This is kind of awesome. Essanay Studios made Chaplin films back in the day, and they actually used this slip when rejecting screenplays. They existed in various forms from 1907 to 1925, when they were absorbed by Warner Brothers.
I think they should bring this back, as long as they keep the snazzy font.
I just got back today from the Austin Film Festival. I had a terrific time, spoke on a bunch of panels, met lots of people and had an all-around kickass time.
I want to talk to you. You go to screenwriting conferences because you want to be a professional. You want to sell a script. You’re a student. You want to learn.
Good for you. Listening to and questioning the people who do the job you want is a smart move.
What is NOT a smart move is listening to the people who DON’T do the job. And who are they? Oh, you know who they are. They’re selling books. They’re selling seminars. They’re “script consultants.” And for a small fee, or a medium fee, or a goddamned flat-out ridiculous fee, they’ll coach you right into the big leagues!
Horseshit. Let me say it loudly and clearly: IF THEY WERE ANY GOOD, THEY WOULD BE DOING WHAT I DO, NOT DOING WHAT THEY DO.
Dig? Simple rule of thumb: don’t spend a dime on a book, a lesson, a seminar or advice if the person selling DOESN’T HAVE A REAL MOVIE CREDIT.
And just in case “real movie credit” is too vague, I’ll be clear about what I mean. One spec sale from 1994 that happened to get made ain’t enough. Don’t spend a dime unless the seller has worked, is working and is gonna BE working. Multiple credits. A hit or two would be nice. Or recent critical acclaim, like a script on the Black List. A recent spec sale, or a spate of new gigs. Awards and nominations never hurt…
Mind you, I’m not just going after the rinky-dink “who the hell are YOU?” types who print up “script consultant” business cards for $20 and then hand them out to suckers, as if they earned a degree or something.
I’m talking about the biggies too.
My friend Derek Haas was at a conference where Linda Seger was speaking. He wasn’t impressed. He wasn’t impressed with the quality of her advice, the relevance of her advice…or her references to Cagney & Lacey, as if anyone in 2010 would give a shit.
Linda Seger has an IMDB page. Check it out. When you’re done laughing at the posters of the movies she’s consulted on, head on back.
According to her website, she charges $1200 for a “script overview.” But if that’s not enough magic for you, she’ll take $5,000 to provide “script consultation from early draft into production.” Oh boy.
If you pay this lady or anyone like her a penny, I personally believe you’re a moron. Linda? Frickin’ genius, I guess. But you? Moron.
In a world full of advertising on urinals, or fees for checking a bag on a plane, there is still one thing left in this world that is free.
Screenwriting. Assuming someone is willing to lend you a pen and some paper, you’ve got all the materials you need between your ears.
Are some books useful? Marginally so, in my opinion. You’re far better off reading screenplays (lots of places on the internet to do that) and watching movies.
But if you really feel the need for more help than that, then ask yourself these questions before pulling out your wallet: “Is my guru any closer to being a professional screenwriter than I am? Has the author of this book written a movie anyone I know has enjoyed in theater? Is there even one example of someone in my position graduating this program and becoming a successful screenwriter?”
And then ask yourself the biggest question. “Why do I need this at all?”
Screenwriting is hard. The business is hard. As you flail around, doing everything you can to achieve your dream, you’re going to get frustrated and scared. When we get frustrated and scared, we attempt to exert control over the process. One way of fooling ourselves into thinking we have control over something is to give money to experts, who will help us get better.
That’s why Linda’s titles are so seductive. “Making a Good Script Great.” “Making a Good Writer Great.” See? You’re good, friend. You’re real good. You just need something else to be “great.” By spending money on a book…or more…you’ll exert control over the scary thing and win the day!
Or you won’t. Maybe you’ll just be someone else applying post-facto structural theories to your own work. It’s an amateur move, which is ironic, considering that avoiding amateurism is the reason you bought the book in the first place.
To be fair, I’m not suggesting the Segers and Trubys and McKees and Voglers of the world don’t have anything interesting or insightful to say. I’m just saying that you have to put all that stuff in perspective. In my heart, I truly believe that no successful writer who has read their books would have failed had they not.
Good writers are good writers, and bad writers are easy marks for control-peddlers.
If you want to spend a little dough on general advice, go to the Nashville Screenwriters Conference. Go to the Austin Film Festival. Listen to professionals.
If you want to spend a little dough on learning structure, go out and buy every Pixar movie ever made, including the shorts.
If you want to spend a little more, start going through the Criterion collection. Study the films. Study the scripts online. And then remember that the best possible instructor you could ever have is staring at you in the mirror.
$0 per session. Not a bad price. Start writing.
So here’s my excuse for not blogging in a long time.
For the past few months, I’ve been writing The Hangover Part II with Scot Armstrong and Todd Phillips. I’m not telling you anything about it, so don’t even ask. It’s more fun to see the movie not knowing anything anyway, right? All I’ll say is that Todd Phillips and the cast are doing an amazing job, and I’m incredibly proud to be a part of this film.
In a few hours, though, I’m leaving the set and getting on a plane for Austin. I’ll be speaking on a number of panels at the Austin Film Festival. If you’re a blog reader and you see me there, wave hi or something. I’ll be hanging around with John Lee Hancock, John August, Derek Haas & Michael Brandt, John Turman, Jeff Lowell and everyone’s favorite computerized special-needs screenwriter, The Robotard 8000.
On Thursday, I’m moderating/participating on a panel about the business of screenwriting, at 1 PM. At 2:45, I’m on another panel about how to take a meeting.
On Friday, I’ll be doing the screenwriters roundtable at 1:45 PM. And at 10:45 AM on Saturday, there’s a comedy screenwriters roundtable.
I’ve never been to Austin before, but this is one of the few screenwriterish festivals that looks good (I also do the Nashville Screenwriters Conference, which is terrific). Hopefully I’ll see some of you there.