I know a lot of screenwriters who can sympathize with Josh Olsen, who wrote a column in the Village Voice about all the reasons why he “will not read your fucking script.” He writes, in part:
Which brings us to an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn’t actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn’t require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don’t regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.
[…]What they want is a few tough notes to give the illusion of honesty, and then some pats on the head. What they want–always–is encouragement, even when they shouldn’t get any. Do you have any idea how hard it is to tell someone that they’ve spent a year wasting their time? Do you know how much blood and sweat goes into that criticism? Because you want to tell the truth, but you want to make absolutely certain that it comes across honestly and without cruelty. I did more rewrites on that fucking e-mail than I did on my last three studio projects.
I found this article especially timely since today I received over two dozen requests from complete strangers to read their scripts or listen to their great ideas for TV series. Here’s one I got just a few minutes ago from a stranger on Facebook:
I have a great idea for a TV series…oops, you’ve heard that a million times. But really I do. Can I send you the Treatment I have written and get some help pitching it?
The answer was no. I will not read scripts from strangers unless, of course, I am running a show and I’ve asked agents to send me samples to read for assignments, staff jobs, etc. But I will read scripts from my good friends…and I will occasionally ask them to return the favor. And I certainly will never, ever listen to a TV series idea from someone I don’t know…most of whom, of course, aren’t screenwriters, just someone who is convinced they are more clever than the thousands of professional writers, producers and directors who are pitching series to the networks every day.
UPDATE: Within minutes after I told the stranger that I wouldn’t read his treatment or give him pitching advice, he wrote this in his Facebook update:
Sick of arrogant TV writers who write crap that we have to watch on TV.
I am talking about Lee Goldberg…what a f’n snob…and he sucks.
I wasn’t a fucking snob, and I didn’t suck, until I told him I wouldn’t read his treatment and help him pitch it. This reaction from him proves a point Josh Olsen made in his column:
I will not read your fucking script.
At this point, you should walk away, firm in your conviction that I’m a dick. But if you’re interested in growing as a human being and recognizing that it is, in fact, you who are the dick in this situation, please read on.
Yes. That’s right. I called you a dick. Because you created this situation. You put me in this spot where my only option is to acquiesce to your demands or be the bad guy. That, my friend, is the very definition of a dick move.
[…]You are not owed a read from a professional, even if you think you have an in, and even if you think it’s not a huge imposition. It’s not your choice to make. This needs to be clear–when you ask a professional for their take on your material, you’re not just asking them to take an hour or two out of their life, you’re asking them to give you–gratis–the acquired knowledge, insight, and skill of years of work. It is no different than asking your friend the house painter to paint your living room during his off hours.
20 thoughts on “Josh Olsen will not read your f–king script”
I learned the hard way. For a long time I’d usually agree to look at manuscripts. But when my health changed I just didn’t have the time or energy. But then this woman wrote me six or seven times asking me to read her manuscript. She described it and I said I wouldn’t be a good judge of her material, which was true. But she kept after me so I finally agreed. I read it and wrote her a page of notes. I mostly concentrated on the first two chapters. She had three cliches in the first paragraph. And after the second chapter the book went into free fall. I suggested she sit down and see if she could summarize her book in a couple of hundred words. And then I’d make suggestions on her outline, try to bring focus to her storyline which was really three or four disconnected storylines. Well I get this angry letter back about what a bad writer I am and she plans to tell everybody she knows about what a jerk I was to her. I sensed this was a woman in some pain so I wrote back and said if she’d write the outline I’d still be happy to work with her. Then I got a letter from a friend of hers who called me twenty-seven kinds of asshole. The writer was going “through a very bad time in her life” and I had “destroyed her” with my criticism. The only incident worse than this was when a real prick I’d gone to college with called one night from Paris to tell me what a cool guy he was and how his wife was an heiress of some kind and…he heard I was doing a “little writing.” Which was a coincidence because he was doing a little writing himself and wondered if I’d read his novel. Then he said: “It isn’t a mystery or anything. Those guys are hacks.” Gosh. he sent me his novel but somehow I never got around to reading it.
Unfortunately, it’s not just screenwriters who deal with this. I am approached at least two or three times a week by aspiring writers who want me to read their unpublished material. I now decline all such requests for all the obvious reasons.
For the record, I will never send you anything to read for any reason! I subscribe because I want to hear YOUR thoughts! And I read your books because they always pull me into the story and out of reality for a little while.
I recognize my talents and I recognize that they have nothing to do with writing! So I thought you might enjoy hearing that not all your readers will take advantage of the fact that you make yourself accessible to your fans.
Ruth, a nice person with no ulterior motives.
Considering how unhappy you are with the current state of American TV, are you sure you want to play the “non-professionals aren’t as clever as the people who get paid” card?
