Friday, September 11, 2009

Josh Olson Will Not Read Your Screenplay

Josh Olson, who adapted "A History of Violence" for the movies, got burned in one of those "Will you read my screenplay?" interactions that seem to happen a lot in Los Angeles. Mr. Olson has written a response to all other would-be Josh Olson-approachers, entitled, "No, I Will Not Read Your Fucking Screenplay." I like well-written and angry screeds, so if you like those too, go ahead and give a click and a read. I don't agree with everything he says in here, a lot of it's pretty darn harsh, but from the sound of it, he was asked for honesty, he was honest, and how he's the bad guy and he's rightfully pissed about it.

But here's the main paragraph for the time-challenged, where Olson describes how some non-writers, particularly film-industry aspirants, view writers and writing:
"Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter."
And then this nugget:

"It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.

(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)"

(Italics mine.)


Moorhead said...

Yeah, just read this this morning. Nicely done.

Harwell said...

My favorite part: "This needs to be clear--when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you're not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you're asking them to give you--gratis--the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours."

Pretty funny read. Sounds like something that Larry David would get into on Curb.

Personally I find it's way easier just to say "yes" to reading something and then take three to four years to actually read it. By then it's all water under the bridge. Right guys??

blankfist said...

He's right. And he's also... "write". Get it?! I'm a genius. Thanks for reading. where's my pat on the head?

Anonymous said...

1) People with tons of money, regardless of "talent" get their scripts financed all the time. Really, film is an aristocratic enterprise. Most of the time (not all) it has nothing to do with skill in serious writing per say. I read and watch complete trash that has been produced all the time. Unwatchable stuff that comes out on 3,000 screens! Not being a snob here - really I let myself go and want to be entertained but it is exceedingly difficult.

And what do studios look for? Not for a script by the next JD Salinger or Kerouac, or Martin Amis or JG Ballard or really even Dave Eggers! They want something that is commercially viable (non reflective, not critical of the establishment and emphasizing the current hip trends) hits their sweet spot in their marketing demographic! What the hell does that mean? In other words - you need to cater towards that illusory standard structure that studios and executives believe is a winner - something that fits their parameters - that is traditionally accepted and familiar.

A professional screenwriter in the corporate industry of Hollywood is someone that can excel in this highly specialized role. Its like a glorified Ad/copy writer!

Any additional artistic or writing prowess is a plus and may account for films obtaining awards and international prestige, but most of the time a serious writer will feel bludgeoned by the imbecilic requirements, constraints, endless notes and playing to the lowest common denominator because this is what the market dictates.

2) Talent and the perception of it is ultimately subjective. American Beauty was on the shelf for over 10 years at an agency (INDUSTRY ENT) and was used as an example for in house script readers as a poor script before it ever became a film!!!! Can you imagine how many people made fun of Alan Ball?

There are so many more examples of this type of thing. I took ALL THE REAL GIRLS (then called SOUTH OF THE HEART) to a few script readers and companies in the early days and they panned it. See? Nobody really knows anything.

Many famous novelists could never break into this "industry". Instead they get adapted! It's a craft, a skill - I'm afraid within the current context - Olson has it all confused. He should just be honest about it all when someone gives him a script. He should say, "I have no control at all whether this gets made or not and furthermore, even if I liked it - I have no power or access to financing, and even if I did - I would choose to focus on my projects first. Moreover, I have other friends who I admire and am still working on their projects. So don't waste your time on me - you should try someone else. Also, if you want someone to critique your work - try forming a writers group with other people to make sure there is consensus before giving it to someone in the industry who is always looking to weed out things."

3) I think the writer of this rant hates perceived poseurs. People who aren't in it for writing, but to get laid, famous, and/or rich. But what talented writer doesn't also want those benefits?

Olson believes these people haven't put in the time/passion like himself - so this annoys him. That's understandable, but quite elitist. By painting everyone in the same corner, he is suggesting that they are all to blame. How does he know for sure? Should art only belong to those who've been educated in it? Is this a haven or countryclub reserved for those who've attended Julliard and paid their dues - with whatever compromising, soul wreaking act? Did this stop Paul Schnieder?

Anonymous said...

Are "Artists" now doctors, lawyers, engineers? A reputable profession with stringent certification processes? Give me a break! Check out history. Real artists have always been perceived as vagabonds of the world. It's only when they make that Faustian deal with commerce that their role and persona changes. They become propagandists for big capital! ;)

My own critique would be that writers know this ultimate sacrifice and score before embarking on this insane journey into nebulousness.

You know, I don't blame these people. The spectacle sells celebrity/fame as the most important thing to aspire to in our culture. It's the pinnacle of American mobility - the continuation of the Horatio Alger myth. So why not try screenwriting? You never know! And if someone (like Diablo Cody (stripper, phone sex operator, mom gets it) then why not me?!

What I don't get - is that the new populism of filmmaking is annoying these self-styled pros. Does being deemed professional mean getting paid by a corporation? Is that the main dividing line between an amateur and a real writer?

The entire edifice of the Indy film world is screaming against the fact that since digital equipment has become accessible and affordable - too many movies (bad movies) are being made! Yes, you heard me - TOO MANY MOVIES! Can you believe it? Their profits and livelihoods are potentially at stake so they want to stop everyday people from expressing themselves. As if they are in a position to tell a better story about racism in south central, then say a 19 year old kid with a digital camera who lives in Watts! If for one support the ease of accessiblity and creation of grassroots cinema and the unique/innovative means and methods to exhibit these works that eschew the dominant paradigm.

Overall with few exceptions, Hollywood doesn't make films about real people and their lives but disposable products to be consumed by a hapless, overmarketed public.

In my humble opinion - you want to be a writer? A master of words and ideas? Try novels. Literature - not scripts. Screenplays, regardless of what people say are blueprints for films. It's technical writing - there's just more money in it and all you need to get started is a copy of FINAL DRAFT on your computer.


even if they have no talent and that would include me!


Anonymous said...

Hello. And Bye.