gall and gumption

Friday, September 11, 2009

The Elect, Heard From

Below is my posted response to "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Screenplay," a piece at the Village Voice site by this screenwriter named Josh Olson who got an Academy Award nomination and now is approached by all sorts of people wanting him to read their scripts. I'm not familiar with his oeuvre--a guy like that, with so many pressing demands on his creative judgment and all, must surely have an oeuvre--but I don't think that matters.

If Olson can make a judgment about a screenplay within a page or two (I don't doubt it's possible--I do it all the time with other types of writing) why does he have such a big pile of screenplays on both sides of his bed? Surely he'd be getting through them quickly? Are they coming in at such a prodigious rate?

Second of all my own feeling is that the person who gets to do what they love for a living is enjoying a sort of privilege. I'd like everyone to have that privilege, but I acknowledge we are far from that state of job Nirvana. In the meantime it's nice for the lucky ones to share, to give a little, instead of imagining that one's material success is necessarily a proof of one's greater deservingness, which the not-yet-pros don't appreciate or they wouldn't importune you with their pathetic hopes etc. Notice that there is a sort of reflexive hostility of insiders toward outsiders? You ever notice how easy that is? And how easy it is to like and admire the person you're looking up the ladder at? You haven't noticed that or learned to question it yet? There is no surer sign of the insecure parvenu than these snarls toward those approaching from below. Someone's got to show the beginner where to begin. Kindness is needed so it might as well start with you. If that doesn't motivate you, then consider that those writers are your most attentive readers. It can be a way to give back, and you can make sensible arrangements to do it so you aren't waylaid and it doesn't take over your life, just like any other formal giving. Hire an intern for four hours a week and pay them to learn how to move the crap out the door. "I have a great mountain of scripts by people I like more than you and are better writers than you" is very likely untrue and definitely rude.

If someone's screenplay or short story appears to you to be rubbish after five minutes's perusal, then tell them so in the sixth minute. Why waste any more time? Honestly, if you need weeks to figure out why and how to say it then maybe you don't know your shit as well as you think you do. Or you're marketing your own profundity or something. Because the amount of money it would take for me to lie to people about my opinion of a piece of writing would have to arrive in a fleet of armored trucks, and I am certainly not going to bother to do it for free.

Finally, stories about real life are funnier when they're true and accurate.

See that? That engaged with the writer's ideas and endeavored to teach him something about his responsibilities as a writer and how he might more satisfactorily fulfill them. Took me a little more than half an hour.


At 2:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you need to re-read the original piece, slowly, sounding out and looking up all the big words until you comprehend them. Because clearly, you did not.

At 2:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know what I'm not understanding in the above comment. Is this irony of some kind? I read the "original piece" (damn my busy fucking soul for taking the time) and didn't see or couldn't find the big words that need to be looked up.

At 2:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant as the last blog was heartrending.

At 10:59 PM, Blogger Kia said...


I think some of the uh, "discussion" sort of spilled over from the comment thread over at that Voice story. Don't know why it followed me here--and as it's clearly too stupid to be able to give any account of itself the best thing to do is ignore it.

At 11:05 PM, Blogger Kia said...

I mean, it's so typical, really. When I finally get one of these Internet trolls like they have at all the big blogs, I get the cheap Chinese-made dollar-store knock-off version.

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Chuckling said...

That was more or less my first reaction as well, but the followup piece, and some of its comments, in the Voice gave me pause.

In addition to the very real legal pitfalls, after thinking about it more I do find it strikes me as bad form to push a reading assignment on a total stranger with no offer of recompense. Wanna be a professional? Probably best to act like one. Send it to an agent, or take a class, or pay a professional script editor.

At 7:22 AM, Blogger Kia said...


I was also struck by the follow-up piece and by the legal arguments as well and thought that they were important and pretty much unanswerable. However, Olson early on mentions that next to his bed he keeps a stack of friends' scripts. So it wasn't the showing of the script as such that was the issue for him as much as the determination of whether the writer was enough of a friend or enough of an interest in some other way to merit the time. If he had been enough of a friend, presumably his script would have joined the stack of Olson's friends' scripts.

One thing that was never said in that thread over at the Voice is how in Olson's professional world words like "good" (in reference to writing) and "friend" mean very different things. A "good" script means "a script that will sell." And "friend"? Who the hell knows?

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Dan Coyle said...

I'm with Olson on this, but you've given the best counter-argument I've seen. There is a part of me that feels a twinge of sympathy for the guy knowing even though his name's not there, he is being tarred and feathered in a national forum by Olson.

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