“Will you read my script?”
A few years back, Josh Olson, the screenwriter of A History of Violence, wrote a scathing piece for the Village Voice titled “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script”. It was a complex piece with a subtle thesis: I will not read your fucking script. Needless to say, it made waves within the screenwriting community and generated a lot of discussion. Some people thought Olson was a dick (::raises hand::) and some people thought the guy had a point. To be more specific, I did think he had a point, but that doesn’t change the fact that he was being a dick doing it.
What the article failed to acknowledge is that, as budding young screenwriters, there is A LOT of pressure put on us to hustle our scripts. When I first moved out to Los Angeles, I immediately gained a connection to a VERY successful screenwriter. I used that connection simply to chat the guy up, ask a few questions and enjoy the rare chance to talk to a professional writer. Later on, I had coffee with a young producer, who chastised me for not pushing my latest script on him. I told her that I didn’t think it was right to push my script on such a tenuous connection, but she pushed and argued to the point where I came around to the idea. That night, I contacted the screenwriter and asked him if he would read my script. I never heard back. I immediately felt very stupid for doing it, and to this day, regret severing that connection with such a request. I acted as if the guy owed me something…as if I was the ONLY person who had ever met him, and then – within a week – asked him to read something. I treated him like an opportunity, not a person.
It doesn’t help that this is how it’s done. In my very first blog post, I wrote about a guy I knew who gave his script to someone and then watched it get passed around like wildfire, only to end up in the hands of a Sony executive, who then bought it. When you hear a story like this, you can’t help but want to share it with everyone you see. Any person could be your big break. And really, what other option do we have? We have connections or we have cold calling/querying.
I think the problem is two-fold, and it’s on both sides of the equation. First, the person you’re giving the script to: odds are they’re a professional, and doing much better than you. They’re most likely so far gone from the time when they were an amateur, that they don’t remember what it’s like. And most importantly: they don’t HAVE to remember. That part is over for them. Also, a lot of them develop a kind of “I had to claw my way to the top, so you do too” kind of attitude. They forget that, in almost every case, their success was probably achieved by someone doing them a favor. But like I said, they don’t have to think about that anymore.
The other side of the equation is you. The obvious part of your side of the equation is that you probably don’t realize just how many people ask them to read their screenplays. The not so obvious part of the equation is the dream. What is the dream? It’s that nagging little feeling in the back of your head that this – will – be – it. You’re going to give them your screenplay, and they’re going to like it so much, they’re going to pass it to their agent, a producer, an executive, whoever. You may give it to them under the guise that you want “feedback” or you “just want to know what they think of it”, but we all know what you really want. I’ve done it too. You want praise. You want success. You don’t want to hear what’s wrong with it. I’ve had many people ask me to read their screenplays under this guise, and get REALLY PISSED (or break off communication entirely) when I’m mildly critical of it. So you – the screenwriter – must come to terms with what you’re asking for. Because the person you’re giving it to sure as hell knows.
Giving your screenplay to people is a MUST in this industry. It has to be done. But like I’ve always said, it’s better if you treat the person you’re giving it to AS A PERSON, not an opportunity. Be real with them. Don’t hide your intentions under something you don’t really want. And most importantly, if you see Josh Olson, ask him to read your screenplay. Because seriously, fuck that guy.
About the writer: A talented writer and 10 year veteran of the industry, “P.J. McNeill” has seen it all (and he’s ready to kiss and tell.) Got a question, a comment or just general bile /praise you want to spew? Email PJ at firstname.lastname@example.org.