So I sat long and hard thinking of a way to do a Scriptshadow contest without monopolizing every hour of my day for five months straight, and I think I’ve come up with a solution. A staggered submission process that starts with a logline, and ends with me reading a select group of scripts. Here’s how it would work. The initial stage of the contest would be the logline. Anyone who wants to enter sends me a logline. Four weeks later, I announce the Top 100 loglines. The “winners” of that stage will then send me a 250 word paragraph summarizing their script. 4 weeks later I announce the Top 50 summaries. The “winners” of that stage will send me a full 1 page synopsis of their screenplay. The Top 25 synopses from that group will send me their screenplays. I’ll then pick a winner from that group. The winner will receive a review on Scriptshadow (which will almost certainly be favorable) and that review should garner, at the very least, a few requests from mangers and agents.
Now here’s the thing. The contest *is* free *if* you only send in one logline. For each additional logline you submit, it will be one dollar. You can submit as many loglines as you want. I figure this won’t only help me, but it will allow you to try a bunch of different loglines, even for scripts you haven’t written yet. If you make it to the final stage (final 20), I’ll give you an extra month and a half to turn in your script. That way, along with the two months you get during the initial stages, you’ll have enough time to write the script if you keep advancing.
I know some of you will probably want the additional logline costs to be cheaper. But I think it’s fair. The contest is free if you want it to be. For those concerned that I’m rewarding scripts that haven’t even been written yet (and therefore can’t possibly be any good) I’m fairly confident that the screening process will prevent any bad writers from getting into the Top 20. It’s kind of hard to fake being a good writer in a one page summary. So yes, it’s not perfect, but it’s a good compromise since I don’t yet have the time or the resources to run a “proper” contest. The contest would probably be announced in the next 4-6 weeks.
Suggestions? Improvements? What do you guys think?
Okay, I wasn’t going to post this because everybody in the world picked it up and, I feel, it’s already gotten its due. Even Nikki Finke posted it on her page. But I’ve received a ton of e-mail from people asking, specifically because I read so many scripts, what my opinion on the matter is. Josh Olson is the screenwriter of “A History Of Violence.” They posted this article of his in Village Voice. And I am re-posting it here. Read it (but remember I DID NOT WRITE IT) and I’ll follow with my thoughts.
I will not read your fucking script.
That’s simple enough, isn’t it? “I will not read your fucking script.” What’s not clear about that? There’s nothing personal about it, nothing loaded, nothing complicated. I simply have no interest in reading your fucking screenplay. None whatsoever.
If that seems unfair, 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.
At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situation, please read on.
Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick. Because you created this situation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acquiesce to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very definition of a dick move.
I was recently cornered by a young man of my barest acquaintance.
I doubt we’ve exchanged a hundred words. But he’s dating someone I know, and he cornered me in the right place at the right time, and asked me to read a two-page synopsis for a script he’d been working on for the last year. He was submitting the synopsis to some contest or program, and wanted to get a professional opinion.
Now, I normally have a standard response to people who ask me to read their scripts, and it’s the simple truth: I have two piles next to my bed. One is scripts from good friends, and the other is manuscripts and books and scripts my agents have sent to me that I have to read for work. Every time I pick up a friend’s script, I feel guilty that I’m ignoring work. Every time I pick something up from the other pile, I feel guilty that I’m ignoring my friends. If I read yours before any of that, I’d be an awful person.
Most people get that. But sometimes you find yourself in a situation where the guilt factor is really high, or someone plays on a relationship or a perceived obligation, and it’s hard to escape without seeming rude. Then, I tell them I’ll read it, but if I can put it down after ten pages, I will. They always go for that, because nobody ever believes you can put their script down once you start.
But hell, this was a two page synopsis, and there was no time to go into either song or dance, and it was just easier to take it. How long can two pages take?
Weeks, is the answer.
And this is why I will not read your fucking script.
It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you’re in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you’re dealing with someone who can’t.
(By the way, here’s a simple way to find out if you’re a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you’re not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)
You may want to allow for the fact that this fellow had never written a synopsis before, but that doesn’t excuse the inability to form a decent sentence, or an utter lack of facility with language and structure. 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. The death of the hero is not even mentioned. One sentence describes a scene he’s in, the next describes people showing up at his funeral. I could go on, but I won’t. This is the sort of thing that would earn you a D minus in any Freshman Comp class.
Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn’t actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn’t require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don’t regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.
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.
Â©2009 Josh Olson. All rights reserved.