(Of course, I happen to agree that most of them aren’t. Which is why you haven’t been asked to read anything from me yet. I know I don’t have a good idea in my head.)
Mark, I don’t think Lee is saying “non-professionals aren’t as clever as the people who get paid”, at all. To my understanding, he is saying that the subset of non-professionals who expect professional advice for nothing are egotistical enough to think they have fluked their way to brilliance, obviating the need for the years of hard work and training that made the person they’re asking a professional in the first place.
I’ve found the best solution for this, Lee, and I’ve got to admit it’s working better and better for me as time goes on:
Go hermit. Go underground. Take a walk on the Salinger side. When it comes to the general public, delist and drop out. It’s incredibly refreshing.
Just a thought.
I believe it was Harlan Ellison who said, “There are three things everyone on the planet believes they can do better than anyone else: drive, fuck, and write.” When I first heard that, I laughed until I had tears in my eyes.
Thanks to my own admittedly extremely minor successes, I’ve faced the same issue more than once. I’ve managed to deflect it without things escalating into an argument (and damned if I know how; I usually possess the social skills of an SS Commandant). I have one very good friend who IS successful in writing, and I have asked her on two occasions to read some of my work, (after arguing with myself for a couple of days about even asking) but those were very rare incidents and there was a reason for imposing upon her time, which she gave more than graciously. Which tells me NOT to bother the lady unless it’s really important.
Look at the bright side, Lee. If you are indeed a ‘dick’, at least it’s swingin’, as we say in Texas….
I’m blogging about the same thing today, if I ever clear the time.
Don’t be mistaken that this guy only thinks low of you because you didn’t read his idea. He thought low of you before making the approach. He thought that what you do is easy, that your time was of little value, and that by helping him with his pitch, you wouldn’t just be doing him a favor, you’d be doing the world a favor by bringing his genius work to the masses. That’s why he’s entitled to have you read the work and rate it on a scale of 9 to 10.
As part of the Crime Writers of Canada’s Bloody Words conference in June, I was asked to critique a member’s manuscript. It was bad: completely misinformed about police and forensic procedures, full of gaping holes, all to allow an amateur sleuth to outwit the pros. In other words,completely below all professional standards. Like Josh Olsen, I labored long and hard over the notes I sent — and my thanks? A couple of weeks later, this guy slagged me on a blog, trashing my first book and calling Jonah Geller, the hero of my P.I. series a “despicable and unlikeable jerk.” No good deed goes unpunished…
“They think that screenwriting doesn’t actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie.”
Considering the current state of movies, this assumption is being proven correct all the time. Transformers, Transformers II, endless re-dos of what were initially imbecilic horror films: Halloween, Friday the 13th, ad infinitum.
Witless, charmless chick-lit adaptations and rom-coms.
It’s pathetic when a vulgarian like Judd Apatow and his cronies becomes regarded a comedic genius.
I’m so sick of seeing this article being reposted by every screenwriter blogger there is.
WE GOT IT! MOVE ON!
expect to get a dozen requests a day – it’s part of the lifestyle you lead… I’m sorry but it comes with the territory.
Just like celebs and the paparazzi. We are the ones that watch your shows and read your books… we idolize you and we attach a flase dream with the hope you will read our work.
We know its false. We know its not going to happen. But we do it anyways with the hope that one out of the 200,000 industry folks we email will say yes – read it – and like it.
Fantasy land? who the fuck cares…
my response to this is: WHY THE FUCK NOT EMAIL THESE PEOPLE – YOU HAVE NOTHING TO LOSE AND MAYBE A CHANCE AT SOMETHING TO GAIN
Apparently, Charles, you don’t got it. The answer to “why the fuck not email these people” is because it’s an asshole thing to do, it makes victims of them, and if your fantasy career is dependent on making victims of others, it’s time to find yourself a more honest gig.
why is it such an asshole thing to do?
If you make a movie for the masses – you immediately open a door to let people in.
That’s the way it is. I’m sorry. YOU’RE IN THE PUBLIC ARENA.
This is a desperate buisness – people are gonna try to get in anyway they can.
Talent doesn’t always reign supreme.
Sometimes luck is the only answer.
And maybe some successful screenwriter besides Mr. Olson will actually cave in and read a script by some random stranger.
I’d be happy to return the favor and mow his lawn, do his laundry… we don’t even have to speak
The assumption that because people have achieved some success (and believe me, the amount of success involved can be quite small to trigger some of this) that you therefor have an entitlement to their time and attention, that’s what makes it being an asshole.
That you excuse it by saying that others do it – that’s saying that it’s okay to be an asshole, because you’re not the only asshole. Hardly a convincing logic.
That you are shrilly whining that people should stop pointing out the assholishness of it indicates that you didn’t get it, and you don’t want to get it. These folks are trying to spread the word, perhaps discourage the assholish actions, just cut down by some small amount how much of it they are subjected to… and if that isn’t going to change your actions, you’re free not to read it.
