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i will not read your fucking script but if i read your fucking script appreciate my fucking feedback

11 Sep , 2009,
Chip Street
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3 comments

A History of Violence screenwriter Josh Olson seems kinda pissed.

Apparently he gets asked to read a lot of scripts.

Apparently most of them are crap.

And apparently nobody really wants his honest feedback.

So he wrote a scathing essay over at The Village Voice, outlining just how much this all sucks.

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. (… read the entire article)

From here he goes on to detail a recent situation in which he broke his own rule, read something by an acquaintance, and was subsequently pilloried for being honest.

Now, I get asked to read a lot of scripts. And I often say yes. Usually they’re either from people I know, and whose work I’m pretty certain is going to be good, or they’re forwarded by someone whose opinion I trust.

I don’t generally get paid to read (mostly it’s favors or judging) so it’s not like this time is taking away from paying work. But it is taking away from my own writing time (kinda like this blog.. oops). Nevertheless, I think I can always find something to learn from both good and bad scripts, even if it’s just “this is what it’s like to be a reader” (who are, after all, our first line target audience).

And I do try to be honest and actionable (without being dickish) in my responses.

I do find it strangely difficult to find a 2-4 hour block of time to read scripts, no matter how dedicated I am to the commitment. (Why is that I wonder? Those of you with scripts on my desk, thank you for your patience.)

So far I haven’t been branded a dick. Not for being honest about a screenplay anyway. (I was branded a dick by a guy I co-wrote and co-produced a short with, because he felt like I was too serious about the film making and taking all the fun out of it. I don’t know if I took all the fun out of it, but I do take it seriously and run my sets like professional sets. So sue me.)

Anyway, I think it’s certain that somewhere in his nascent career Olson asked someone to read his script. And I’m also certain that as budding screenwriters, it’s good for us to read other scripts… well known professional scripts, and other budding screenwriters’ scripts. We need to support one another, we need community, we need to know we’re not toiling alone, and we need feedback from someone who won’t just say “that’s nice, dear”. And when we “make it”, I hope we remember all that, and do even a little of what John August and Josh Friedman and others are doing.

I suspect that really, what Olson wanted to say was not “I will not read your fucking script” but rather, “If I read your fucking script, appreciate my fucking feedback”. Because really, that’s where the problem lies. He needn’t read every script, but he probably should read some scripts. If he does, it’s only fair that it not be a waste of his time, or the writer’s. Thus he should be allowed to be honest, and his professional insights should be appreciated.

So here’s a quick bullet list of do’s and dont’s for readers and writers:

Writers:

  • Don’t expect that someone will read your work. Friend or pro, they’re doing you a favor if they do it at all.
  • Don’t ask without reciprocating somehow (read their work, buy them dinner, email them a coupon, something). *Edit* Amended to reflect the great advice I got from pal Marvin Acuna (@MarvinVAcuna) — don’t ask for favors from someone until you’ve done 3 nice things for them.
  • Don’t ask someone to read a work that isn’t ready to be read.
    • If you are asking for an early draft to be read, make that clear (and consider joining a screenwriter’s group – that’s what they’re for).
    • Don’t follow up hours or days later with “wait wait, delete that, here’s a newer draft” (you weren’t ready for it to be read yet).
  • Don’t be offended if they say “no”.
  • Don’t follow up with inquiries asking “have you read it yet”?
  • Do think about who you’re asking and why (don’t just ask because you want someone, anyone, to read your script. That’s what Moms and spouses are for.)
    • Do approach readers whose feedback you will appreciate and respect (else why are you asking them?)
    • Do approach readers whose expertise in some facet of screenwriting you believe surpasses yours.
    • Do consider the reader’s area of expertise (are they horror writers? Perhaps you shouldn’t show them your romcom.)
  • Do be gracious and appreciative of all feedback, good or bad (you needn’t take everything to heart – readers can be wrong).
  • Do know that if getting negative feedback makes you want to give up screenwriting, you should consider giving up screenwriting. Seriously. It’s part of the job description.
  • Copy and paste the above list into your “how to interact with a potential producer/agent/manager” notebook.

Readers:

  • Don’t say yes if you don’t intend to read it.
  • Don’t take on the read if you aren’t confident your relationship with the writer can take the fallout of your honest feedback.
  • Don’t take on reading a script if the genre or subject is simply outside your wheelhouse (you aren’t certain you’ll be able to offer relevant feedback).
  • Do ask what kind of feedback they’re looking for (and use this to decide if you want to take it on).
  • Do give honest feedback.
    • Don’t be cruel with your feedback.
    • Offer the kind of feedback they’re looking for.
    • Offer actionable feedback (“this part is not good” isn’t actionable, “this dense left margin slowed down the pace for me” is actionable)
  • Do your best to get to it, eventually.

Have I missed anything? Help me refine this list of do’s and dont’s.

Or I will not read your fucking script.

3 Comments

  1. Jeff September 11, 2009 at 4:50 pm Reply

    Dunno. Didn’t read it. But what did you think of that first act I sent you?
    ;)

    • crankydog September 11, 2009 at 5:01 pm Reply

      Aw crap. Serious? Did I get something from you? Tell me you’re joking…

  2. Jeff Palmer September 11, 2009 at 7:42 pm Reply

    Yeah you did and you said you’d read it — FIVE MONTHS AGO! What a joke. I mean, yeah, I’m joking. I kid.

    Good post! Not kidding about that. ;)

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