ben-and-mattScreenwriters not allowed.

Matt Damon and Ben Affleck came onto the scene in a unique way. They weren’t the typical “new kid on the block” pretty-boy actors when their surprise hit, Good Will Hunting, took Hollywood by storm. They also WROTE their script. And they didn’t just write it. They LABORED over it. For years. And in the end, all that laboring paid off as they won a screenwriting Oscar and became perennial movie stars in the film industry.

A few years later, they wanted to give back to the screenwriting community. So they developed a cutting edge project called Project Greenlight, which would try to find the next great script and make a film out of it. I remember this time well. It was the first time screenplays were submitted solely through the internet, which was a big deal. It felt like screenwriting was entering a new phase of its existence, the ‘digital’ realm.  And it was symbolic.  The contest was saying, “The old rules of Hollywood are dead.”

Not everything went smoothly though. Their reading process was controversial (writers submitting to the contest would also become the contest’s readers) but the contest blew up anyway. For the first time in screenwriting contest history, instead of winners getting a chunk of money and a pat on the back, Project Greenlight gave you direct access to two of the hottest names in Hollywood.  Who were going to make your movie!  It genuinely felt like you could become an overnight star. Which, as you know, is as rare in the screenwriting community as a genius Scriptshadow rating.

But the really cool thing? Was that these guys CARED about screenwriting. They had screenwriting’s back. What a lot of people forget is that the reason Matt and Ben started this whole contest was to prove that the Hollywood system was broke. They wanted to show that all these glossy pieces of crap Hollywood was pushing on audiences couldn’t compete with an honest-to-goodness great screenplay, something they were prepared to scour the world for.

Unfortunately, Project Greenlight didn’t go as planned. It did not result in any successful, or even particularly good, movies. Why that happened is up for debate. Was it smart to make the winning writer also a first-time director in the first season? Did the movies ever have a chance with such tiny budgets? Is it wise to make a movie about kids (11 years old in the first movie, 15 years old in the second), when kids-centered movies that aren’t special-effects driven are notoriously hard sells?

In my personal opinion, where Matt and Ben screwed up was on the sales side. I think they went in wanting to prove themselves not just with any script, but with the artsiest most non-Hollywood script they could find. And the reality is, unless you have the hottest young actor in town or your director literally directs the PERFECT film, artsy movies never do well.

Sales must ALWAYS be a part of a picking a screenplay. Can you sell this idea to an audience? If not, I don’t care how well the script’s written. No one’s going to see it. I mean did any of you see Palo Alto? It’s supposed to be good. It even stars James Franco. But it’s not a movie people race to the theater to see. So of course it’s not going to make any money. To not take that into consideration when you’re doing a contest that will result in making a movie is to hang your screenwriters out to dry.

Shia-LaBeouf-in-Battle-of-Shaker-HeightsIs this a film you would’ve gone to see?

But that was about to change with the announcement of a new Project Greenlight series on HBO. Matt and Ben had ten more years in the business. They’re smarter now. Savvier. This time when they found the next great undiscovered screenwriter, they were going to do so with a script that had a chance. Whether that be with his own script or working on an idea they came up with, the point was they were going to make screenwriting boss again.

And then I heard the news. They wouldn’t be looking for screenwriters at all. The contest was limited to directors. I couldn’t believe it. Matt and Ben had just given a big “F U” to the screenwriting community. What they were essentially saying was, “We don’t think screenwriting matters that much anymore. This is a director’s medium.”

I guess the writing was on the wall. Recently, when Damon was promoting his film, Elysium, and was asked about screenwriting, he confided that he makes his decisions these days based only on the director. That’s the lone criteria he follows when making his decision. It wasn’t clear if he even reads scripts for potential projects anymore.

The irony was thick. The two guys who were here because of screenwriting had completely turned their backs on screenwriting. But why? What’s the harm in trying to find a great writer? There’s no doubt organizing and reading 10,000 scripts is a lot harder than looking through thousands of 3 minute videos on the internet. But are you really going to let that stop you?

The reason new talent keeps breaking into Hollywood is because the old guard get fat and lazy. The things they used to do at the beginning – whether it be driving to 50 auditions a week or reading 5 scripts a day – they don’t do that anymore because it’s easier to sit on your leather couch and wait for the studio to call you with their latest offer. Gone is all that hustle that used to define you. And guess what? There’s a hungry kid out there who’s doing all those same things you used to do. And because he’s willing to do the hard work, sooner or later, he’s going to catch up to you.  So I really hope this didn’t just come down to work.

But the alternative may be worse. By two men who were defined by their screenwriting prowess ignoring screenwriting in their new contest, are they admitting, in whatever indirect way, that writing for the big screen is dead? Are they saying that screenwriting doesn’t matter anymore?

With studio slates getting so slim they’re starting to resemble runway models, is the system now so small that only the same big-hitters are hired for all the films in town?  And because fewer specs are needed, does that nullify the need for new writing talent coming in? And if that’s the case, why bother? Is that what Matt and Ben are saying?

They shouldn’t be saying that. Because here’s what’s going to happen. As TV writing options get better and better, and more and more good writers flee to that medium, Hollywood studios are going to find themselves smack dab in the middle of a writing talent deficit. Shit, it’s already happening. Box office is down 15 percent from last year. And I know this town. I know they’re going to blame it on everything but the writing. What they don’t realize, though, is that the more you marginalize the writer, and the smaller you make that pool of people writing your films, the more of the same you’re going to get.  And audiences will always tire of the same at some point.

The one true breakout hit this summer was Guardians of the Galaxy.  Something that truly felt different.  And it was originally adapted by a girl who had one tiny low-ranking script on the Black List. They could have more of that if they took more chances and put more emphasis on the writing. But they’re not. Outside of Marvel – which is really only taking chances because they’re on the most notorious win streak in Hollywood history and have bajillions of dollars in their coffers – everyone’s playing it safe, not realizing that the audiences have caught up with the con. They know there’s nothing new around the corner.

How does this tie in with Matt and Ben? By only looking for directors, they’re promoting more of the same. They’re basically saying, “Who cares about the script as long as the movie looks good.”

Have you watched any short movies lately? Even the best ones, the ones that end up on best-of-the-year lists, have terrible writing. None of these directors know the first thing about characters or plotting. And I’m not saying they should. Their job is to become the best director they can be. But by only putting the emphasis on these guys and not the script, Matt and Ben have admitted that they’ve either given up on screenwriters or they don’t want to go through the hassle required to find new ones.

And I think these guys owe it to the screenwriting community to go through the hassle. They’ve learned so much from the original experiment. You now know that the script needs a marketable edge and some real money in order to stand out from a production value point of view. I don’t know if it’s too late to start the process or what, but if it is, I hope these two realize their mistake and find another way to give screenwriters a chance. It’d be nice to find the writer of the next Good Will Hunting before he hangs it up due to a lack of opportunities.

  • Scott Crawford

    Good podcast interview with Efram Potelle, one of the directors of Battle of Shaker Heights. He’s a great guy:
    http://onthepage.libsyn.com/233-beyond-project-greenlight

  • Scott Crawford

    I think Scriptshadow – and some other websites – has in many ways replaced things like “Project Greenlight”. PG was never going to “greenlight” the sort of genre scripts that are featured on Amateur Friday. And I’ve been less than impressed with many of the loglines of the “featured scripts” I’m sent from The Black List. Has Inktip had any success lately, or Triggerstreet? Remember Zoetrope magazine?

    I know we give people a bit of a rough ride on AF and AOW, but it’s only because it’s such an amazing opportunity to give screenwriters.

    • carsonreeves1

      The difference was they would guarantee make the movie of the winner. There’s no other guarantee like that. It’s the dream!

      • Scott Crawford

        True. A guaranteed $1 million budget. That would barely pay for the fourth-credited star’s perks on most modern movies!

  • ChadStuart

    I seriously doubt that whatever movie that emerges from this will make money either. Not that I think it’s about the movie. It’s about the TV show. The movie can lose money hand over fist so long as the TV show is profitable.

    But, honestly, since the movie will more than likely play as a Digital Download instead of traditionally on screens, there’s a better chance it will make a profit. Not that we’ll ever hear about those numbers.

  • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

    I’m anxiously awaiting the release of The Babadook here in the US (which, for some unknown reason, will apparently get a limited release AFTER Halloween.) It’s received some rave reviews for first time writer/director Jennifer Kent on a budget of about $2 million. Let’s not forget Short Term 12 was arguably one of the best reviewed pictures last year from writer/director Destin Daniel Cretton as was Jeff Nichol’s excellent writer/director effort, Mud. Box office smashes? No, but they exist – you just have to look a little harder to find them. By the way, both The Babadook and Short Term 12 were originally conceived as short films by their writer/directors before being turned into features.

    • Scott Crawford

      I’m sure it’s great, but there’s a history of low-budget horror movies, and their small-but-loyal fan base. But can someone try to make a $2 million superhero movie? You can do amazing films with computers now.

      The biggest danger, as I see it, is the screenplay doesn’t necessarily go through the sort of examination it might get when it goes through a studio system. Not always. Always a good idea to get someone you trust to give you feedback on your script before you try to make it yourself.

      • https://thebarkbitesback.wordpress.com/ Jim

        I see your point – and the low-budget arena is ripe with duds that haven’t been properly test-driven, so to speak – but It’s also about having an uncompromising vision which is why independent films tend to be more, well, independent. You know the saying, too many cooks spoil the broth? Hollywood is loaded with bloated duds that took 12 writers to piece together so the scrutiny of a studio system doesn’t always ring true by any means. But at the same time, your chances of realizing any “auteurs” outside of the independent cinema arena is very rare today.

        One thing the article didn’t point out is the help Damon and Affleck received from Rob Reiner and Terrance Malick in shaping their script and how it evolved from an NSA/FBI spy story (or the likes) to something of a more personal story.

        • Scott Crawford

          And William Goldman too; it was his idea to make Damon going after Minnie Driver the end of the film.

          Thanks for understanding my point; it’s not a criticism of low-budget movies, it’s just that are SOOOOOO many of them now, it’s difficult for the good ones to stand out.

      • LV426

        There was a cool little superhero short released about a year ago on Vimeo/YouTube called “The Flying Man.” I could see it being expanded into a feature with a moderate or low budget. It is definitely not the typical big over the top type of approach to the superhero.

        • Scott Crawford

          I posted this trailer a few days back, but I’ll post it again. This film was made for $200,000. But the writer/co-director/star had his script evaluated (by Pilar Allesandra) before making it. And I think it shows:

          Or you could end up like this:

  • Scott Crawford

    It’s the reason why American Idol is not a songwriting contest. Even though, we all know, Rhianna and co. would be NOWHERE without people to write their catchy songs.

    • ff

      That’s also why I have no interest in it and it’s boring and dull. No originality

  • James Inez

    Great article! Kinda harsh, but nevertheless, much needed.

  • Nicholas J

    Focusing Greenlight around directors has nothing to do with making a statement about screenwriting. It has to do with making a successful TV show.

    What’s more visual? A TV show about directing a movie or a TV show about writing?

    Who is the only film crew member audiences are interested in besides actors? Directors.

    Don’t believe me? How many director celebrities can you name? Quite a few I bet.

    Now how many screenwriter celebrities can you name that aren’t directors? Exactly.

    Nobody cares about screenwriters.

    Did you watch the Emmys? Any time there was an acceptance speech from someone that wasn’t a celebrity, they flashed text across the screen that read things like “6 MINUTES UNTIL MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY!” In other words, “Don’t worry, we’ll be back soon with more celebrities right after this dude nobody cares about finishes talking, so don’t change the channel!”

    They’re basically saying, “Who cares about the script as long as the movie looks good.”

    No they’re not. The contest doesn’t focus around actors either, does that mean they don’t care about actors?

    Damon and Affleck know the importance of story. Any Affleck-directed movie will tell you that. If anything, taking the screenwriter out of the equation will make for a BETTER end result this time around. They can make sure the script is solid to begin with by bringing in a writer they already know. A writer that can write something great for a new director to film.

    And a good director does a hell of a lot more than making the movie “look good.” They should know story as good as, if not better than, the screenwriter.

    Story is king. But when it comes to a great film, the director is more important than the screenwriter.

    • Scott Crawford

      William Goldman
      Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio
      Frank Cottrell Boyce
      Anthony Horowitz
      Tom Stoppard
      George Meyer
      Aaron Sorkin
      John Logan

      • Nicholas J

        Lol. Celebrities to you and me, Scott. But ask the average movie goer who any of those people are and you’ll be lucky if they maybe know Goldman or Sorkin.

        • Scott Crawford

          OK, celebrity directors:

          Steven Spielberg
          Martin Scorsese
          Francis Ford Coppola
          Quentin Tarantino
          George Lucas
          Sir Ridley Scott
          Joss Whedon
          The Coens
          Clint Eastwood
          Michael Bay

          It’s not a HUGE list of people that the “average movie goer” would know. Certainly not compared to actors, who are obviously more visible. But I think more people would be excited to know that something was written by Sir Tom Stoppard than was directed by Michael Apted, for example, despite the respect that Apted has in the industry.

          • Nicholas J

            You forgot names such as JJ Abrams, Alfred Hitchcock, James Cameron, Woody Allen, Stanley Kubrick, Wes Anderson, Christopher Nolan, Tim Burton, Polanski, Judd Apatow, John Hughes, Ron Howard, M Night Shyamalan, Kevin Smith, Peter Jackson.

            All household names or close to it.

          • Scott Crawford

            I’ll go with a few of those names, not counting dead people; I was just focusing on today’s directors. I’m just playing around really, but it is true that there are only a handful of directors who I you told the AVERAGE moviegoer that they directed a film it would make a difference.

            Moreover, as producer Graham King once told Chris MacQuarry, there are only a handful of directors who A-list screenwriters will want to work with. So Di Caprio will only work with people of the level of Spielberg, Nolan, Lurhrman, etc.

    • Midnight Luck

      the Irony.

      How many successful or important movies can you name that didn’t have a Script? Or without a good screenwriter or a great script?

      The fascinating Irony of an industry where no one gives a shit about a Screenwriter, and yet Screenwriters ARE what makes things happen.

      I guess it could be argued that it is becoming less true. As Micro is becoming more and more catchy.

      Tiny Blips of things are entertainment now. Tiny “movies” over the internet. Tiny images, tiny games. With one juggernaut of a movie in Guardians.

      And the Irony the other way, that Guardians was a Terrible movie. And A terrible script. but a HUGE success.

      Tiny minds. For tiny entertainment.

      • Nicholas J

        Screenwriters are what make things happen?

        A script is just a script until a director or actor (in other words, someone important) gets attached. Directors, producers, actors, or anyone that wears a Suit — these are the people who make things happen.

        A director can ruin a great script.
        A director can enhance a great script.

        A director can take a shitty script and make it into a great one by bringing in different writers or doing it themselves.
        A director can take a great script and make it into a shitty one by bringing in different writers or doing it themselves.

        The director interprets the writer’s work and is the one who makes it screen-ready. The director controls the scene. The director controls the film. The director has the final say over what gets made.

        And then they send it off to post-production where it can become a completely different movie if someone in a Suit says so. By that point, do you think anyone cares what the writer thinks? Of course not. The writer has been done with the film for over a year and is working on other projects that they probably won’t even get credit for.

        Story is king, but the writer is a peasant. Ironic yes, but it’s the truth.

        • Midnight Luck

          yes you are right, that was just poor language on my part.

          I didn’t mean the screenwriter is what makes things happen in that Big, overall, Hollywood version, bring the money sense. Hollywood needs a Director to get the actors and to put the whole thing into motion. But the Director still needs a Script to make that happen.

          What I meant, and I am sure you must have understood, is that there have been very few successful movies which had a Director but no script or screenwriter.

          So, before the Director can make all that AMAZING jazz happen, there needs to be a Screenwriter who makes the first Jazz happen. The screenwriter DOES make it all happen.

          Yes, then the Director can Fuck it up. Then the production can fuck it up. Other writers brought in can Fuck it up.

          And yes some scripts are Fucked up by the Original writer themselves. Bad scripts.

