Monday, December 14, 2009

Be nice

The recent Scriptshadow controversy has really shed a light on some of the issues between aspiring and professional writers.

Take the Black List. It's a list we all wait impatiently for so we can grab a copy of the scripts and read them and discuss them and figure out how we can capture some of that industry love, and yet we've been told we're not allowed to. Professionals are allowed to, but those of us who haven't sold anything have no right to discuss our opinions with the rest of the world.

Several months ago I questioned whether or not sexism was still rampant in Hollywood and was told women just don't have what it takes to sleep in cars, as if sleeping in cars while you pray for a job is the preferred way of life.

When ever I tell a professional writer that I am hoping to one day write professionally as well, I feel apologetic, as if I'm probably not worthy and they'll most likely think I'm a loser.

There is so much money going to so few jobs and there are so many of us, it's like we're clawing at each other for a crust of bread. We're so quick to jump on each other and say things have to be one way or another and well, I had to suck dick to get my job so you'd better do it too....

Then you get the handful of pro writers who are genuinely awesome. I've met a few. I've been helped by a few.

You hear all the time that pro writers help the aspirings all over town, and that's partly true. Bill Martell, Unk, John August, Mystery Man, many writers who don't have blogs...

But then you get some who seem so afraid of losing their place that they forget to be nice to the new guys. They make us feel undeserving, and we play right along. We bicker with each other, we pass judgement on each others' scripts, we argue over whether or not Josh Olson's attitude is anything other than dickish. We're so desperate for a pat on the head we'll punch each other in the face if one of the pros is watching.

Then you get guys who say they hope Carson does ruin careers so he can get the jobs the old guys will vacate. That's a particularly nasty kind of newbie, one who doesn't really deserve any help. I wouldn't want to be that guy either.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, hey man, don't be mean.


  1. Mean people suck. and they don't last very long anywhere !!!

    MysteryMan is really a nice guy. I talk to him on Twitter and he's even watched my videos and read my short plays. He gives me a lot of encouragement, which is very important to me.

    It's so ironic that in Hollywood (or in cinema, in general, I guess), screenwriters are given less respect and less attention, which means that screenwriters SHOULD be more supportive of each other, but that's not the case.

  2. I find most of the various screenwriting sites pretty useful, so it's too bad to see the infighting going on.

    I know it's the prevailing term, but personally, I don't think of myself as an aspiring screenwriter. I don't aspire to write screenplays. I write them. I don't have any sales, just one that's been turned into a short film, so I'm not a pro - yet.

    Patrick Sweeney
    I Blame Ninjas

  3. True enough. I like that attitude. But what should we call ourselves? I'm not a new writer and the word "amateur" makes us sound like idiots.

  4. Well, that's the problem. I don't have a good suggested replacement, either. Some of us aren't very new at this, and amateur, while technically accurate, does sound lame. Like it's just a hobby or pastime, not something we're pursuing seriously. I've seen pre-pro used, but that feels kind of -- constructed. Although it's probably the most accurate and least demeaning term I've seen so far.

  5. Sometimes I get confused when people I respect say things that may hurt or damage others.

    Today I wasn't sure altogether who to agree with.

    Then I read your post and there it is, plain and clear.

    Ultimately it all comes back to the character's motivation, right?

    Even if you don't agree with someone, before firing at someone it would be good to check what the person's motivation is.

    If in doubt, hold your fire.

    Thank you, Emily!

  6. "If in doubt, hold your fire."

    A good lesson for everybody, I think.

  7. I do a shitload of spec writing. Much of the finished product has never been sold, does that mean I'm not a pro? I hope not, otherwise I'll have to back both my WGA and DGA cards. I don't think I want to do that. Yet. Even when I wasn't selling scripts I've always listed as my occupation as "writer" on my 1040, on my passport, and every other document that asked for it. Paid or unpaid, if you're writing, you're a writer. That's what you are. Period. End of discussion.

    Don't ever let anyone, especially some idiot with a blog, a pro, or for want of a better term, wannabe, ever dissuade you from calling yourself what you are: writer. And that applies to you, Emily, but to every writer.

  8. Look, no one says Van Gogh wasn't an artist because he couldn't sell his paintings. The same logic should apply to unproduced or unsold screenwriters.

