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5/13/2012

Found this --- the link is to the page where it was originally posted.

http://gointothestory.blcklst.com/2012/04/who-really-determines-the-fates-of-aspiring-screenwriters.html


“Who Really Determines the Fates of Aspiring Screenwriters?”

I was all set to load up a new Reader Question, but then Gavin Polone came out with his weekly Vulture column today. While all of his columns are excellent, this one is a must-read for aspiring and even working screenwriters:
Last week, during the Supreme Court hearing on the president’s health-care law, Justice Antonin Scalia asked an attorney, “You really want us to go through these 2,700 pages? … Or do you expect us to — to give this function to our law clerks?” Never before had I felt such appreciation for something that came out of Justice Scalia’s mouth. Probably the most consistent frustration I — and most others in the film and TV business — experience is how much we’re expected to read. And, just like Justice Scalia, I would assume that those of us with the wherewithal to employ minions below us push much of that reading down to others. Aspiring and established scriptwriters likely fantasize about a high-powered exec or producer personally discovering their genius after a cold read and calling their agents, demanding a meeting. And those dreamers might be distressed to know just how much of their fate — when it comes to getting a staff writing gig on a TV show, a feature-film assignment, or the possible sale of their spec script — is in the hands of inexperienced low-level executives, assistants, and even interns.
Here’s the short list of what I do read: For a project I’ve sold into development at a film studio or television network, I will read and usually write notes on each new draft; if the changes made to that script were small, I will only read the pages that have been changed. (This is easy to do, since most writers use screenwriting programs that either star or highlight changes to the last draft.) I also closely read scripts that my friends send me or those that have been submitted by writers with whom I’ve worked before. But other than that, scripts submitted to me as possible development projects are given to my development executive and our assistants, who write a synopsis and critique on each. When an agent calls and says, “I’m going out with this project that I think you’ll love,” I always reply, “Thanks, I’ll read it right away,” but both he and I know that what I really meant by “it” was the write-up from my assistant, not the script. If my assistant really liked it and my development executive concurs, I will read about twenty pages; if I like those twenty pages, I read on until I don’t like it anymore or I finish. If I get all of the way through, I probably will get involved with the project in some way; if I pass (which is the usual outcome), I will send an e-mail to the agent thanking him for thinking of me but declining to produce the project. I’ll offer some reason as to why I’m passing — maybe I didn’t “relate to the premise” or “connect to the characters” — but, of course, anything specific I say is actually plagiarized from the document my assistant gave me urging me to pass. If this seems disingenuous, keep in mind that the writer’s agent probably didn’t read the script either: A more genuine process would be to have my assistant deal directly with his assistant, since they’re the only ones who did read it. But to preserve the illusion on all sides, when the agent calls his client and goes over the list of producers to whom he submitted the script, he will say, “Gavin Polone passed,” not “Gavin Polone’s assistant told him to pass.”
If this seems distressing to you, I don’t know what to say. It just is. Hollywood has always had gatekeepers. Here’s a scene from the 1950 movie Sunset Blvd. [written by Charles Brackett & Billy Wilder & D.M. Marshman Jr.]. Sheldrake is a movie exec. Gillis is a screenwriter.
  A-11    SHELDRAKE'S OFFICE

          It is in the style of a Paramount executive's office --
          mahogany, leather, and a little chintz.  On the
          walls are some large framed photographs of Paramount
          stars, with dedications to Mr. Sheldrake.  Also a
          couple of framed critics' awards certificates, and an
          Oscar on a bookshelf.  A shooting schedule chart is
          thumb-tacked into a large bulletin board.  There are
          piles or scripts, a few pipes and, somewhere in the
          background, some set models.

          Start on Sheldrake.  He is about 45.  Behind his wor-
          ried face there hides a coated tongue.  He is en-
          gaged in changing the stained filter cigarette in
          his Zeus holder.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 All right, Gillis.  You've got
                 five minutes.  What's your story
                 about?

                            GILLIS
                 It's about a ball player, a rookie
                 shortstop that's batting 347.  The
                 poor kid was once mixed up in a hold-
                 up.  But he's trying to go straight --
                 except there's a bunch of gamblers
                 who won't let him.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 So they tell the kid to throw the
                 World Series, or else, huh?

                            GILLIS
                 More or less.  Only for the end
                 I've got a gimmick that's real good.

          A secretary enters, carrying a glass or milk.
          She opens a drawer and takes out a bottle of pills for
          Sheldrake.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 Got a title?

                            GILLIS
                 Bases Loaded.  There's a 4O-page
                 outline.

                            SHELDRAKE
                      (To the secretary)
                 Get the Readers' Department and
                 see what they have on Bases Loaded.