          But as is said, usually those scripts aren’t bought and turned into movies. It is hard to make a bad script into a stellar movie. Easy to make a stellar script into a bad movie.

          So, I still stand by what I said. “A screenwriter makes a movie happen”, but would add “In the very beginning. For without the original script, odds are, there would never be a movie for a Director to place actors and there would be no sets to build, no score to make, no Cinematographer needed. Just an empty block with busy ants throwing together something with nothing inside. Just a big empty.”

        • brenkilco

          A great director can make a good script great and a mediocre script good but he can’t take a mediocre piece of material and make it great. Polanski was just as much on his game in Frantic as he was in Chinatown. Towne simply didn’t bring it the second time out. And to think that a director can take an idea, run it through a stable of established writers and turn it into something great or even know how good it is at the end, well, I have one word. Prometheus. Writers are treated like peasants and all scripts as if they’re first drafts. And the result is most of the movies that get released today.

      • Cuesta

        “How many successful or important movies can you name that didn’t have a Script??”

        Iron Man 1 comes to mind.

    • filmklassik

      Forget Project Greenlight, because you’re right, it’s a TV show, so it’s all about ratings and showmanship. The saddest part of this article, for me, was finding out that Matt Damon — an Oscar-winning writer himself, remember — chooses his acting roles not on the basis of the material, but on the basis of who’s directing it.

      Pretty sad…

  • James Inez

    Awesome directing without a good story or theme(s), is junk food for the brain. Entertaining and looks good, but doesn’t offer any nutrition for the brain. #empty

    • Scott Crawford

      Yes, my suspicion is they won’t find the next Martin Scorsese. They’ll find the next Andrew Sipes. Or Antony Hoffman.

      “Look at me, ma! I’m directing!”

  • UrbaneGhoul

    I remember Project Greenlight, but I didn’t watch it at the time so I don’t know ultimately how the process came about in selecting Stolen Summer, but George Washington, David Gordon Green’s debut, had come out during the selection. It wasn’t some mainstream phenomenon, but I can see Affleck and Damon thinking they could launch the next indie darling which is why they gave the writer, Peter Jones, the director’s chair too.

  • For The Lulz

    Articles like these are going to turn me into a alcoholic. Still, it’s good to see a writer with a low-ranking script on the BL still managed to write one of the biggest films of the year.

    It’s like being kicked in the balls, and then being offered some ice and a free lottery ticket.

    • Midnight Luck

      Isn’t EVERYONE an alcoholic already?

  • mulesandmud

    Not one of Carson’s best articles. Seems like a needless attempt to antagonize screenwriters over the fact that, oh my, there won’t be a television show about us.

    Other posters have already discussed the merits of focusing the show on a director (who inherently interacts with the writer and every other key player in the process) rather than a writer (who of course also interacts with folks, but is largely solitary).

    It’s a clear case of knowing your main character: if the show is a story about filmmaking, should we follow the person in the center of the action who has to deal with all of the day-to-day drama of making a movie, or the person who has a major role in act one and then only shows up infrequently later on?

    I think screenwriters looking to break in could take a tip from Matt and Ben: instead of just banging on the doors of indifferent studios, GO LOOK FOR A DIRECTOR TO WORK WITH.

    Find someone hungry and talented like you. Someone with a like mind and similar sensibilities. Someone who you feel comfortable working closely with. Someone who you believe can bring out the best in your script, or whose own ideas are something you might want to write yourself.

    Making movies is about collaboration. Studios are not collaborators, they are employers, and you cannot trust them to be your main conduit between other creatives, because it is in their best interests to control those conversations. Building relationships with other talented folks, that’s important work, and you don’t have to break in before you start doing it.

    If talented people stand on each others’ shoulders, all of a sudden a film career isn’t so far out of reach.

    • Panos Tsapanidis

      “…rather than a writer (who of course has key interactions, but whose process is largely solitary).”

      You hit the nail on the head. It’s all about making exciting TV, and in that world, solitary = boring.

    • Scott Chamberlain

      “I think screenwriters looking to break in could take a tip from Matt and Ben: instead of just banging on the doors of indifferent studios, GO LOOK FOR A DIRECTOR TO WORK WITH.”

      This.

      Best. Post. Ever.

  • jw

    This is a pretty fascinating conversation and something I was mulling over as I read an article yesterday about the 2014 box office, and while most consider it the worst in a really, really long time (some pointed out a full decade), this particular writer had an alternate opinion that I thought made some quality sense. But, nonetheless, the box office is down, more and more films are going straight to VOD, and while VOD is no indication of quality, something like The Prince, should never, ever, ever be made. And, it got me thinking because this is what everyone around here talks about on a daily basis. And, I think there’s a legitimate question to be asked here — we’ve never been in a day or age with more screenwriting information, screenwriting gurus, screenplay readers, screenwriting majors, screenwriters, screenwriting contests, screenwriting formulas, screenwriting software, (screenwriting, screenwriting, screenwriting) and the list just continues to go on and on and on… so the real question is, with all of this in place, why is there so much SHIT in the marketplace? Is all of this “information” truly helping or hurting us?

    • Linkthis83

      Fewer studios making fewer films.

      http://johnaugust.com/2013/scriptnotes-ep-95-notes-on-the-death-of-the-film-industry-transcript

      John: And that’s a reality of all industries. But, our industry in particular because you really just don’t know; you have no idea of what’s going to happen and you don’t know — you could have a movie that will do tremendous box office, but the weekend that you released it something else horrible happens in the world and then nobody goes to the theaters.

      Craig: Yeah.

      John: And that’s the reality of our fragile business.

      Craig: It’s always been that way. And so I think everybody’s always been scared, but the one thing that Peter really nails — Peter Chernin — is that when the DVD business, and let’s extend it back to the VHS business, because the VHS business was a huge boon for the studios as well. When that happened it transformed 1980. Basically you’re looking at — roughly I’m saying, roughly — 1980 to let’s say 2005. It was a 25 year run where volume would make you money. Where just having titles made you money.

      John: That was like the Jeffrey Katzenberg era of Disney where he was like, “Let’s make 35 movies a year.”

      Craig: Exactly, because in the end it will make us money. It doesn’t matter if one loses, one wins. And it wasn’t about franchises. It wasn’t about, “Let’s get six or seven of these.” It was about, “Just put stuff out because then it’s on DVD or on VHS and it will sell and it will sell and people will buy them and rent them.” And there was just an enormous business around it and there had not yet been an internet avenue to circumvent all of that. So, there was, you know, there was always FBI piracy warnings on VHS cassettes, but who is sitting around copying VHS cassettes? You know what I mean?

      It was just lame. They just didn’t happen that much, because it was annoying to do.

      So, he’s right that there was this amazing 25-year run. And not coincidentally when we look at guys like Spielberg and Lucas, their rise coincides perfectly with the rise of VHS. I mean, they started a little bit ahead of it, but when they finally hit their stride with their blockbusters, Star Wars, Empire, Return of the Jedi and with Spielberg, Raiders, and Close Encounters, and I mean, everything basically. ET.

      John: Poltergeist.

      Craig: ET. Poltergeist. All of these huge, huge movies. The tail that trailed behind these comets of movies was enormous. It was just a comet tail made of cash and that’s gone. In a weird way what’s happening is we’re kind of rolling the clock back to the way things were before Lucas and Spielberg, I think.

      And studios, you know, used to bet, you talk about big bets now, studios used to bet their entire business on a movie.

      John: Yeah. They bet their entire studio on The Godfather, or to some degree Jaws. I mean, if Jaws had failed Universal would have been in real trouble.

      Craig: And Heaven’s Gate did fail. And a studio collapsed.

      • jw

        I see the relevance for this post in a discussion about Box Office, but that’s not really the question I’m posing… I’m asking with such “advancements” around the screenwriting industry why there is so much “crap” out there. One could argue that the logical movement in the industry would be toward greater and greater films the more “information” became mainstream, but the work out there today doesn’t actually seem to be supporting that fact. One could argue quite the opposite…

        • Scott Crawford

          A lot of people are dismissive of screenwriting gurus, a bit too much I feel. Pixar read Syd Field, they attend McKee’s lectures. Hasn’t done them any harm. One of the directors of Battle of Shaker Heights took Pilar’s class. Why not?