    For the record, Hollywood's been putting the screws to scripters since the days of Irving Thalberg. Why this is, I don't know.

    Personally, I think it has to do with fear. Writers have a tendency to be free thinkers, after all. That's a dangerous thing to someone in a suit.

  9. Hmm...I don't understand the "women aren't willing to sleep in cars" comment. I'm a woman, and I was willing to live on nothing, because nothing mattered but writing. And it worked -- I broke in. I agree that you do have to be willing to sleep in your car. Anyone who who won't go that far just doesn't want it enough. This is the most competitive field I know of. It's not something you can do "on the side." But it isn't true that only men are sufficiently ambitious.

  10. Anonymous6:42 AM

    Women don't have what it takes to sleep in their cars? LOL! Give me a break... I've been eating cars for breakfast and spitting their dwellers out on the asphalt every morning for most of my life. I wouldn't wish some of my past on my worst enemy, much less expect them to be able to handle it.

    Strength isn't derived from gender yet there is something to be said for the fact that most women aren't given the same support or encouragement as men are in their formative years. Therefore the women who do succeed often do it by overcoming more obstacles than most men ever face.

    To anyone who believes women "don't have what it takes," I see your car and raise you a lifetime of discrimination, oppression and debilitating addiction. Write your way out of that, jacka**.

    Great post, Emily. :D

  11. Thanks, Casey. You definitely have a great perspective.

    And Ace, I think your comment highlights the problem. Yes, women are willing to be poor, but that's not the point. The point is exactly what you said, pro writers will tell you that this life is difficult and you should be willing to eat dirt for breakfast to get it because they did.

    This isn't a side thing to me either. My intent is to become a working screenwriter and I dedicate a lot of my time to that purpose. I live and breathe this stuff, just like anybody who lives in a run down studio apartment. The difference is, I can pay my bills and I'm not apologizing for that and I don't think it makes me any less of a writer.

  12. My eyes have certainly been opened as well by the Great Scriptshadow Controversy of 2009.

    I'm shocked by the guarded paranoia of the pros and I'm stunned by the terrorist-like desperation of the amateurs. I had no idea the gulf between the two parties was so wide but, as I said, I think the Carson Reeves tiff has certainly exposed that.

    It has underscored my recent approach to the market. I target the indies, period. I won't play the game L.A. style. It's Romper Room with cyanide-laced toys and I like myself too much to ever juggle with flaming daggers like that.

    Oh and people, please don't live in your cars for this stuff. It's the movies, dammit. Not worth waking up every morning with the imprint of a gearshift in your forehead.

    Additionally, women in screenwriting? Two great examples of late - - Nancy Meyers and Kathryn Bigelow... both got Golden Globe nods today and both do exemplary work. (I think Bigelow was for directing and not writing but Lord knows the intensity of her work has always made her male counterparts look rather limp-wristed by comparison.)

  13. I worked up a blog post on the "aspiring screenwriter" thing.

    Not getting into the "pros are paranoid/non-pros are savages" fight, though. :)

    Patrick Sweeney
    I Blame Ninjas

  14. Seems like in any craft there's an insecure % of individuals attacking others. It's usually the ones who have reason to be insecure.

    On a label for unproduced screenwriters, I can't stand the term "aspiring screenwriter".

    People not familiar with the profession have such a hard time understanding it, think I'll just start telling most people I'm a waiter, they get that, lol.

  15. Just have to add that I, like Jeff, was a little taken back by the whole Scriptshadow debacle.

    Admittedly, the "desperation" of some amateurs is definitely worth noting - and condeming.

    What really floors me, though, is the animosity some of the pros have towards their unpaid brethren. There seems to be a real sense of "you're not in the club because you're simply not good enough" that pisses me off.

    Could it be the amateurs have gotten overly aggressive in the age of the blog? Or is there a heretofore unseen caste system among cinema's literati?

    Or are people just acting like complete tools all around lately?

  16. I just tell people I'm a playwright because my plays HAVE been produced. I'll also add that "I hope to be a professional screenwriter someday," but I'd stress that I'd never gotten any film scripts produced.

    but yeah, I don't consider myself a screenwriter. I'm just a screenwriter-wannabe.


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