Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Reader Myth #1: Readers: Friend or Foe?

Hello.  Let's play Hollywood AA.  This is where we fess up and get real about the movie business and how it often works.  I'll start.  My name is Billie and I am a Hollywood script reader.  I'm addicted to reading screenplays, books, and plays.  I'm also a struggling screenwriter, which gives me some perspective on the topic at hand (i.e., getting people to a) read your script, and b) like your script) and why you shouldn't socially ostracize readers when you encounter one in the wild (i.e., Los Angeles). 

Often, readers are connected, albeit abused.  And almost always, they're chock full of great ideas about why your script isn't working.  And let's face it, they've read more scripts than you have which is why, once you've worked as a reader, you gain a lot of insight into how screenplays work.

Let's address Reader Myth #1:  Readers are the enemy.  The Antichrist.  Ebola Zaire. At best, a necessary evil.  This is crap.  Everyone in Hollywood was a reader at one time or another.  However, admitting you've been a reader, or that you like readers, or even get why we exist, isn't as much fun as detesting them.

I get it.  I totally get it.  Readers suck. And sometimes, it's true.

But sometimes, now and again, we're fabulous because we liked (or loved) your script and we were willing to put our necks on the line by saying so to execs and agents who aren't amused by much.  And by much I mean anything that has to do with wasting their time.  

And consider this.  We're forced, alas, to read thousands of crappy screenplays over the course of our career, depending upon our tolerance for reading, our outside interests, access to actual paying jobs, ability to procure legal prescription drugs, and whether or not we finally crack and run screaming into the night never to be heard from again. Few readers actually go postal, but it's not outside the realm of possibility, to be honest.

So be afraid.  Be very afraid.

I'm so glad I'm a dog and I don't have to read those scripts...

If you've been writing for a while, you must know a few readers or have come in contact with one or two in their native habitat.  If you live in Nebraska, maybe you've just heard rumors about them and liberally sage your house before sending off soon-to-be returned unsolicited scripts to production companies in the slight hope someone will read them (you know you don't do that, right?).  Again, I've got stories.  Like writers showing up demanding to speak to the person who returned their unsolicited gem (seriously, this happened to me while I was at MGM).

Whatever, I'm here to clear up a few misconceptions and offer a sympathetic ear.  I often hear writers complain that the reader just didn't get their script, or that the reader missed an obvious plot point which totally explained their otherwise inexplicable logic.  Even if the reader did miss something, it should still tell you that you're not being clear enough.  There's some confusion, somewhere. 

And may I suggest a positive new mantra: Readers Don't Suck.  In fact, Readers are your friend. And as Frankenstein knows, "Friends are Good!"  Unless they're reading your script.  In which case, we'll only suck if we pass on your script, which quite frankly is VERY likely, but that's just one of the hazards of the job. Which means we suck again.

Just try and keep an open mind.  As a writer and long-time writing group/workshop aficionado, I can attest to the sometimes almost arbitrary (and inexplicable) comments other writers or readers make about screenplays in general, and your life's work in particular.  I feel your pain.  I really do. 

But for the most part, every reader I've ever met actually wants to find a great script.  You must accept the fact that screenwriting is hard.  Rewriting is even harder.  Getting feedback can be a soul-crushing experience.  If you're not really into criticism, or slightly masochistic, the truth just might make you want to crawl into a deep, dark hole and hide.  And while there are those mythological beasts that write a perfect first script (there are exceptions to every rule), most writers slog away at their craft for years.  Decades, even.  You've got to develop a long-haul mentality to be a screenwriter, or fiction writer for that matter (kudos to my YA writer friend who just landed a deal with Tor after years of rewriting her story).

Ultimately, a great script will rise to the top of the pile.  It's a matter of overcoming the barriers inherent in the Hollywood paradigm that makes the difference between a great script that never gets noticed and a great script that gets sold (or optioned).

And that takes...yep...perseverance. 

And probably a reader who said "oh, hell, yeah!"  So next time you meet a reader, don't be afraid.