          Some off-the-top-of-my-head suggestions as to why films aren’t so good at the moment:

          Unnecessary rewrites by writers trying to claim a credit.
          Unnecessary rewrites ordered by executives trying to justify their job.
          One-step deals.
          CGI.
          China.
          Actors who have never done live theater (bravo, James Franco).
          Quentin Tarantino (not the man himself, but people trying to copy him).
          State incentives (I miss LA movies).
          People who think movies are video games (no soul).
          People who think movies are episode of TV shows (no endings).
          Leaking movies on to the internet.
          Not leaking scripts on to the internet.
          Not so much money for research and development.
          Politically-correct box ticking (particularly in the UK).

          That’ll do for the moment.

          • jw

            WORD! To all that. Basically you’re saying “the system” fractures under the weight of its design, which can be very, very true for many “systems”. Unfortunately.

          • Scott Crawford

            What amazes me is that my standards are fairly low. I like most things, and yet I’m disappointed with so much that is made now, not just in Hollywood, but here in England. It’s the same-old same-old. Cartoons about talking animals. Superhero sequels. Films about the miner’s strike.

            One theory is that this summer has been poor because so many movies are coming out next year. As a spy thriller fan, to have Taken 3, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Mission: Impossible V, AND the next Bond film out next year, well, my heart is palpitating. That’s just ME.

            But this year? The Equalizer, hopefully. Imitation Game, maybe. Fury, perhaps.

          • Erica

            I agree totally. I’m so tired of reboots or reboots of reboots. How many times do we need to watch Spiderman get bit by a spider.

            Or let’s make Superman Kill, because that’s new so it must be good.

          • Scott Crawford

            Lets crash the Enterprise! Let’s blow up Smallville! Let’s blow up Metropolis! Making a Masters of the Universe movie? You know they’re gonna blow Castle Greyskull!

            Disaster porn.

          • Erica

            lol. I wonder who will do the ET reboot…

          • Scott Crawford

            E.T. sequel with mutilated cows! Seriously, Spielberg wanted to do this:
            https://www.sendspace.com/file/4b6nzp

          • Erica

            kinda glad he didn’t.

          • LV426

            The trend I’m sensing lately is what I call the “seqboot” (a film that is both a sequel and a covert reboot all in one).

            Tron Legacy is one of the primary examples of this. The new Predator film that Shane Black is going to write and direct seems to be a film that might go this route. I have a feeling the upcoming Terminator 5 will be one of these seqboots.

            Basically the studios don’t want to do a proper sequel, yet they also want to reboot without annoying the old guard fans. So it’s a bit if both where older fans can feel like it is a sequel, but new viewers can jump in without having seen the previous films in the franchise.

          • jw

            And, that was SOMEWHAT the argument that this particular writer was making in his article surrounding what the box office “truly” means. But, I’m with you — as a huge fan of thrillers of all kinds, I have found the last few years to be unbelievably disappointing. And, I also go in with pretty low expectations at this point because there’s really nothing that is hitting home for me on any level. I remember years ago walking into Blockbuster and picking up 4 dvds for the weekend and now I peruse Verizon at home and for months just can’t find a whole lot to even be interested in. I think this happens for a couple reasons, but mainly when you start this writing journey and you start to understand the mechanics behind the craft then you’re able to see the corners being cut and you can call *bullshit* at every left turn, which then makes you like this stuff less and less. For instance, I’d like to hit Matt Damon in the face for the piece of shit he called Elysium and then to know and understand now that he doesn’t even read the script makes it all the more apparent why these things happen.

          • Linkthis83

            I’m in total concurrence with you about going to the movies and being constantly let down (even when my expectations are low or non-existant).

            I went and saw LET’S BE COPS recently. I had zero expectations. I enjoyed it. Seriously. I know.

            I look at a film like that and acknowledge that it isn’t brilliant. But it’s not supposed to be either. It’s supposed to entertain. And it did, for me.

            I think there’s too much elitism when it comes to discussing movies and/or scripts.

            If you were to go back and challenge movies you love, you’d probably find all kinds of flaws or things you ding now. Especially if you saw the script before it ever became a movie you can think of nostalgically.

            THE KARATE KID (1984) is a great example. I re-watched that recently. I still love this film, but watching as someone who analyzes movies more from a writing perspective, it’s just a series of truly unfortunate coincidences for Daniel. But that’s what makes a story like that great.

            I mean, really: Daniel moves from NJ to CA. Their apartment complex has a resident named Freddy. Freddy and Daniel meet by Daniel karate kicking a door. Freddy invites the karate kid to a beach party. At this beach party Daniel meets Ali (with an i). While at this beach party, a team of karate kids happen to show up, and oh yeah, one of them is Ali’s ex boyfriend. Oh, and guess what, they all go to the same school as well. Even though Ali is a rich chick from somewhere else, they are in the same school district? So Daniel gets his ass kicked by Johnny the lead cobra. Then has an altercation with another Cobra Bobby at school. Daniel meets his mom for a meal, and it just so happens to be right across the street from the Cobra dojo. Really! And then Daniel is still at the meal when the Cobras leave and one of them happens to spot Daniel in the restaurant. Then while peddling home, they run him down a hill. He gets injured, bike breaks, and who happens to be the maintenance man at the apartment complex, a karate master. And on and on and on.

          • jw

            Nailed it, in my opinion. And, I struggle with this myself because I come from a marketing background. I look at a comedy script of mine and basically say to someone, “it would get 25% on Rotten Tomatoes and would open at around $40 million.” But, then someone reads it and comments blah, blah, blah about blah, blah, blah when there are a million films that basically have a very, very similar setup, Identity Thief being one that immediately comes to mind. I think you hit it on the head with the comment about entertainment. And, even in comedies I see this to no end — they are trying soooo hard to put in an arc, to hit the beats, to make it to formula in a way that completely strips it of authenticity and the comedy is just non-existent. Whereas you may have a film that doesn’t have the greatest arc or character development, but it’s funnier than shit and you leave the Cineplex wet in your pants. I wish people had a better grasp of how these two components actually interact.

          • LV426

            Sharlto Copley and a couple bits of neat action saved that film from being a complete turd, to at least being watchable (though not very good and a huge waste of a cool sci-fi concept).

          • jw

            I like HIM, but I felt like his addition was a way for the filmmakers to basically trick the audience into thinking this was somehow a “sequel” to District 9. And, while it seemed as though they used the same graphics, setting and such, everything about it was just horrific. You know something is bad when you get to see it for free and you leave wanting to ask for your money back! Admittedly, I’m a Matt Damon fan, so the fact he would do something like this was a bit of a downer.

          • LV426

            Elysium definitely felt like a sly remake of District 9, except set in a different continuity. Everything from the man on the run to the dystopic setting with a big floating high tech structure in the sky above the slum city was recycled.

            He even could have just said it takes place in the future of the D9 universe. Perhaps the Elysium space habitat was partially built with knowledge and tech that was reverse engineered from prawn gizmos left strewn about on Earth.

            I was expecting more as well. Plus, what a wasted opportunity. He could have painted the two sides, rich space yuppies vs dirty Earth people, with more nuance. How about instead of making the space yuppies all a bunch of evil bastards, have a character living on Elysium who actually wants to help the people of Earth? Maybe that puts this person in danger with the Elysium elite, who try to get rid of the troublemaker via a trip to an airlock. Then on the flip side, maybe make it so that the folks on Earth trying to get to Elysium are not as blatantly “noble” as they were shown to be. Perhaps some of these rebels plan on just massacring residents of Elysium once they get up there.

            At least doing some of that would be more interesting, add more conflict, and differentiate it a bit more from District 9.

          • Jim Dandy

            You should see the sorry state of the Australian film industry. We just keep churning out the same god-awful earnest soap opera movies about drug addicts and criminals.

            How did it all turn to crap in such a short time? Look at the phenomenal original mainstream movies that came out in 2006-7:

            No Country for Old Men
            Children of Men
            The Departed
            The Lives of Others
            Into the Wild
            Little Children
            Pan’s Labyrinth
            Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead
            The Prestige
            Atonement

            Maybe it’s because half of the above movies were literary adaptations?