Carson back here. Okay, so here’s the thing. Josh brings up some great points. I have personally watched a couple of blossoming friendships destroyed because someone asked me to read their script and I gave them honest feedback. The problem is two-fold. Writers, particularly ones who are just starting out, tend to overestimate their ability to write. So when you give them feedback that says, “This wasn’t that great,” they take it as a personal attack and consider you (as Josh pointed out) an asshole. The second is that (also as Josh pointed out) people don’t seem to respect your time. Reading, thinking about, then coming up with constructive notes for a script can easily take 4-5 hours. Sometimes more. So let’s say I agree to read 4 of the 20 script requests I get in a week. That’s 20 hours right there. Who has 20 hours a week to spare?? It kills me that I have to say no to you guys when you write in, but at a certain point I have to stand up and say, “Hey, I haven’t been able to work on a script in 4 months. I need some me time!”
For that reason, I have to be choosy. I have to say no to people. I have to be the asshole. Because if I accepted every read request, it would be a full-time job (it should be noted that my situation is a little different from Josh’s. Reading scripts is kind of my job).
So I definitely understand where Josh is coming from. My advice for approaching people for reads is this. 1a) Be respectful of their time. Know that reading a script is a huge commitment, and be okay with it if they say they just don’t have the time. 1b) Show that you respect their time. Offer something in trade. If you work at a nice clothing store, offer them a gift certificate for a read. If you know they love the Dodgers, buy them a couple of tickets. Offer to babysit their kids. If you *show* them that you respect their time, they’ll be much more receptive to your request. 2) If someone in the industry does agree to read your script, you better be okay with them ripping it to shreds. You’re not asking them for a guaranteed referral to Spielberg, you’re asking for their opinion based on years of experience. If they say, “This isn’t any good. You need to do A, B, and C,” I would thank them for their time and start doing A, B, and C.
In all honesty. It’s not your fault. If you’re reading Scriptshadow, chances are you care enough about the craft to do what it takes to become a screenwriter. The problem people are the ones who come up with an “idea” for a script based on their and their friends’ experiences that’s just totally hilarious, have never written a single word before this, hit you up for a read, and treat you like an idiot for not seeing their genius. These are the people who have approached that industry friend of yours dozens of times before you came along. And since I can tell you from experience that only about 1-3% of scripts are any good, chances are every one of those scripts they read was terrible. Which means they’re expecting your screenplay to be terrible as well. If you come across as intelligent and respectful with maybe something to offer in return, you’re likely to get a much better response than High School Dropout John and his idea about a group of potheads who get stoned for 24 hours straight.
One final thing. I think Josh went about the article in the wrong way. Once you’re on the other side of the fence, it’s important to give back. And while you can’t help everyone, you should try and help where you can. Someone on a message board pointed out that Josh wouldn’t be where he was today if someone hadn’t read his script. It’s important for everyone with some level of success in the business to remember that.
Premise: Crash-like look at how technology has disconnected us.
About: Marc Forster will be directing this one. Forster’s trying to rebound from the backlash of the difficult-to-follow “Quantum of Solace”, a movie that many critics faulted for its plodding screenplay. Forster is on record as shaping the entirety of the script, so if you didn’t like it, he’s definitely the one to blame. The thing with Forster is that he’s always gravitated for the brooding, the sad, the depressing, and Quantum of Solace was all about the brood. In other words, if you hire a cow, don’t be surprised when you get milk. Anyway, “Disconnect” is much closer to his sweet spot. It’s got that indie feel, and plenty of depressed people to exploit. — Producer William Horberg will produce for Nala Films. Nala’s Darlene Caamano Loquet and Emilio Diez Barroso optioned the script and will act as producers. William Horberg and Brad Simpson will also be producing. Nala’s recent credits include “Dan in Real Life” and “In the Valley of Elah,”. They’re currently in post-production on the supernatural thriller “Shelter,” starring Julianne Moore and Jonathan Rhys Meyers, which I wouldn’t mind taking a look at (hint hint – ahem).
Writer: Andrew Stern
Details: 125 pages (July 11, 2008 draft)
Disconnect is what you might get if the founder of Google saw Crash and said, “Hey, we should do that… but with the internet!” The script is really trying to say something about the state of the world. But I’m afraid that in all its preaching, it may have forgotten to add an interesting story. I’m not going to discount Disconnect because I’m a fan of multi-storyline ensemble pieces, but I couldn’t help but feel, while reading it, that I was watching a play where all the characters were speaking another language. I witnessed the emotion. I witnessed the pain and the hurt. But because I couldn’t understand what was being said I wasn’t able to *feel* it. It just never allowed me in. Ah, but Carson, it’s called “Disconnect”. Isn’t that the point? No. Even in a movie about our lack of connection, we still have to connect with the characters. We always have to connect to the characters.
