Monday, May 11, 2015

WHY SCREENWRITERS ARE NOT AN ENDANGERED SPECIES...


05-13-15 UPDATE

JACOB STUART REPLIES TO MY ORIGINAL BLOG POST (which was a Reply to his Original Blog Post on 05-1-15) 
Stuart's 05-13-15 reponse follows my original blog post below




JACOB STUART runs a screenwriting job search website, Screenwriting Staffing

An original blog post he authored appeared on Linkedin with a very provacative title -- "Why SCREENWRITERS may be responsible for the global EXTINCTION of SCREENWRITING as an art form…" 
You can find Stuart's ORIGINAL POST HERE 


My response to Stuart's Post

I think there’s some valuable advice in Jacob Stuart’s original post. 
Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of problems. 

A big problem is the apocalyptic-like title he employs for his post. 
On the one level he probably intended, he has succeeded -- people have made comments. And I'm now posting my reaction to a blog that lured me in with a provocative title.
Unfortunately, after digesting the content of his post, there is no level the title of his post truthfully resonates except as an exploitative tease. Just to cite one counter fact -- Screenplays are also teleplays, and the quality of TV writing/production has never been better. Therefore, the idea that screenwriting as an art form is on the endangered species list is wrong, total hype. 
If the intention by Stuart was to have the rest of his post taken seriously, his title doesn’t help his cause. 
But I'm now setting aside the ridiculous, over-the-top title because I did take the content of his post seriously. 
And I found even more problems with the content of what Stuart writes. 

I begin with something he is right about, but its a concept he never actually writes about, only infers in his post.
It is the perception amongst a lot of (non-professional) screenwriters who believe their lack of a breakthrough/and/or/success has much to do with “access.” Or to be more accurate, the lack of access to the entertainment industry and how it generally does business (in the United States) to this present day. 

What Stuart writes about in his post can be summarized as the frustration he feels (and apparently a lot of his producer contacts share his frustration) with non-professional screenwriters who don’t have access to the status quo in the entertainment industry, but won’t do what it takes to get that access. Stuart infers that access to people who work in the industry (which he is offering through posting adverts by producers, which he features on his online service, Screenwriting Staffing) is being squandered by non-professional screenwriters who are normally denied access to the status quo. Stuart goes on to infer that the “Access,” he provides is something the average, undiscovered screenwriter has not had previously, but does now have (through his services/and other similar connection opportunities via the internet) and should be taken seriously by would be non-professional writers looking to get a break and expose themselves to industry professonals.

So, as far as what I’ve outlined above, I agree with a few of the issues he raises, including this specific one (which, again he doesn’t actually write about, but I believe he implies)  -- there are tradeoffs in return for the potential “access,” or opportunity to contact industry professionals. And this opportunity is newly available to the undiscovered screenwriter.

Access to whom? Stuart believes those who submit the adverts he features on his site, and also the producers he quotes in his post are industry professionals -- Film/Tv/Media Producers… or Film/Tv/Media Production companies… or some variation of the former and latter. He believes those he is helping in the search for scripts/IP properties/written material are reputable and industry professionals.

In reference to the above, what I write is an indirect response because I simply cannot say if what Stuart implies is 100% true, or partially true. But here’s my indirect response --  there have been writers that have applied to the adverts featured on Stuart’s site that have found a place on the map – meaning they’ve found a place on the entertainment industry map, and are working in some capacity with professional filmmakers in some way.  
And I believe this is great. In general (there will always be exceptions), anyone who was once an unknown screenwriter that is able to land on the entertainment industry map in some way, if it comes via an advert that they responded to, a social network outreach that Jacob Stuart is responsible for, then this is a good thing. 
The next question I naturally ask is -- could the landing on the map have occurred in other ways? If the answer comes up as... "No," as I believe might be the case, then one must keep this under consideration, which I ask the reader to now do, at least until you finish reading my entire post.