          • Scott Crawford

            I loved watching Australian movies as a kid, in the 80s. I remember (or maybe misremember) a film about a woman teaching Australian rules football players how to jump like ballet dancers!

            Then something went wrong. In 1996 I saw 32 films at the cinema. Last year I saw maybe 4. Circumstances, of course, things change, but not a lot really compels me even to check out these things on DVD. I’ve got two free months of Amazon Prime, but I haven’t found a recent film I want to sit down and watch.

          • JakeMLB

            Adding to that:

            -Talent leaving for TV.
            -Not enough time spent on the script or development (actors and directors have increasingly busy schedules and so the reality is that a film has to shoot by date X even if it’s not ready).
            -ROI not as it once was meaning a more risk-averse environment (I don’t know that’s true but I suspect it is).
            -China was mentioned but overseas box office in general (films need to perform well overseas which typically means high concept or action/horror is favored).
            -The general rise of advertising and a market-based approach.

          • Scott Crawford

            Talent leaving for TV and the opportunities there, especially for writers. However, I always like to point out, whenever people say how wonderful TV is, TV is not movies. Movies have resolutions; TV has to keep going on and on and on. And yet, you see some movies and they are like TV episodes, they’re just a set-up for the sequel. The Amazing Spider-Man was like a pilot episode of a TV show – every plot strand set up left unresolved.

          • filmklassik

            A good and comprehensive list of filmmaking offenses… although I am no great fan of screenwriting gurus. If those “experts” were truly making a difference instead of making things worse, then screenplays would be exponentially better now than they were before 1985. And they simply aren’t. Somehow, CASABLANCA, CHINATOWN, BODY HEAT, THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, JAWS, ARTHUR, THE GODFATHER, BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID, THE STING, DOUBLE INDEMNITY, etc. all got written without the help of the Robert McKees of this world, and I can think of few films in the last 30 years that can top them.

            But getting back to your “rap sheet” — which, again, is simply brilliant — could you please explain for us Yanks in attendance exactly what you mean by “Politically-correct box ticking”?

            As one who deplores the PC-tidal wave that has swept over the culture in the last twenty years (yes, yes — I know many people don’t mind it and will defend it to the death, but I am not one of them), I’d love to hear you elaborate on this. Thanks.

          • Dan J Caslaw

            No kidding about the ‘PC box ticking’ – from the Daily Telegraph:-

            ‘Movie companies have been told they must meet new targets for ethnic minority, gay and female characters on screen to be eligible for future funding from the British Film Institute.

            The BFI, Britain’s largest public film fund, announced a “Three Ticks” scheme to ensure diversity in films and behind the scenes as it set out new rules for funding.

            Under the system, to be implemented in September, films must “tick” at least two of three criteria: on-screen diversity; off-screen diversity and “creating opportunities and social mobility”.

            The BFI, which allocates lottery funding and invests more than £27 million in film production, sales and distribution, supports about 30 new projects a year. It backed The King’s Speech and Philomena.

            The new rules will compel filmmakers to place “diverse” actors and subjects at the forefront of their projects, as well as ensuring minority workers are represented on set and in the crew.’

            http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/10952584/British-Film-Institute-tells-filmmakers-to-tick-new-diversity-targets-or-miss-funding.html

          • filmklassik

            England decided to embrace PC orthodoxy 15 or 20 years ago — maybe more — but I suspect the recent events out in Rotherham may snap that sceptered isle out of its stupor.

            There’s a chance they will, anyway.

            By the way, how much of England’s movie output will be affected by this ruling if it only applies to movies vying for BFI subsidies?

          • Dan J Caslaw

            They’ve certainly got have less excuse for resorting to their favourite tactics.
            About film funding – at a rough guess, Film4 does a lot (perhaps as much as the BFI), plus you’ve got other production companies like Working Title, Warp/WarpX Films and others. So people might not have to go cap in hand to the BFI if they don’t wish to :)

        • Linkthis83

          I posted that because with less films being made by studios, and the ones that are have their overwhelming involvement and restrictions, it’s not really the writing that’s the issue.

          The stuff that is out there is always a combination of all the influences that lead to a film. So where great writing gets through, it may not have the production quality or an experienced director to transfer the script to film.

          I don’t think the fact that more screenwriting info is being shared means that the quality of films should improve. There are so many other factors involved. And there are significantly less opportunities for the successes of the 25 year run. Where studios cared more about the number of films being made, because that’s how they were going to get their money.

          • jw

            Interesting summation. And, I’d say I 90% agree.

          • Scott Crawford

            I think people are reading more screenplays and reading less screenwriting books, or taking less classes, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a good thing. You can learn a lot from reading scripts, but you can also (some people) go away thinking it’s all about clever dialogue and fancy scene direction.

            I’m not saying everyone needs to go and reread Field, McKee, or Truby, but I wonder how many new writers are rushing straight to the keyboard without even glancing at a book on screenwriting.

            (The first book on screenwriting I read had instructions on where to set the tabs on your typewriter. Now, with all the screenwriting software out there, people don’t even feel they have to learn format now.).

          • Erica

            So true. The problem is we live in a generation of “I want everything now and don’t wanna pay my dues (aka, learn)”.

            Couple of googles and bam, your a screenwriter.

            My first book was Syd Field, from 1984, it’s pretty beat up, but I still have it.

          • Scott Crawford

            I still have my yellow-jacketed edition of Michael Hauge’s “Writing Screenplays That Sell”.

    • mulesandmud

      There was a time when people argued that the novel killed literature. Before that, poetry ruled the day. It was written primarily by the upper classes, for the upper classes. The printing press changed the game, letting people write more and distribute wider. The market flooded with crap, of course, but also with new voices and ideas. The printed word was popularized, the novel became our primary story form, and nowadays literature and the novel are practically synonymous.

      The digital flattening of the world has now popularized screenplay form; every schmoe with a laptop is suddenly a screenwriter. Of course there’s a flood of substandard material – an army of untrained and semi-trained writers have stepped into the conversation – and with each passing day the doors only open wider.

      It doesn’t mean that there is less good work being done; there’s more in fact, it’s just harder to filter out all the noise. Meanwhile, studios are becoming more and more averse to interesting material, making less films and looking for marketing opportunities instead of real content, so there’s not much manpower left to sift for the real gold. Doesn’t mean it’s not out there.

      • jw

        Solid point. Like it. I think what gets me is even in my own writing having someone take a comedy I wrote and tell me to take a look at Neighbors and see how they did what they did when I couldn’t stand that film. Likely the least funniest comedy I’ve been to in a while. And, while I understand WHY that film got made and it largely had to do with its cast, the fact that these actors are fairly unabashed in their representing of work that for most of us seems “underdeveloped” just strikes me as “OFF” in a way.

  • Scott Crawford

    Which had a greater effect on his career?

    Write and direct a low-budget crime movie or write but don’t direct a very successful spec script?

    • mulesandmud

      Strange example, since the timeline here suggests that the first project might have led to the second in any number of ways.

      To go from nothing to indy writer-director is a giant career move. To go from indy writer-director to studio writer is another big one, though some would consider it as much a lateral move as a step up.

      In Skip Woods’ case, both of these seem to be essential stops on his path to becoming an A-lister, no?

  • Magga

    “Have you watched any short movies lately? Even the best ones, the ones
    that end up on best-of-the-year lists, have terrible writing.”
    Would you consider reviewing amateur short scripts? The chances of us getting them made based on a good review is higher, and you could then compare the script to the movie.

  • Magga

    Is the second picture a pre-nosejob Shia Lebouf?

    • Bluedust

      Yep. That’s from “The Battle of Shaker Heights.” Winner of the second season of Green Light.

  • leitskev

    Here is what’s going to change it all: e-books.

