Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Turn in your best work

I keep seeing this same terrible advice pop up in various forms on the old web: You don't have to make your screenplay that great because producers and reps and actors will just change everything anyway.

That has got to be one of the dumbest attitudes you can have, yet plenty of people have it.

Let's say you're an agent at one of the big three. You're in your office, about to leave for the weekend and you're checking your email.

Come to think of it, agents don't really check their own email, do they?

Let's say you're an assistant to an agent at one of the big three. You're in your cubicle, about to leave for the weekend and you're checking your boss' email. There's like eight hundred thousand queries in there.

You see about a dozen that sound promising, so you say what the hell, let's read these little fuckers. Some of those will be high concept, but some will just have a neat voice or a clean writing style. You send away for the scripts. You read them over the weekend, praying to find one you want to send to your boss. Your boss' day is insanely busy and you know that if you send him a piece of crap he'll smash your head in with a hammer.

I've seen Swimming With Sharks so I feel like I'm an expert on how all this works.

Anyhow, you read a dozen scripts. You choose ONE to take to your boss, one writer you think will score jobs or spec sales for the company. Which one is it? The high concept script with poor execution? Maybe, if the idea is amazing and the writing is at least competent. The generic idea executed to perfection? Or the generic idea that's practically a first draft, thrown together in a few weeks and barely proofread?

Which writer would you want to work with? The one with the good ideas? The one who busts their ass to perfect every draft? Or the one who pumps out a shoddy draft and figures it's somebody else's job to make it good?

Use your brain.

So if you like, you can crank out shitty draft after shitty draft and keep throwing them at the wall, but you'll be competing with my best work. Good luck.


  1. The first paragraph of this entry almost provoked an uncontrolled spasm of rage, even though I knew you were only mentioning that attitude so you could knock it down.

    No reader, assistant, or story editor is going to go out on a limb for a shoddy script. The presumption that they will because it's going to be rewritten anyway is a disgusting display of laziness. It's almost as bad as, "Well, that movie I saw in theatres last week was shit so I only need to be slightly better than shit."

    No. You need to be BETTER than all those scripts you see out there. Guys like me become bitter script readers as a result of deal with lazy hacks like those you describe here.

  2. Funny, I know she's referring to the guy on done deal pro who just said he wrote 14 scripts or something crazy like that in the course of a year. My god.

  3. Well if that attitude yielded 14 scripts in a year, I should withdraw my comment. Quantity always trumps quality.

  4. I don't know if I agree with this blog. Do you spend 10 more months to make your script from 90 percent there to 95 percent there? Maybe. How about another 10 months after that to bring it to 96 percent? Etc. Etc.

    At some point, you have to weigh the effort = result.

    Plus most people probably send off their scripts thinking that's their best effort at that moment. Sure, maybe a year later, they see the flaws. We're all guilty of it. I'm still guilty of it now.

    I recently completed two scripts. One in 4 weeks. One in 3 weeks. No break in between. I'm quite happy with both. So time spent doesn't always equate with quality. Or vice versa.

  5. Young - By your own admission, you are incapable of seeing the flaws in your work for a year, so how can we assign any credibility to your claims that "time spent doesn't always equate with quality?"

    Here's an effort=result fact to consider. If a reader is unimpressed by half-assed writing, it takes very little effort to say "Pass."

  6. You make a valid point about self-analysis. All you can hope for is that you put your best effort forward.

    But I think there's some point in time that you cripple yourself by not showing your work.

  7. I'll put it this way -- When I have to write 10 pages of script notes it pisses me off when it feels like I spent more time on the notes than the writer did on their script.

    Spec script sales are the big leagues. You're hoping to win the World Series. You're not putting a rag-tag group of T-ballers (sounds dirty) up against the Yankees with any expectation of bringing home a championship.

    Yet, budding screenwriters do this ALL the time.

    The majority of scripts I read are equivalent to those crayon drawings your mom magnets to the fridge. Maybe one day you'll learn to draw -- but it won't be those lop-sided stick figures that people are demanding to buy.

  8. Anonymous2:53 PM

    As a producer, if I think it's going to take me more effort to get the script up to scratch than the writer is willing to put in - I may as well be the writer !!

    So sick of babysitting/handholding wannabe writers to get their work presentable to distributors/financiers.

    It's so nice to get that feedback of "it was a really great read / well written script" instead of some polite "Thanks not for us". You can tell the difference between them genuinely "not looking for that kind of material" when they on recommend your "well written" script to someone they know who is.



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