I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script
So. I read the thing. And it hurt, man. It really hurt. I was dying to find something positive to say, and there was nothing. And the truth is, saying something positive about this thing would be the nastiest, meanest and most dishonest thing I could do. Because here's the thing: not only is it cruel to encourage the hopeless, but you cannot discourage a writer. If someone can talk you out of being a writer, you're not a writer. If I can talk you out of being a writer, I've done you a favor, because now you'll be free to pursue your real talent, whatever that may be. And, for the record, everybody has one. The lucky ones figure out what that is. The unlucky ones keep on writing shitty screenplays and asking me to read them.
To make matters worse, this guy (and his girlfriend) had begged me to be honest with him. He was frustrated by the responses he'd gotten from friends, because he felt they were going easy on him, and he wanted real criticism. They never do, of course. What they want is a few tough notes to give the illusion of honesty, and then some pats on the head. What they want--always--is encouragement, even when they shouldn't get any.
Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell someone that they've spent a year wasting their time? Do you know how much blood and sweat goes into that criticism? Because you want to tell the truth, but you want to make absolutely certain that it comes across honestly and without cruelty. I did more rewrites on that fucking e-mail than I did on my last three studio projects.
My first draft was ridiculous. I started with specific notes, and after a while, found I'd written three pages on the first two paragraphs. That wasn't the right approach. So I tossed it, and by the time I was done, I'd come up with something that was relatively brief, to the point, and considerate as hell. The main point I made was that he'd fallen prey to a fallacy that nails a lot of first timers. He was way more interested in telling his one story than in being a writer. It was like buying all the parts to a car and starting to build it before learning the basics of auto mechanics. You'll learn a lot along the way, I said, but you'll never have a car that runs.
(I should mention that while I was composing my response, he pulled the ultimate amateur move, and sent me an e-mail saying, "If you haven't read it yet, don't! I have a new draft. Read this!" In other words, "The draft I told you was ready for professional input, wasn't actually.")
I advised him that if all he was interested in was this story, he should find a writer and work with him; or, if he really wanted to be a writer, start at the beginning and take some classes, and start studying seriously.
And you know what? I shouldn't have bothered. Because for all the hair I pulled out, for all the weight and seriousness I gave his request for a real, professional critique, his response was a terse "Thanks for your opinion." And, the inevitable fallout--a week later a mutual friend asked me, "What's this dick move I hear you pulled on Whatsisname?"
So now this guy and his girlfriend think I'm an asshole, and the truth of the matter is, the story really ended the moment he handed me the goddamn synopsis. Because if I'd just said "No" then and there, they'd still think I'm an asshole. Only difference is, I wouldn't have had to spend all that time trying to communicate thoughtfully and honestly with someone who just wanted a pat on the head, and, more importantly, I wouldn't have had to read that godawful piece of shit.
You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it's not a huge imposition. It's not your choice to make. This needs to be clear--when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you're not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you're asking them to give you--gratis--the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours.
There's a great story about Pablo Picasso. Some guy told Picasso he'd pay him to draw a picture on a napkin. Picasso whipped out a pen and banged out a sketch, handed it to the guy, and said, "One million dollars, please."
"A million dollars?" the guy exclaimed. "That only took you thirty seconds!"
"Yes," said Picasso. "But it took me fifty years to learn how to draw that in thirty seconds."
Like the cad who asks the professional for a free read, the guy simply didn't have enough respect for the artist to think about what he was asking for. If you think it's only about the time, then ask one of your non-writer friends to read it. Hell, they might even enjoy your script. They might look upon you with a newfound respect. It could even come to pass that they call up a friend in the movie business and help you sell it, and soon, all your dreams will come true. But me?
I will not read your fucking script.
Josh Olson's screenplay for the film A History of Violence was nominated for the Academy Award, the BAFTA, the WGA award and the Edgar. He is also the writer and director of the horror/comedy cult movie Infested, which Empire Magazine named one of the 20 Best Straight to Video Movies ever made. Recently, he has written with the legendary Harlan Ellison, and worked on Halo with Peter Jackson and Neill Blomkamp. He adapted Dennis Lehane's story "Until Gwen," which he will also be directing. He is currently adapting One Shot, one of the best-selling Jack Reacher books for Paramount.
©2009 Josh Olson. All rights reserved.
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