    Spec scripts are a bad bet. Everything is stacked against a spec, including the very format of script writing. A story needs to excite someone enough that they want to make it into a movie. The blue print nature of a screenplay makes it very difficult to create excitement. I think Billy Wilder once said you you can open a movie with a courtroom scene, but not a screenplay. Think about that. A screenplay is so busy naming and describing all the characters that the central drama of the scene is lost. There is no chance of gaining the reader’s interest. That’s just an example, but there are many ways where the requirements of screenwriting really handicap the story’s ability to capture the reader. As a result, the screenwriter is forced to make different choices, choices which limit the ability to craft the story.

    To put this story in prose, and try to gain a market, in the past you would need to write a novel that’s at least 300 pages. That’s a large task and it means including a lot more story than would be in the movie. And it would be difficult to chart whether that book gained any market, and difficult to “get it out there” in the industry.

    But e-books can be any length. A screenplay converted to an e-book will generally be shorter in page count than the script. But much more enjoyable to read, if done well. Published on Kindle, anyone can access it, and anyone can see if it has resonated with readers through feedback and sales ranking.

    A director reading an e-book is not going to worry about the fact that it’s not a script. That’s the least of his problems. She wants a story she can see as a film, something to get excited about making. If a script doesn’t already exist for it, a writer can easily be hired.

    The important thing is to get the story out there in a form that gives it the best chance to appeal…to find an audience. If you get lucky, you might even sell a few and make some beer money.

    There may be other benefits as well. Developing and sharpening the ability to work in prose enhances one’s overall writing ability. It broadens storytelling skills, expands the viewpoint. And it encourages one to read more prose, which also enhances.

    Ok, people, announcement: NFL begins tonight! Life is sweet!

    • andyjaxfl

      *nodding in agreement*

    • Scott Crawford

      Way, WAY too many e-books out there. Impossible to find the good ‘uns. Just like a hardback, you need the publicity tours, the TV appearances to get traction in the market. If you’ve got a great backstory – you’re a Navy SEAL turned labor lawyer and you’re a single dad – you might self-publish and get some interviews, but I don’t see it working for a lot of people. No doubt someone will pull an example out of their hat, but I still think your odds are better of getting a script optioned than having any success e-booking.

      Unless you are a BORN novelist, then go ahead. I’m talking about turning screenwriters writing novels when they want to write screenplays.

      • leitskev

        Fair enough. But are the odds any better for an unknown writer to get a spec script “out there”? Two things: to just throw an e-book up there is pointless. Like anything, there needs to be a strategy. Secondly, I am not suggesting abandoning screenwriting. I’m talking about utilizing one more tool. Thanks for chipping on, Scott.

        • Scott Crawford

          This came up a while back and I’d really like to crunch the numbers on it. How many e-books are there, on Amazon let’s say? How many sell more than, say, a few thousand?

          Then how many screenplays are registered with the WGA each year (it used to be 60,000, probably more now)? How many are optioned each year?

          • LV426

            I think three or four years ago you might have been able to stand out from the e-book crowd. Nowadays, unless you have some serious gold it seems like a nearly impossible goal to work at. There will always be one or two a year out of the millions of self-pub authors that make big bucks and get the attention of the big publishers (Wool for example). Then everyone thinks they can be the next mega-successful Amazon Kindle author.

            I don’t say don’t try, but just as with trying to break into Hollywood with a spec, it is a daunting task that you have to love doing to justify all the time and effort necessary in the pursuit of it all.

    • JakeMLB

      I’m not sure I agree. As Scott points out, there are way, way more e-books than there are spec scripts. Why bother slaving away at a medium that won’t help you if your goal is to become a screenwriter? Even if your e-book gets optioned, you’ll quickly be cut from the process if it’s clear that you can’t write a script. If your goal is simply to get noticed for your writing or to sell e-books, maybe that’s the best path. But even then, there’s no real way for us to objectively measure success. I’m still of the opinion that a middling but professional-like spec will get your far more traction in the industry than a middling e-book. It really depends on what your goals are.

      • leitskev

        Prose is LESS forgiving for poor writing, not the other way around. Poor writers often are stuck in the screenplay medium. Though good writing can substitute for good structure or storytelling in prose, and that won’t work if you want the story filmed.

        If the goal is to sell to film makers, certainly you have to learn screenwriting.

        It takes only a week or two to convert an existing screenplay into prose. Not a big time commitment.

        One final thought: when I began writing, I had never considered something that I later listened to pro writers talking about in interviews, and that is branding. And it strikes me as certainly the wisest strategy. One which I failed to follow because I just didn’t know. So I wrote all kinds of stories. Seemed more fun that way.

        Branding strategy requires that we become known for a certain brand or genre. So if you write horror, become known for it, and if there is particular type of horror, even better. An e-publishing strategy would work well with that, especially if your genre is one that is in demand. So let’s say you write sci fi. The more sci fi scripts you have the better you can brand yourself. And this strategy can allow you to develop an e-book base. If you have a list of short stories and novellas in sci fi published on kindle, this should help you develop your brand.

        • JakeMLB

          Prose in general is less forgiving of poor writing but the e-book space is new ground and obviously unedited. Books like Wool which are poorly written from a language perspective still manage to perform well because the story was exceptional.

          I also mean poor writing both from a literal/language perspective but also from a story or structure perspective. You can survive poor or meandering structure in the novel format, particularly as an e-book, but good luck surviving lack of structure in your screenplay.

          If you think it only takes 2 weeks to convert a screenplay into prose, you’re doing it wrong. That’s crazy talk. A novel is not a screenplay. You can’t just transcribe it into prose and expect results. A novel is a much fuller exploration of the world. If anything, I’d think you’d have greater success doing it in reverse. First explore your world as an e-book then set to writing the script. Doing it in reverse sounds really wrong.

          I do agree with you about branding though. That’s unfortunately a large part of success in the industry I’m coming to realize. So from that perspective it MIGHT be helpful but I have yet to hear of a single screenwriter who’s e-book writing directly related to their success. There are plenty of writers who write in other mediums because they enjoy it, for some additional income or just to keep their literary skills sharp but I doubt there’s a single example of a writer who tried to break into the film industry and found success only through the e-book.

          • leitskev

            I have not advised writing a “novel”, which is 90k to 120k words. I have advised an e-book, which can be any length. I recently converted a 95 page screenplay to prose and it came out to 25k words and took 10 days. For a first draft.

            Stephen King says a first draft should always be finished in no more than 3 months, and he is talking about a novel, and not one based on an existing story such as a screenplay. I’m just using King’s approach as a reference point.

            A screenplay turned into prose can be a long short story. You do have to add more inner voice and do some writer stuff, but turning into a novel is not needed and probably not advisable.

            I’ve read Wool. While it’s not great writing, it’s not by any means poor writing. The characters might seem shallow, but have you read any of the best selling suspense novels out there? Shallow is the norm, and it’s not even necessarily a bad thing. It depends on what the market is and what the reader is looking for. I love Raymond Chandler mysteries, but those stories are shallow as hell and even the mystery elements are not compelling.

            The screenwriters who have published which I have read don’t even come close to the quality of Wool. I recently bought an e-book from a pro screenwriter who is having remarkable success, but his novella was awful and amateurish.

            We may not have heard of screenwriters who have had much success breaking in this way…but that was the point. To be ahead of a curve. It takes years for a screenwriter to break in normally, and e-publishing has not been around long.

          • LV426

            I think for me, one thing I look forward to about writing a novel and self-publishing is that it is something I can do and have some control over the story. I don’t have to get “permission” from the Hollywood elite as to whether my story is good, bad, or just plain worthless. I don’t need to spend a ton of money (although getting it edited is a good idea) to make a novel happen. Even producing and directing a relatively simple short film will likely put the average person nearly a thousand bucks in the hole (if not more).

            It is something that is liberating knowing I can at least give it a shot without a huge financial loss. If it sucks, at least I gave it a try. If it kicks ass, then not only do I have a cool book that makes me a little dough on Amazon, it might even get some attention and lead to future work. At the least it is a start and gets my name out there. It also sounds like a fun thing to fiddle with on the side while I continue to tackle this darn challenging screenwriting and filmmaking game.