          The secretary exits.  Sheldrake takes a pill and
          washes it down with some milk.

                            GILLIS
                 They're pretty hot about it
                 over at Twentieth, but I
                 think Zanuck's all wet.  Can
                 you see Ty Power as a
                 shortstop?  You've got the best
                 man for it right here on this lot.
                 Alan Ladd.  Good change of pace for
                 Alan Ladd.  There's another thing:
                 it's pretty simple to shoot.  Lot
                 of outdoor stuff.  Bet you could
                 make the whole thing for under a
                 million.  And there's a great little
                 part for Bill Demarest.  One of the
                 trainers, an oldtime player who
                 got beaned and goes out of his head
                 sometimes.

          The door opens and Betty Schaefer enters -- a clean-
          cut, nice looking girl of 21, with a bright, alert
          manner.  Dressed in tweed skirt, Brooks sweater and
          pearls, and carrying a folder of papers.  She puts
          them on Sheldrake's desk, not noticing Gillis, who
          stands near the door.

                            BETTY
                 Hello, Mr. Sheldrake.  On that Bases
                 Loaded.  I covered it with a 2-page
                 synopsis.
                      (She holds it out)
                 But I wouldn't bother.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 What's wrong with it?

                            BETTY
                 It's from hunger.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 Nothing for Ladd?

                            BETTY
                 Just a rehash of something that
                 wasn't very good to begin with.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 I'm sure you'll be glad to meet
                 Mr. Gillis.  He wrote it.

          Betty turns towards Gillis, embarrassed.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 This is Miss Kramer.

                            BETTY
                 Schaefer.  Betty Schaefer.  And
                 right now I wish I could crawl
                 into a hole and pull it in after
                 me.

                            GILLIS
                 If I could be of any help...

                            BETTY
                 I'm sorry, Mr. Gillis, but I
                 just don't think it's any good.
                 I found it flat and banal.

                            GILLIS
                 Exactly what kind of material do
                 you recommend?  James Joyce?
                 Dostoosvsky?

                            SHELDRAKE
                 Name dropper.

                            BETTY
                 I just think pictures should say
                 a little something.

                            GILLIS
                 Oh, you're one of the message
                 kids.  Just a story won't do.
                 You'd have turned down Gone With the
                 Wind.

                            SHELDRAKE
                 No, that was me.  I said, Who
                 wants to see a Civil War picture?

                            BETTY
                 Perhaps the reason I hated Bases
                 Loaded is that I knew your name.
                 I'd always heard you had some
                 talent.

                            GILLIS
                 That was last year.  This year
                 I'm trying to earn a living.

                            BETTY
                 So you take Plot 27-A, make it
                 glossy, make it slick --

                            SHELDRAKE
                 Careful. Those are dirty words!
                 You sound like a bunch of New
                 York critics.  Thank you, Miss
                 Schaefer.

                            BETTY
                 Goodbye, Mr. Gillis.

                            GILLIS
                 Goodbye.  Next time I'll write
                 The Naked and the Dead.

          Betty leaves.
This movie is 62 years old and even back then they covered scripts. It’s just a fact of life in Hollywood: Everybody gets covered. And that almost always becomes the pivot point of whether your script advances up the food chain or not.
What can you do? You can piss and moan about the state of affairs, or you can embrace it as a fact of life:
* Understand that this first line of defense is your ‘audience.’ And that ‘audience’ is a young male or female, fresh out of college, severely overworked and underpaid, but with big ambitions to make it in the film business.
* Assume if they are there working as an unpaid intern or low-level assistant, they have a passion for movies, otherwise why else would they put up with such working conditions. And if they have a passion for movies, that means they will have a passion for great stories.
* Keep in mind that 95% of the scripts they cover are either poor or pure crap. The upside is (1) this means these gatekeepers desperately want to read a great script and (2) good writing will stand out, even to readers who have little understanding of the craft.
In fact knowing that these are Hollywood’s threshold guardians can actually benefit you. How? Because if the image of your ‘audience’ is an exhausted young person who has just spent the weekend covering five scripts, they desperately want to go to bed and get some sleep when they look down on the floor… and there is your script. One more God damn script to cover! They pick up your script and already hate you.
That is the standard you have to hit in your writing. You need to make every single scene, every single line, every single word work together to pull that haggard, weary young soul out of their lethargy and into your story universe, sweeping them up into the relationships of your characters and the events of their lives.
In other words, use the reality of Hollywood’s gatekeepers to compel you to produce your very best work.
For more of Polone’s article, go here.
By the way, Polone quotes my first agent Dan Halsted who sold K-9.

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