The first act of Disconnect is not unlike a college history lecture. Lots of people are introduced to us so if you didn’t break your notebook you’re pretty much screwed. You have Jay, a Wall Street prick who likes looking at young girls online. You have Mary, newly appointed Director of Investigation and Enforcement for the Federal Trade Commission. You have Cindy, whose ill-fated attempts to get pregnant have led her to an online message board for unhappy people. There’s her husband Derek, who’s so attached to his laptop he even surfs the internet during dinner (ugh, that one hits a little too close to home). There’s Rich Boyd, a brilliant tech entrepreneur. There’s his wife Lydia, who updates the most mundane things on her blog regardless of how personal they are. Their daughter Abby has 3000 Myspace friends and their son Ben uses the internet as a desperate bid for any friend, since he doesn’t have any in real life. There’s Peter and Keri Dunham, who just found out their 11 year old has been watching gang-bang pornos online. There’s Mike Dixon, a former cop who’s dedicated his life to helping parents monitor their children’s online activity. And that’s only the beginning. There are many more.
I don’t really know how to review Disconnect. Its stories are watchable, but never compelling, the way you’d expect observing a regular person through their daily routine might be. The most exciting thing about it might be checking their e-mail to find out an old friend said hi. It’s not as mundane as Gus Van Sant’s “Elephant”, but large chunks of screenplay do go by with very little happening.
The two storylines that take precedence are Ben Boyd (the son with no friends) being baited by two kids online to kill himself (one of whom is Mike’s son, the cop who specializes in monitoring children online). The other, and my favorite of the script, is when Cindy (can’t get pregnant) and Derek realize that their identity has been stolen and their entire bank account’s been wiped out.
Ben’s story was disappointing because it was blatantly ripped from the headlines (If you remember, there was that girl from Myspace who killed herself for the exact same reason). But the identity theft storyline was good. Part of its appeal is learning just how terrifying identity theft can be. It’s not just stealing a couple hundred bucks from the ATM machine. It’s someone having access to every single piece of information from your entire life. It’s people being able to become you, to open accounts in your name, to commit crimes in your name, to sell your identity to others. Anybody who knows how difficult it can be to get an incorrectly assigned parking ticket off their record can imagine what it must be like to get a crime erased that you didn’t commit . But what I really liked was that it was the one story that really *showed* how technology’s torn us apart. Cindy and Derek are the married couple who have drifted apart over the years. Forced to work together to solve the mystery of *how* their identity was stolen, the two must reveal to each other their extensive private online activities. In the process, they learn things about each other they never would’ve learned otherwise – both the good and the bad (but mainly the bad). It’s an extremely powerful point Stern makes in regards to how little we know about the person we spend every minute of our life with. I wish the rest of the stories could’ve made their point as effectively.
There are some other storylines as well. A reporter goes after an online quasi-porn webchat ring that exploits teenagers. A non-religious guy poses as Jesus in webcam chats to hawk faith-based merchandise to help his girlfriend pay for hospital bills for her cerebral-palsy infected sister. Mary (Federal Trade Commission job) is haunted by some sexually explicit e-mails she wrote more than a decade ago. She sees the job she’s spent her life trying to get slipping away in a matter of minutes. The threads range from obvious to imaginative, but never quite capture the personal wallop that the identity-theft storyline does.
I have a ton of respect for Stern because these scripts are a bitch to pull off. I know from experience. I think the big mistake writers make in approaching them is to focus more on how everybody is connected rather than making the individual stories as good as they can possibly be. Do that first and *then* try to connect your stories so you can have that Robert Altman “Short Cuts” moment where two people we know well but who don’t know each other, pass one another by in a store, obliviously.
Disconnect brings up that often-asked question: Is technology bringing us closer together or pushing us further apart? There’s a moment in the script where the mom doesn’t know where in the house her son is. So she IMs her daughter who in turn texts her brother to come downstairs. I think the intention of the sequence is to make us look pathetic. But is it really that much of a downgrade from: “BEEENNN! GET THE HELL DOWN HERE I NEED TO TALK TO YOU!!!”? That’s the way I grew up and I have to wonder, is it any better? Either way I applaud Stern for giving both sides of the argument, even if he makes it blatantly clear which side he falls on. As I lay back in my couch, typing away on my laptop, simultaneously checking my e-mail, watching streaming tennis matches from the U.S. Open, occasionally browsing new music on Itunes, preparing to upload this document to my blog…uh, I think we know which side I fall on too.
This script is still a few drafts away from achieving what it sets out to be. For that reason, I can’t quite recommend it, but it’s definitely interesting.
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: When you have a million characters in your script, it’s okay to remind the reader who they are the second or third time around. For example, the second time we see Jay, Stern writes something like: “Jay (the Wall Street prick we met earlier) barrels down 5th avenue.” It’s definitely a judgment call but I recommend you consider it if you’re setting up a ton of characters in your first act. The reality is we’re probably not going to remember them all and will need a little help.
