Saturday, May 21, 2011

Hollywood's Gatekeepers

Last ride with the Transalp, Turnagain Arm

You're an amateur screenwriter and you believe your screenplay is finally ready for the real world -- or you've simply grown tired of the actual work it takes to write and re-write -- but either way, you've long suffered the crap Hollywood puts out week after week until that fateful day it struck you, "My God! I can write better than this!"

And now here you are, script in hand. Ready to cash in.

Maybe create some art on the side.

Maybe even... Nah, it ain't that good, is it? Well, that final scene did make my mom cry... Oscar nom?

You weren't born into the industry. Your Kevin Bacon number is in the hundreds, so no connections you can work there.

You have to get it to a big-time producer. Or, even a middle-time producer...

Does the porn industry buy scripts? The soft-core kind, though -- you are a storyteller after all.

OK, OK, you're not that guy. You're serious. Even took a class.

But, your Kevin Bacon number is in the hundreds, and in order to get your sweat, blood, and tears into the hands of someone who can turn them into gold, you have to get past the gatekeepers.

Aka Readers.

Aka "Bitter."

Why bitter?

Because of the slush-pile.

This All Began When

I became engaged in a discussion over on screenwriter John August's site (Charlie's Angels, Big Fish, Corpse Bride) with another of the site's readers.

Turned out this reader, was a "reader."

I brought up the, "What do readers have to be bitter about?" question.

Hitting him with, "In my old job I was bled and vomited upon," before ending with, "How cool it would be to get paid while still in my robe with a pot of coffee nearby."

Really, reader-dude, what's there to complain about?

The Slush Pile

"That's because you're not thinking of scripts as weapons ... That just comes with understanding what the slush-pile really is. If you think you can take it because of your samurai training, you are sadly fucking mistaken and shall fall like the rest of us. For it is an unearthly Hell Mouth, and the very physical manifestation of the bottomless pits of hell. If you’re laughing right now, then it is simply because you have mistaken my warnings for frivolity. Warn your village, dude."

I was laughing, but I also had to concede I have never sifted through a slush pile.

Remember how, you, the hopeful screenwriter, suffered through all those bad movies week after week? Until that fateful day you realized, "I can write better than this," and sat down to give it a shot?

You weren't alone.

Numbers I've found show anywhere from 17,000 to 50,000 scripts are registered with the Writer's Guild every year. And those numbers don't include the thousands of scripts that aren't being registered, but still make it into "readers" slush-piles.

And slush-piles can take their toll.

As the reader alluded to in one response, there is more than one way to be vomited upon:

"Try to envision taking your old day job, only imagine that what they're throwing up on is your soul ... An endless row of strangers, throwing up on your soul."

"They're Just That Rare"

Whether it's a submission to a production company, or an entry to a screenwriting competition, your script will more than likely pass into the hands of one of these bitter strangers whose soul is drenched with vomit.

And, if they perceive they are about to be wretched upon again, they may just stop reading long before they get to that really good scene that made your mom cry.

So, take your time. Read some more. Write some more.

Once it is submitted, one of three words will be stamped somewhere on your script's coverage: Pass, Consider, or Recommend

You don't want "Pass," so, you re-write.

You don't really even want "Consider," so, another re-write.

"Recommend" is the key to the kingdom. One more re-write should do it.

Now that you've put in the really tough, extra hours, the hours you know the other guy didn't put in, you're sure to get that "Recommend."

How hard can it be?

"I now share with you, the most glorious fact of my experience as a reader: I never wrote a Recommend. – It never happened. – And while you might think with my attitude that’s because I quite obviously hate everything and couldn’t tell when a great script was in my hand to begin with, (a fear that very slowly occurred to me as well)… I then took a short break to go and see if screenplays were what I remembered. And guess what? Good writing was still good writing and I could still see it plain as day. 'Back To The Future' is a perfect script. – 'The Postman' is a perfect script. – 'Schindler’s List' is a perfect script. Which is the single most searing and irreplaceable lesson of the slush pile, and the cattle-branding realization you go there to get: They’re just… that… rare."

Don't Fret Yet

Oh ye with no "uncle in the business." There may still be a place for you at (or, at least under) the dinner table.

To help with your (and my) journey, a Q&A with three Hollywood gatekeepers will be posted here in the coming week. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, stop watching anything on TV that involves a ball or puck, and get back to work on your script.

[Quoted conversation taken from this dialogue on John August site]

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