16. What was reviewd on the site of Augusts?

  17. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  18. I thought about rejecting that comment because he asked his name be kept private, but at this point the cat's out of the bag.

  19. That's thing isn't it, Emily? Scriptshadow wants his name to be kept private, but at the same time feels it's okay to post scripts and review scripts that he doesn't own or have permission to post...

    All I know if he posted one of my scripts I'd likely be very pissed. Not because he might give a scathing review or even a decent review, but because he's taken it upon himself to violate what I perceive to be an ethical violation of trust. Most readers are bound by an confidentiality agreement as readers for studios, producers, etc. that they'll neither display or discuss or share the work in question without permission to do so. As a writer I don't want my work passed around in any forum without my expressed permission, especially work which may be in its early form--it can only harm, not help.

    "Outting" Scriptshadow seems to be poetic justice in my opinion.

  20. I've never been a big fan of that kind of thinking. I act as honorable as I can. Sometimes I fail, but I don't judge my behavior by someone else, I judge it by my own terms. So if a guy wants his name kept secret, I feel like we should honor that. Let him deal with his issues if he chooses to, but I'm not out for revenge. It's irrelevant now, though, because his name has appeared in so many places.

    That said, yes, I'm pretty sure I'd be pissed if he reviewed my script negatively, but that's the risk with any creative endeavor. That's why I think he should alert the writers, and I've also come around to believing he should only review scripts that have already sold or have been abandoned, which he often does.

  21. Anonymous3:33 PM

    I wouldn't waste my time discussing this with the DoneDealPro screamers, Emily. Pros? The morons yelling their heads off over there are the least professional people I've ever seen.

    Be aware that some of them are openly compiling lists of enemies - that is, anyone who disagrees with them - whose careers they plan to sabotage.

    At this point, I wouldn't post on that forum if you paid me.

  22. A good or bad review wouldn't bother me. It's the posting of the script itself without my permission that I find troubling. I take issue with the mindset that because he can, he should. It's the same mindset which allowed Napster to exist, the "right" to take wasn't isn't theirs and pass it around as if it was. It's a sense of entitlement that doesn't belong between the creator of art and viewer or reader of that art...

    I get paid for what I do. Once somebody buys my work it's no longer mine. I care what happens to it, but can't control it (and believe me, I've seen some of the stuff I've done butchered beyond belief). But for somebody to essentially steal my work (and there's no other suitable word) and post it without my permission is wrong.

    I feel the same way about all those other sites who post scripts for "educational" purposes. Taking art without the artist's permission is theft, pure and simple. There's no other way to say it.

  23. Chilly Writer5:53 PM

    Wow, I didn't really feel that anything I said was that pompous or unprofessional. I was generally making the point that it would be douchey for me to conjecture over how Carson lives his life outside of the parts that affect me, so it is likewise sort of douchey for people who have no experience working as writers to run around telling us what will or will not affect our livelihood. It's insanely stupid that a script would be derailed over something so stupid. Stupid things happen all of the time. If you would like to put your livelihood at risk for nominal benefit to some other screenwriters, feel free. Give me that option to say yes or no. The second that any of my scripts go beyond the point of being derailed, I would gladly come back here to Emily's site and give you the total breakdown point by point. Baring legal issues, I wouldn't be opposed to letting her post the drafts with my commentary of what was going on. But come on, let me try to support myself and my family first. I was a little shocked by the Cancun talk, but maybe a little disclosure might help. I did OK for my first script sale, financially. Just about dead average. And then 10% went to my agent, 5% to my lawyer, 2.5k went to the union on top of 1.5% of the total, and then a big chunk was taken out by taxes. And all of these percentage were decided based on the gross, not the remainders. Where did that leave me? Making about 5 grand less than I made as a teacher. And that also doesn't account for the not so unsubstantial student loans. I'm not complaining. I love it, and would do it gladly. But I also need to live and support myself and my family, so you have to understand that not all of these professional writers are millionaires. When something threatens my family, even a little bit, I have a natural impulse to get defensive, as most of these people do. If it comes down to risking the money to pay for my mom's surgery or helping you learn a little bit more about screenwriting, I'm sorry man but you lose.

  24. Good point, Anonymous. It seems like everybody over there is out to hang Carson by the neck even though he is one of them, and anyone who doesn't want to join the lynch mob is worthy of swinging on the tree next to him.

    And JJ, that seems fair. You have to have thick skin to work in any creative profession, but copyright violation is a legal issue. No gray areas.

  25. Chilly Writer5:58 PM

    Also: I don't think anyone anywhere is making lists of anything related to this conversation. I don't think anyone cares who agrees with SS and who doesn't. However, I do think that if it was widely known who specifically was sending him these scripts, they would probably be fired. That's probably why the posts don't begin with 'Thanks to Carl at UTA for sending this over'. I don't think that's a blacklist, I think it's people being held accountable in terms of what their day to day jobs and responsibilities are.

  26. Chilly Writer he's talking about over at Done Deal where a couple of pro writers have specifically said they're making note of all the aspiring writers who are siding with Carson. It's unclear as to whether or not they are joking.

  27. Anonymous12:54 PM

    I have stayed out of this argument for the most part because... I'm too busy writing!


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