Premise: Terrorists plant an atomic bomb in an American city and threaten nuclear devastation unless their demands are met.
About: This is that infamous script that Spielberg called the best he had ever read at the time, which was back in 1990. It was purchased for 500k against 1m and Spielberg was going to direct it himself but it got stuck in rewrite hell (how a script even goes through rewrites when you call it the best script you’ve ever read is a testament to just how hilarious Hollywood can be). This is the original sale script. The first half of the writing team, Dworet, is also a doctor and along with Pool, was hired to write the plague thriller “Outbreak” for 250k after Ultimatum sold. Since then, neither writer has secured any produced writing credits, although Pool did get a ‘Story By’ credit on Armageddon (a scary reminder of how fickle Hollywood can be).
Writers: Laurence Dworet & Robert Roy Pool
Details: 127 pages (March 1, 1990)
Did Steven Spielberg go through any traumatic experiences back in 1990? Cause I’m having a hard time figuring out what it is he saw in this script. Okay maybe that’s being harsh. We do have to take into account that it’s been 20 years and the political and social climate has changed quite a bit since then. Although I was too young to care, I do remember there being a lot of fear of someone walking into a city with a nuclear bomb in a suitcase and blowing everything to hell. Yet here we are, 20 years later, and 20 years more capable of achieving something like this, and yet the idea still feels old-fashioned.
It’s this simplistic hokeyness that dogs The Ultimatum from the first tick. J. Robert Scott works for the National Security Council when he’s informed that a nuclear bomb suitcase is about to be detonated somewhere in the U.S. Turns out he’s got a more important council to deal with first though. I’m talking about the National Marriage Council. Yeah. Guys. You know what I’m talking about. Seems Scott’s marriage is hanging by a thread after he dipped his pen in the company ink. Or sharpened his pencil in the company pencil sharpener. Or however the fucking phrase goes. What I’m trying to say is that he banged some reporter chick named Ginny. Which is the first problem I had with the script. You don’t have sex with someone named “Ginny”. You walk “Ginny” across the street. You change “Ginny’s” bedpan. But you don’t engage in intercourse with her. Anyway, Ginny is moderating a presidential debate because there’s a presidential election going on and in two days, America will have a new leader. Yes you can.
That’s when the call comes in. The one about the suitcase bomb. Some really nasty terrorist organization claims to have a nuclear bomb which they will walk into the middle of the American city of their choosing and blow up if the president doesn’t — get this — force the Zionist Jews to leave the Holy City. This was the moment where my spidey senses began to tingle. I know terrorists aren’t the smoothest rocks in the desert, but what makes anyone think that millions of Jewish people are going to get up and leave their city under the threat of another country being bombed? That’s like me walking into my local ice cream shop and saying “Give me all your ice cream or I’m going to trash my neighbor’s living room.”
Anyway, Scott works hand in hand with the president to sniff out which city the terrorists are planning to turn into Chernobyl, in hopes of getting there and disabling it before it blows. They must manage this without anybody finding out what’s going on – since if they do, there will be 25 cities recreating that end scene from Deep Impact. It will be mass chaos I say. MASS CHAOS! Scott’s ex-hookup bootie-call grandmother, Ginny, smells a coverup, and changes into her super-reporter costume to hunt down her Pulitzer.
The focus actually bounces back and forth between Scott and Ginny, as Scott tries to find the suitcase and Ginny tries to break the biggest story in United States history. None of it is any interesting though because Ginny is always light years behind Scott. For example, Scott and the president take a course of action (i.e. “It’s probably in Chicago. Let’s go there.”) Then 20 pages later Ginny will find some plane receipt and go, “They went to Chicago. We have to follow them!” I’m not sure what the dramatic advantage of being 20 minutes behind the audience holds but it’s used to great effect here.
The script is also weighed down by an insufferable amount of characters. Even with a trusty cheat sheet I was still having to take coffee breaks every fifteen minutes to give myself pop quizzes so I could remember who the hell was who. And since everybody’s last name was Johnson or Smith, let me tell you, it wasn’t easy! (Although I did get a B+ on my last quiz). When a new character was introduced on page 97 – yes, you read that right – NINETY-SEVEN, I officially gave up on finding that damn suitcase. Let the damn city blow if it means I have to memorize one more character who never shows up again.
But I digress.
Ultimately, what The Ultimatum amounts to is one giant McGuyver episode. There’ a bomb. It’s going to blow up. Someone stops it with one second left. If this is what passed for spec material back in 1990, I feel like a 49er who came in 59. This was not pleasurable.
Script link: The Ultimatum (If you are the writer or copyright holder of this script and would like it taken down, please e-mail me at Carsonreeves1@gmail.com and I will do so immediately)
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned: Don’t ever introduce a new character on page 97. Just don’t do it. Ever.