Back to Stuart: In his original Post, he believes there is a problem, and his post seeks to highlight these problems, but it mostly comes under this general point -- The interaction with the non-professional screenwriters submitting material to industry producers/production companies (via his online adverts) falls very short in meeting the requirements of the producer/production company needs.

But rather than following up his problem with tips about how to succeed, Mr. Stuart, makes other claims, attempting to expand his throughts into something grander, citing a bigger picture with the process he has been able to witness first hand. And’s its when he proceeds on this path in his post which is where he runs into huge problems. 

Here’s the first problematic quote from his post -- 

“Most screenwriters will admit that writing the actual screenplay was the easiest part of the process.”

Stuart's first mistake is his use of the phrase “most screenwriters." 

Earlier in my post, I could have chosen to write "most," but I went for the word, “many,” because that word captures all the screenwriters I dare to speak for. 
In response to Stuart's quote above, I now speak only for myself, (a professional screenwriter, member of the WGA). 
Actually writing a creative, entertaining theatrical/TV screenplay is the hardest part of the writing process.  This is true if you were paid to write it, whether it was produced, and probably more true if what you write ends up getting produced. 
It's not even a close race between first and second place (assuming coming in second is selling the screenplay, which I'm not sure I believe is true). 
And here I go venturing out there, speaking for other writers -- I believe there are many professional screenwriters who would agree with me.

So why does Stuart write such an absurd statement?
The answer could be where Mr. Stuart and I find common ground.
I think he believes his above quote to be true because many screenwriters he comes in contact with (in the daily course of operating in his business) are writers, perhaps some are professional, but I'm presuming, many more are non-professional, many who are having trouble getting a foothold in the entertainment industry. 
And because Stuart's daily contact with these non-professional writers might be much larger than the professional kind, it's reasonable to assume his views on the matter have become skewed. Many who write scripts (and are not paid as professionals) end up with screenplays of very poor quality. Therefore, trying to sell a badly written screenplay is indeed probably the hardest part of what they will do in the screenwriting process. 

Here’s another statement written by Mr. Stuart from his post – “Every time a screenwriter doesn’t follow simple submission instructions, it pushes the producer a little closer to the edge.”

As well as being a professional screenwriter, I’m also a professional film producer with nearly a dozen films to my credit.
And as a producer, I can tell you what producers like me are like --we are always close to the edge (“Edge” being defined with a multitude of possibilities that might apply – the producer is on the edge of the mental spectrum; is close to being over-stressed; Is a person by profession that is Risk embracing; There is a pattern of moral and ethically impaired decisions).

My point is this – being close to the edge would be the norm standard for any industry professional producer (which Stuart is inferring he’s dealing with). So when Stuart insists that there's a serial situation of many unknown screenwriters testing the patience of producers by their haphazard material submissions, and that this behavior needs to be red-flagged because it is responsible for pushing producers in mass to be closer to the edge... I think of a quote from a script written by John Milius, (and I’m paraphrasing here) -- we might as well be giving out speeding tickets at the Indi-500.

Back to Stuart’s original post: "Now, the screenwriters who DO follow instructions, and have exactly what this specific producer is searching for, will NEVER get the opportunity to submit to THIS producer directly via their website – all because of a few knuckleheads."

I sympathize with what Stuarts writes above. 
I’m a first born (but part of a mixed family, which perhaps makes me a rule follower, as well as someone who is equally tempted to break the rules); I’m a producer, and have often operated with the premise that if I put something down in writing, the intended reader should be able to follow through with an understanding of my intentions. But as I’ve learned, its na├»ve to believe this to play out consistently.

And similarly, what Mr. Stuart writes comes off not just as misguided, but wholly inconsistent with what is actually empirically visible every day in the entertainment business  – rule breakers in the industry are rewarded. Those who take risks, and/or ignore what was asked of them, they succeed.
Yes, there are plenty who crash and burn because they break the rules, take risks… and ignore what was asked of them; but its even just as likely that those who failed are the ones who played by the same rules, as if those rules were never going to change; or did what they were told  to do, all the way up to their last order - now fall on your sword.