At a reading I attended years ago, Harlan Ellison said he refused to read, or even open, unpublished manuscripts sent to him “on legal grounds,” because he feared being sued if the ideas therein happened to coincide with his own. Anyone who wants to duck these requests should follow his lead.
So, you’re happy to sell a copy of “Successful Television Writing” to someone, but you won’t give them pitching advice via email? That sounds kind of fishy. Like a car salesman that won’t let you turn over the engine.
Here’s an idea, why don’t you write up a blog entry on “How to Pitch” and then point the person to that web page? They might even see the link on that page to your book and then buy it, based on your excellent free advice.
Yeah, yeah, I know, people are not as gracious as you would like. But come on, how hostile do you guys need to be to people that, in Lee’s case, you are directly selling product to?
Jim wrote: “So, you’re happy to sell a copy of “Successful Television Writing” to someone, but you won’t give them pitching advice via email?”
That’s right. WHY DO YOU THINK I WROTE THE BOOK!?
So many people asked Bill Rabkin & I for advice on TV writing that we finally wrote a book on the subject. That doesn’t mean we have to give advice to everyone who asks…or read their scripts, treatments, and unpublished books…or listen to their pitches. That’s why we wrote the book. They can find all our advice in there…
…IN OUR BOOK. The one we wrote so we didn’t have to answer a thousand questions from total strangers.
That said, I do lectures, seminars, and conferences on TV writing and novel writing, usually at no charge, at universities, high schools, conferences, libraries and for organizations nationwide and all over the world…and Bill teaches screenwriting at UC Riverside and online at Writers University.
At some point, if it’s okay with everyone, we’d also like to spend some time WRITING. Or with our families. Or reading a good book. Or watching HARRY O reruns…
Oh, wait, I can’t. Some stranger just asked me to read her manuscript and critique it for her…
Thanks for the response Lee. As a blog owner myself I understand the time drain this kind of thing can be. But I just wanted to take a big yellow marker and underline my point regarding the necessity of interacting properly with the public when trying to sell them something.
Anyone that has spent any time in sales knows how nuts the public can be: they are ungrateful, demanding, and a total hassle to deal with. But they have the cash, and you have to meet their demands to get it. Maybe you don’t care how many books you sell, but if you do care about that kind of thing you should look at every query sent to you as an opportunity to move your book.
Your book will not sell itself. Just like a movie will not sell itself. Yet people like Josh Olson are so removed from the selling side of the business that they happily walk around with a hostile attitude toward the public (to the point that Josh thinks there is some benefit to calling wanna be writers “dicks” in print). But as soon as a “boycott Josh’s next film” website starts up you can bet he is going to get a quick lesson in the sales side of the business.
My point is not that you have to do what anyone asks you to do. My point is that anyone that interacts with you is a lead, and in sales we pursue our leads. I find it hard to believe you wrote a book just so that you wouldn’t have to answer questions from “strangers”. Come on, you have a really, really nice website, that draws in traffic which probably converts to a good number of book sales. It looks like you understand the sales side of the business. So you probably also understand that it does not help your sales to suggest there is something wrong with “total strangers” and fielding questions from them.
Personally I would prefer you spent more time writing Monk episodes, which my wife and I cannot get enough of (we own all the DVD releases) and less time responding to strangers. But the point is that there is a way to turn a request for help into a contact point, a sales opportunity. Not a bitter Village Voice editorial.
The hundreds and hundreds of responses to Josh’s original article pretty clearly indicate a pent up demand by the public to not be called dicks (or to have their employment referred to as “whatever the fuck it is you do for a living”). I think as bloggers we should try to meet that need.
OK, now can you please figure out how to get John Turturro back on the show, cause that was some of the best TV I’ve ever seen.
What you’re talking about isn’t even like the person who meets a doctor at a cocktail party, for the first time, and asks for medical advice. It’s like looking up the most expensive specialist in the area in the yellow pages, and calling him up out of the blue to ask for free medical advice.
Too many people think that you OWE it to them to do your job for free.
I teach English, in a foreign country. In addition, I’m a trained singer. I’m no Pavarotti, but I’ve made a good bit on gigs where a GOOD tenor voice was required. When people ask me, “Could you teach me to speak English?” or “Could you sing at my wedding?” they seem amazed that I tell them what I charge.
“But it’s just a couple of songs!” say they – – “How much are you spending on the flowers?” ask I.
People – – ALL people – – think that having a talent of some sort requires you to do what you make your living at for free. They don’t think of the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears you’ve put into developing your art. “It’s just a script.” “It’s just a couple of songs.”
No – – you’re asking me to work for you without paying me for my time, effort, and training. It’s not simply impolite – – it’s flat-out rude. I don’t feel bad about being rude in return, though I usually try not to be.
The first time.