Sunday, July 05, 2020

WHY I’D RATHER NOT READ YOUR SCRIPT IF IT’S ALL THE SAME TO YOU

I’m not the first person to write this sort of piece and I doubt I’ll be the last, but I’ve had enough requests of late I do now feel justified in putting something down I can link to, saying ‘look, because of this’ rather than sending another apologetic email or twitter DM.

Because firstly, it takes bravery to put yourself out there and ask someone to look at your writing, so don’t ever feel bad for asking. However, there are a kajillion reasons I, and most other scriptwriters, aren’t going to be able to give you the detailed feedback you desire, and no doubt deserve and here are a few of them:

TIME/EMOTIONAL BANDWIDTH

My charming and wonderful wife is, like me, a professional writer. However, unlike me, she writes for businesses about technology. I think. I try not to pry. Unaccountably, this means of the two of us, she is the one with what you could broadly describe as a ‘regular income’. Consequently, I do most of the looking after of our children, taking them to school (and bringing them back, it’s important to remember this bit), cooking, shopping, most of the ironing (editor: do you mean 'some' here?)  and as little cleaning as I can get away with. Also home-schooling, because at the time of writing there’s a pandemic going on. As well as this I’m trying to write scripts, which takes a lot of effort and concentration, and often brings me no money at all, which if I’m honest is pretty much the opposite of my 'how to be a writer' business plan.

All of which means I don’t have much time for looking at writing by other people. Even when I wasn’t trying to teach my children how angles work, or to spell ‘achieve’, I still found it almost impossible to find time to read friends had sent me. I try not to think of them sitting in my inbox, wondering why they haven’t been clicked on and growing ever more afraid and alone. Which brings me to my next point:

I DON’T ACTUALLY LIKE ANYTHING

Sad but true. I probably won’t like your script because I don’t like more than two per cent of anyone or anything. It could be brilliantly crafted, ground-breaking and/or hilarious, but I’ll never know because halfway through it I’ll have failed to emotionally connect with it and wish I was dead. I like a very small amount of stuff and can’t be arsed with almost everything else and I’m the same with a. music and b. people. The sense of relief when I slowly realised I’m reasonably fond of my own children nowadays can’t be exaggerated. Also, I find reading scripts exhausting.

What this adds up to is I probably won’t like your script that much, but that has nothing to do with its level of quality. I don’t like The Godfather. Or Goodfellas. I still think the first Resident Evil film is an excellent action/horror. When everyone at my school was into The Cure, I was proudly wearing a Supertramp t-shirt to basketball practice. I can’t be arsed with the theatre. I don’t really get poetry. You don’t want to rely on my taste in any way that matters.

IT’S NOT LIKE I HAVE ANY SWAY ANYWAY

Let’s say I did read your script and thought it was amazing. What then? Well, first I’ll probably resent you for being more talented than me and I'll dedicate the rest of my life to destroying you. I’m sorry, but this isn’t a fair industry and I’m quite far down in it. But even if I liked it so much I wanted to see it made, there’s something you haven’t thought of: I find it hard enough to get my own stuff made, so it’s not like I could be much help with anyone else’s.

Perhaps I loved your script (I won’t), wrote you a glowing testimonial (I wouldn’t), and you sought to somehow leverage this in a meeting you’d managed to get with a respected producer.

YOU: This script has been read by James Henry, who wrote for Green Wing, Hey Duggee and did quite a chunk of additional material for Shaun The Sheep: Farmageddon, although his official credit is limited to a ‘Special Thanks’ and he thought it was, and I quote: ‘brilliant’.
RESPECTED PRODUCER: *shrugs*

See? Dispiriting for both of us. However there is one final point, which only occurred to me very recently.

YOU DON’T NEED MY VALIDATION

See, I suddenly realised that most of the people asking if I could read their scripts were this: female. LADIES. Because, if you’ll allow me a gross oversimplification, men and women tend (and to be clear, this is only a theory, and I said ‘tend’) to react differently when they’ve typed ‘FADE OUT’ and hit ‘save’ for the last time.

MAN WRITER: This is brilliant, I will now send it to the head of the BBC and await their glowing response by the return of post. A series will surely be commissioned within a twelvemonth.

WOMAN WRITER: It’s done! Or is it? Is it any good? Am I any good? Oh god, do I even exist? Etc

YES YES this is an appalling stereotype and almost certainly wrong, but there’s something in it, otherwise why is it mostly female writers who want to send me their scripts? It’s not my twitter biog photo, there’s a cat in front of it. My theory is that female writers tend to be less confident/look for validation more than male writers, or if you like, male writers tend to be more confident/entitled than female writers.

Anyway, wherever you are on axes of gender or confidence, you've finished a script! Go you! Now read it again, if you think it's good enough to send out, send it out. If you're not sure, rewrite it until you are sure. Or you're are sure as you're going to get but you've had an idea about something else you want to write and now you want to get on with this. Scripts aren't finished, they're abandoned. Someone clever said this. Who was it? It was me, just then! (don't google this)

SO WHAT SHOULD I DO WITH MY SCRIPT INSTEAD OF SENDING IT TO YOU?

Delete it and write a book instead. More creative satisfaction and if it doesn’t get picked up by a publisher, you can self-publish it and probably make more cash that way.

Ugh, fine, keep the script, but instead of sending it to me, send it to someone who can actually do something with it, to wit: a producer. Find a show you like, make a note of the producer (not the associate producer, that’s either one of the actors or some exec who just didn’t say no at the right time, which is a skill, I’m not knocking it) and email them asking if you can send them your script to read.

If you’re looking for a bit of validation, and who isn’t, find a smart friend you can trust to be honest and ask if they’ll read it. And if they don’t give you one hundred per cent approval, ignore everything they said and send it off to the producer anyway. Or the BBC writers room, or the Red Planet prize or keep an eye out for other script competitions. You can google this yourself, I'm not doing it for you because of all the above reasons. Be wary of any that charge you more than a tenner to enter though, the theory is that money should flow towards, not away from, the writer.

Whatever you do, best of luck. But not so much luck you get in my way because I will CRUSH YOU.