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Monday, September 28, 2009

Do You REALLY Want My Opinion

Over at Modern Day Screenwriter my Twitter buddy Karen describes two very different writers who attended a feedback session of her writer's group. One had a commercial project and was keen to get as much practical advice as he could. He got a few knocks but took them like a trooper. The second writer, well as Karen says: was obvious this writer had come here for very different reasons to the first one.

She had not come to listen to straightforward comments and ruthless questions about her work. She had come for a pat on the back, maybe some validation. The first writer hadn’t required validation. He wanted frank thoughts and got just what he needed.

It was ironic because just a few days ago I had learned much to my disappointment that I had cost myself a good chunk of change by being too frank. Let me back up, in the screenwriting world there is feedback and then there is "feedback." There's feedback for people who want to know the straight truth as ugly as that truth may be. Mostly this is the kind that you write for agencies or production companies. They want the worse case scenario. If I pay money for this guy's script, am I out of job? That's rather vital to know. Some writers seek out this kind of bluntness. They're the ones who are dead serious about their chosen profession. They want to play in the NFL and they want to see if they can take an NFL hit. These are the people who, even if they aren't pros yet have adopted a pro mentality. They don't get too emotionally attached to any one story or story element. They fully embrace that successful writing involves killing your darlings.

Then there is the other set. The ones who live in a perpetual state of denial. The ones who want praise and who are willing to pay total strangers for it. They consider themselves very serious. They spend money. Lots of it. They enter contests, they attend pitchfests and seminars. But it never sinks in. They do everything except make the change that is necessary in themselves. A friend of mine described them as the hopeless wrecks washed up at the gates of Hollywood. And it's this pile of bodies that have spawned a secondary industry. As long as they're willing to pay money for a little bit of hope, even if it is false hope, there will be people willing to give it to them. Some will try and pack real criticism inside their praise, others will just fill in the blanks of a feel-good form letter and send it off.

I used to think I'd never call a turd a truffle. I used to pride myself about how hard I could smack a screenplay. But now I'm not so sure. If I were in the screenwriting guru business, that poor lost writer Karen describes, she'd be my bread and butter. She has almost no chance of breaking through. But if I really told her that it'd be the last I'd see of her, or her money.


  1. Good post Michael! And v. true. If you're serious about writing - you can't afford to be too precious. You just need to make sure you deliver the goods. The people that count don't care about anything else except for what's on the page. That's why I'm going back to the beginning (again!) to discover something new and hopefully interesting about my protagonist. *sigh* :)

  2. Hey Mike, thanks for the reference. And for the post - it's put a big smile on my face. Like you, I once prided myself on calling a turd a turd. But it's gotten me abuse and nowhere. Yes, if only I could call a turd a truffle, I'd be a millionaire too.

    Just wanted to point out, the second writer could write. She had a powerful voice and her prose was beautiful. But as a screenplay, it just didn't translate. And in all fairness to her, it was a jarring thing having a group of strangers dig in like that. Hats off to her for having the courage to put it out there. I certainly didn't.

    (As you know have had MASSIVE trouble trying to post with WordPress link. Have actually signed up with Blogger and if this works, just have this to say to Google - FUCK YOU!


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