          • JakeMLB

            All good points. I’m just of the mind that if it were helpful it likely would have happened by now so I don’t know that you can be ahead of the curve on this one. Self-publishing has been around for quite some time and I have yet to see it work for a screenwriter in reverse but I know to never say never and perhaps I should consider it harder. It will probably happen eventually but I don’t know that will somehow make it a more valuable strategy than simply applying that time to screenwriting. I certainly can see the value from a branding perspective but you’d really have to write a breakout e-book for it to have some impact on your screenwriting career and in my mind that’s just as difficult as writing a breakout script. I don’t really see the harm in writing one though. All writing is writing and if it helps you break a story or gain some name recognition then there’s always value in that. Thanks for the insights!

          • LV426

            “A novel is a much fuller exploration of the world. If anything, I’d think you’d have greater success doing it in reverse. First explore your world as an e-book then set to writing the script. Doing it in reverse sounds really wrong.”

            Yeah, I’ve been thinking about taking an idea I have that is very cool and one I really love but is not especially well suited for film, and writing it as a novel. I think I’d go mad if I had first written it as a script, then tried to turn it into a novel.

            I also feel that if the intended medium for that particular story is a novel, that it should then be initially written in that format. Ideas are a dime a dozen. I’ve got plenty more ideas bumping around inside my head for future spec scripts.

            Although that’s just me. Whatever works for leitskev is his own process and I am not going to say he is wrong.

    • Scott Crawford

      Right, odds on getting script sold approx. 0.264% (132 sold out in 2012 out of 50,000 registered).
      Odds on success with self-published e-book approx. 0.00015% (1 or 2 per million, according to Forbes magazine).

      If it’s a really, really good script, I think your chances are much better that 1 in 379. So I say go for it and best of luck!

      • JakeMLB

        It’s hard to work out the math because there’s no objective definition of success. In screenwriting, selling a script is an incredible feat but it’s hardly the only measure of success. Most break in by writing a script that gets them noticed, whether it sells or not, and then turn that into an assignment and eventually a career. The e-book world doesn’t give you that. You either sell a book or you don’t. Those who don’t sell are probably rarely if ever noticed for their writing.

      • leitskev

        I don’t think the odds can be calculated that way. For on thing, success is a varying thing to define. Let’s say you take your script and convert it to prose form. It might take a couple weeks of time, and might be 50 to 100 pages. You put in on kindle for .99. Even if you get some traction, it won’t make you much money(.34 per). From that perspective it was unsuccessful. But if you are hoping to get your story out there, or maybe your name as a writer, it might still be worthwhile and successful from that perspective.

        E-publishing is so easy that everyone is doing it. But you have to try to cut through those numbers to those with more serious intentions. And as with anything, you have to have a strategy.

        I’ve looked at certain genres on kindle and sorted by most recent publishing deadlines. The numbers are not as daunting as it appears at first glance. Not to make money, but to at least give your story a chance to to build an audience.

        Looking at the spec script market, how many of those were sold by unknown, unrepped writers?

        • Scott Crawford

          To write a book, any book, that is likely to have any impact, it’s gonna take best part of the year. You could probably write two, three screenplays in that time, and that alone could triple your odds.

          But, yeah, these are sandpaper-rough figures – I just don’t have all the numbers to hand, and as much as I love you guys, I don’t want to spend the next few hours looking it all up!

          Put simply, then, if you want to sell a script, make money screenwriting so you don’t have to clean cars for a living anymore, your best bet is just to write a great script, write several great scripts to increase your chances. Statistics aside, turning your script into an e-book… it just seems desperate.

          • leitskev

            I’ve only been screenwriting a few years, so desperate does not apply yet. What interests me is trying to anticipate a changing world and be ahead of the curve. You simply can’t do that by always accepting conventional wisdom. E-publishing changes the rules of the game, so it seems sensible to me to explore how that can play out. It’s not so much that you don’t need a publisher, it’s other things. As I mentioned, the length requirement is different. You no longer have to write a 400 page story. So what you say about needing a year is just not true, not any more.

            I’ve read the comments on Amazon’s kindle books pages, and the people buying these actually prefer shorter stories for their kindle. They don’t want to struggle through a 400 page story. It’s very similar to people that prefer movies.

            You have not addressed a big part of my original point: screenplay format requirements limit what you can do with the story. I am NOT talking about movie requirements, just the script. I gave the example of the court room scene, but there are many examples. Haven’t you ever found yourself writing a scene and thinking this will play well in film, but it will never read well? Which forces you to change the scene, and possibly even the story. That’s unfortunate. I mean we’re talking about films not having the full range of creative options available just because of format requirements. These limitations are not present in prose.

          • Scott Crawford

            If you can write a great book – whatever length – then go ahead, but how am I going to find it, in amongst all those other e-books? Reviews, maybe, but reviews can be skewed.

            If you can write a great script – limitations and all, and limitations are part of the game, and I enjoy the game – then write a great script. Put it on the Black List, or Scriptshadow and see what people think.

            I don’t think e-books are quite the screenwriter’s panacea everyone’s been talking about.

          • leitskev

            You put a single e-book up, you are correct, no one will find it. I believe you need a publishing strategy to build some attention. Of course, the book has to be good. So far, the books I have read from screenwriters on kindle have been, to be honest, not very good. I’ve only looked at a handful, though, so that may not be representative. But a story that doesn’t grab the reader has little chance.

            A strategy involves several things, most important: you have to have several books up there. No one will buy from a one time writer. And your books have to be good enough to get some reviews and to move up the ranks. If you hit it right, and something resonates, it could do some decent numbers. I don’t speak from experience, I am early in the process. I won’t publish until I have several lined up.

          • LV426

            Just like movies are becoming more about the “franchise” and being influenced by the ongoing nature of the TV series, writing novels and self-publishing is all about having a series.

            That way you gain momentum and each book builds your audience from story to story. Even many of the pro authors who have solid contracts and enjoy nice fat paychecks from the big publishers, they often stick to a long running series centered around a specific character or setting. This is almost a requirement these days with mystery as well as sci-fi/fantasy.

          • leitskev

            Yup! Well said.

          • Erica

            So very true. I just finished painfully watching “12 rounds 2″. Talk about a throw away script. Nothing about it was good or original, nothing. The only thing missing was the bad guy at the end crawling away with half his face gone saying “I’ll be back for another round”

            It’s sad what gets made these days when you read scripts that are so much better on here.

          • Midnight Luck

            Popcorn Fiction
            Screenwriters writing in other mediums. You might find a good writer of scripts gone book / ebook there.

            http://www.mulhollandbooks.com/popcornfiction/

  • fragglewriter

    It could be many reasons why Matt and Ben have forgone the screenwriting process:

    1) Directors are put on a high pedestal and they are the ones who have the ability to make a great film by working with their actors that will convey “see me” to the audience who in-turn buys a ticket;
    2) Looked at as having a real occupation, sometimes also talent, as opposed to a writer;
    3) A prominent Director with a track record of success or entertainment industry kudos will get a big

    • Scott Crawford

      Can you tell a great screenplay from a slightly-above average screenplay? It’s tricky. I think most people can tell a great movie from a slightly-above-average movie, quite easily. But scripts? Look a the number of scripts that have been hyped up on Black List, or even Scriptshadow. Nobody REALLY knows which script will be successful and which one won’t. Why should actors be any different? If you’re gonna spend ten weeks working on a movie, you just want to know the director’s competent.

  • Sullivan

    If I was running Project Greenlight…

    I would have a contest for scripts on the Internet where scripts were posted, reviewed, discussed, etc., in the months leading up to the show.

    The actual show would be about directors, of course, who would compete by picking a script they read that they’d like to make, and filming one scene from that script (up to 5 mins.) Then Matt and Ben could review those scenes, pick their top ones, read the screenplay, etc.

    Best of both worlds. You could even show a bit of the script changing process along the way.

    • Guest

      They already have a contest for scripts on the internet.

      In case you havnt already seen it:

      • Malibo Jackk

        Interesting tale of how Hollywood works.
        Everyone knew that the script was substandard. And that there were better scripts.
        But the studio wanted to make Feast.
        Loved Matt’s comments and everyone’s frustrations.

  • Ryan Sasinowski

    My biggest problem with Project Greenlight (at first) was this: after choosing the best script, they told the winner, “Your script was the best out of all of them… here’s what we want you to re-write.” Since visiting this site and discovering re-writing is NOT entirely evil, I let that one go.

