Of all the plagues visited upon Hollywood screenwriters, none is more onerous than the calls from every resident of your college dorm, and every distant in-law demanding that you read their script. But today one man fought back.
In a screed for the Village Voice, Oscar losing screenwriter Josh Olson issued what will soon be a battle cry for scribes everywhere, "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script!"
One can't help but feel Olson's pain. The stations of a writer's cross are many and horrible — being treated like slime by your own agent; guards given orders to shoot on sight if you show up on the set of your film; security summoned when you attempt to chat with the film's starlet at the premiere. But Writer's Guild of America screenwriter goes to bed each night knowing that even if he is being abused, he is being abused by very powerful show business professionals who live in much bigger houses and drive much bigger cars than he.
But the horrifying indignity, as Olsen describes, is that once you become a screenwriter, even your oldest friends mistake you for the garbage collector.
I'll make you a deal. In return for you not asking me to read your fucking script, I will not ask you to wash my fucking car, or take my fucking picture, or represent me in fucking court, or take out my fucking gall bladder, or whatever the fuck it is that you do for a living.
You're a lovely person. Whatever time we've spent together has, I'm sure, been pleasurable for both of us. I quite enjoyed that conversation we once had about structure and theme, and why Sergio Leone is the greatest director who ever lived. Yes, we bonded, and yes, I wish you luck in all your endeavors, and it would thrill me no end to hear that you had sold your screenplay, and that it had been made into the best movie since Godfather Part II.
But I will not read your fucking script.
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."
Olsen leaves out about from that story the part about how Picasso was, in fact, one the most humongous a-holes in art history.
He goes on to tell of the woes of actually trying to be helpful, and how it comes to backfire when it takes him months to read it, how his stack of script reading looms over his bed — a beast forever waiting to pounce; how friends claim they are open for criticism but really just want praise.
The trials of Job these screenwriters must endure. But we have a solution to take a little off your plate. Wait a believable eight days and then cut and paste the following phrase into an email. "I read your script and I loved it. It's just what Hollywood is looking for."
After all, they aren't applying to be William Wordsworth. This is Hollywood. Olson describes a friend's script he read:
The story described was clearly of great importance to him, but he had done nothing to convey its specifics to an impartial reader. What I was handed was, essentially, a barely coherent list of events, some connected, some not so much. Characters wander around aimlessly, do things for no reason, vanish, reappear, get arrested for unnamed crimes, and make wild, life-altering decisions for no reason. Half a paragraph is devoted to describing the smell and texture of a piece of food, but the climactic central event of the film is glossed over in a sentence.
Opening this weekend, made by Hollywood, are I Can Do Bad By Myself, Whiteout, Not Forgotten and Sorority Row. Can you really honestly look your friend in the eye and tell him he is not fit to be in this company?