    Re-watching some of it, the big problem became apparent: The people who are directing have never directed anything like the studio people are expecting them to. Season one; no, that writer didn’t have ANY clue about being cost-effective at all. (No wiggle room on period piece to the point they had to get more money.)

    Season two; the guys never worked with a real crew, and the studio guys were horrified when they asked if they cut costs by not hiring a production designer because they’d never used one before.

    My biggest problem with the show, was they never sat down and touched base with the winners, asking what all they knew about the filmmaking process, and what they would need explained to them. They more or less just dumped money down the drain, as I don’t think any of the films made a return on the studio’s investment.

    Still, it was created with the best of intentions, and with the two big names behind it, I really have to commend them for it.

  • Stephjones

    adapted by a “girl”

    For fuck’s sake, Carson.

  • Scott Crawford

    Ben Garant and Tom Lennon wrote a very funny but also very informative book. Like I said, this isn’t a call for everyone to read lots and lots of screenwriting books but it does seem as if some people are being a little TOO dismissive of the kind of thought processes that these books encourage. Now, however you want to get this information, from interviews with screenwriters or books written by former screenwriters (McKee sold eight scripts, they just didn’t get made; by the time his eighth script was rejected 11th hour by Cher, his storytelling classes had taken off and – apart from writing a TV movie about Abraham – he stuck with teaching) that’s fine.

    The original point, way, way up there, was how screenwriting has declined in recent years. Apart from maybe Pixar. And they read McKee. So, does every scene in a screenplay turn? Is your hero’s goal external and achievable by the end of the screenplay? Is your hero acting immorally towards others? Stuff like that.

    • Linkthis83

      True. But that’s a development team. Pixar chose to assemble a team of people to develop a story and go through the development process. Allowing them to take the time. That’s a huge gap between what they are doing and the rest of the studio system.

      Where does this sentiment of “screenwriting has declined” come from? I don’t understand this. I don’t even recognize it as the the issue, or an issue. Yet I keep reading comments on here about the lack of quality in scripts and stories. Was there a time when all they had was fantastic stuff to choose from?

  • Scott Crawford

    A-list actors. I’ll change it. Sorry, going down with a cold. I also spelt MacQuarrie wrong. But…

    …. I found the interview! Might not download, but DEFINTELY worth listening to. Really funny, really insightful:
    http://huffduffer.com/filmflam/15431

    • filmklassik

      Gonna definitely be giving this one a listen. Thanks for posting.

  • Martin

    I understand why they wanted a director rather than writer. It will be more logical to showcase the filmmaking process. Also, it will be someone talented with visuals (presumably) which was an issue with their 1st Run by making the writer also the director who happened to have zero experience.
    Also, they want to make a hit movie this time and think they can if they’re not “limited” by amateur scripts. Maybe their argument is that they don’t have anything against novice (or near novice as some of the past winners weren’t complete beginners) scripts but that the process is a fast turnaround and that leaves little time to develop the script. So, they think they’ll find a more “Ready” script and plug in a decent visual director and it’ll be a few steps ahead of where they were before.
    I do agree with Carson about the message it sends though. It is dissappointing.
    I made top 50 back in the days of Project Greenlight (3rd Go round with a RomCom when they were specifically looking for a horror flick) and that script eventually sold and was released by Roadside Attractions/Lionsgate.
    The opportunity is great in theory but it’s also one that might break you from the perspective of making you look pretty bad (that’s the nature of Reality TV, right?).
    I’ll be interested as I’m a junkie for filmmaking in general but I agree with Carson that it’s a BLOW to Ben & Matt’s stated intentions on finding the next great SCREENWRITERS.
    -Martin

  • Midnight Luck

    The problem with the first iteration of the Project Greenlight project, was the voting structure. It suffered from the YouTube syndrome.
    Meaning, basically, if some various script got a few votes, it was always listed on top. You had to dig for the new ones, had to search for the zero voted scripts, or the invisibles. Who wants to read that stuff? No one as it turns out. EVERYONE wants EVERYTHING pre-vetted for them.
    So basically it went like this: “ok, the top ten scripts on Greenlight have a ton of votes, guess I will read the best of those and vote”. Meaning, as the numbers grew on a handful of scripts, the variety being read got smaller and smaller. Suddenly there are only a handful of scripts actually being considered and voted on. So if you have 3,000 scripts and only 10 of them have thousands of votes, well, everyone is reading those 10. No one is going to go read from a stack of 2,500 scripts that have no votes, no feedback. Even if they got 1-5 votes, it is nothing compared to the thousands of votes the top seeds got.
    So basically, the winners weren’t the BEST, they were the FIRST to grab attention, and then the voting snowballed from there. The more they were viewed, the higher their score, the more they were viewed, round and round. This is the problem with the YouTube voting system. Unless you know to search for a specific title, all you get is a list of the top contenders with the most votes. So what would people read and vote on? Those top scripts.

  • LV426

    The real irony is that Terminator started as a scrappy and gritty low budget B-grade sci-fi movie that had a lot of heart as well as a lot of violence and a very dark tone hanging over it all. Now we have Arnie the Terminator as some sort of comic book cartoon character running around shooting people and uttering silly one-liners.

    It is crazy to see how that character has evolved from scary robo-killer stalking the mean streets of 1980s LA, to that of an almost Marvel hero type of cyborg buddy.

    As you say though, it all has to start in some writer’s head… so that it can eventually be turned into a happy meal for the kids. It seems the Hollywood decision makers of today want to jump straight to the happy meal.

  • Cfrancis1

    I have a totally different take on this. I think they DO care about the writing. I think the reason they are only looking for directors who will then direct a “Hollywood vetted script” is because of time. It takes a long time to develop scripts. And they don’t have that kind of time. So better to snatch up a script that’s been through the wringer already.

    It’s probably better for all involved if the film they’re shooting actually has a fighting chance because of a decent script.

  • peisley

    The decision may have less to do with wanting to use a new writer’s spec script, than time constraints for a limited series. The development process can be too long and contentious. I recall their devoting a lot of time and energy to half-baked scripts and despite all their efforts ended up with mediocre films. It was a valiant effort, but the goods just weren’t there from the beginning. At least now, they can target viable scripts that have been vetted. It sucks for the novice screenwriting looking for inspiration, but Matt and Ben are producers and it was their call and I can see their side of it. If anything, I suppose, they’re saying that a script has to be worked and reworked and go through the channels before anybody with some street cred is going to take it seriously. It’s still very possible they could up with another stinker, though. I wonder what the director is going to do with the script and how all that plays out with the writer(s) and producers. It also doesn’t surprise me about Matt saying he has to know the director first. From what I’ve heard, the two questions they most ask are (1) is it financed; and (2) is there a director attached. Otherwise, it’s not worth their time because it could be a project just floating in the ether forever. I’ll give the show a peek.

  • ff

    Couldn’t agree more. I can already tell you what the movies they’ll make will look like. They will be well lit and well shot and look like everything else and be ‘fine’ at best.

    Basically the ‘voice’ or ‘American Idol’ of filmmaking. BORING

  • PoohBear

    I co-wrote and directed this short, Bedtime Story, specifically for Project Greenlight. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the top 200 semi-finalists. It was interesting to be peer judged. You only got to watch 50 randomly selected shorts and story was only 1 of 10 sets of criteria. Ratings was 1 to 10 stars. The short had to be 1 to 3 min long.

    Of the 50 I watched only 2 stood out, 3 I remember, the rest were either trailers for a longer movie or just garbage.

  • PoohBear

    I co-wrote and directed this short, Bedtime Story, specifically for Project Greenlight. Unfortunately, I didn’t make the top 200 semi-finalists. It was interesting to be peer judged. You only got to watch 50 randomly selected shorts and story was only 1 of 10 sets of criteria. Ratings was 1 to 10 stars. The short had to be 1 to 3 min long.

    Of the 50 I watched only 2 stood out, 3 I remember, the rest were either trailers for a longer movie or just garbage. Hope you enjoy.

  • Montana Gillis

    Hand a director 110 blank pages and see if writing starts to matter all of a sudden.