Stuart writes: “If a producer is seeking a screenwriter to re-write a script, this means the producer already has a script – a script they like. Now all they need is someone to re-write it to fit their personal needs, budget, and cast. They are NOT looking for a new script. All they want is to bring on another writer to compliment their project. Simple. Easy.”

The fact is that there are plenty of projects in active development that have nothing to do with what Stuart describes above. For example, someone optioned the original script/source material not realizing how hard it would be to produce and they need a complete, radical/“page one rewrite.” There are a dozen other very common reasons why a screenwriter would be hired to do a complete reworking on a project. 
Actually, what is less common is what Stuart describes/and infers -- a reputable producer/production company with a greenlight on a project looking for a polish or minor rewrite to proceed forward to production… and seeking someone answering an ad on the internet to perform the job.

Stuart writes: “If I’m wrong, then why on earth would a screenwriter submit a project, or a different genre, that wasn’t requested? I’m still stumped.”

Jacob Stuart is a smart guy.
I’m not smarter than him.
But perhaps I have more experience in this industry and that’s why I was able to come up with the answer --
Because they are desperate.*

Again, my answer comes from experience in this industry.  
My answer is something that ends up being the go to answer to a lot of similar questions about the entertainment industry --

Q: Why did the actor get that horrible face surgery?
A: Because he/she was desperate.

Q: Why did the executive green light that piece of shit movie that cost the studio two hundred million dollars?
A: Because he/she was desperate.

Q: Why didn’t the screenwriter walk away from working on the 5th sequel of that bad B-movie.
A: Because he/she was desperate.

Q: “Why on earth would a screenwriter submit a project, or a different genre, that wasn’t requested?”
A: Probably because the writer was desperate.

That’s what trying to break into this industry will do. Or trying to succeed in this industry will do. It makes you desperate.

Honestly, Mr. Stuart needs to turn his castigating eyes in the direction of the producers who place adverts on the internet looking for screenwriters or scripts. This is not the way it has ever been done before. And I believe there are two reasons this is happening now (and on the rise).

One reason is that the producers who do this… are desperate.

The second reason, is that the ways things are being done regarding the outreach for creative material is changing.

I will now go full circle, and reiterate what I wrote in the beginning of this post. What Mr. Stuart offers in his post is some valuable information -- if you apply for an advert from a producer – Follow the rules of what is requested. Don’t act desperate, because it won’t get you anywhere.
And who knows, you might be answering the ad from a desperate producer whose career is going up in flames.

I go to the trouble to write the above because…
I believe Mr. Stuart, (like RB at Studio 52), are on the forefront of a new shift in the way things will be done in the industry regarding acquiring material for production.
Access has always been an issue, and the Internet has, for a few years now, been the promise of becoming the great equalizer.

I certainly hope this proves to be true, because I’m haunted by this one unshakable, consistent situation that seems to have always been true, not just about Hollywood, but about creativity in general, and the pattern seems to go back hundreds of years  –
The pool of creative talent, capable of professional work in any field of commercial art has always been about the same size... extremely small.
How do we enlarge this pool (if indeed it can be enlarged?).

If people like Stuart succeed, it will only be by truly, deeply understanding how the game was played before they walked into the cage. And what's truly, deeply happening right now.

I'm rooting for them to succeed if their methods end up increasing the quantity of quality art going out to the masses... and more artists are rewarded with Fame... Glory... and at least enough money to get them to the next project.


* Update on 05-13-15 a reader of my blog pointed out to me that in the HOLLYWOOD REPORTER that just came out online (dated May 22, 2015) "the REPORT" headline is  -- TV Upfronts: Who's up, Who's Down, Who's Desperate 
"Desparate" being the word I chose (in the reply to Jacob Stuart) to explain the emotion that best describes those who are on the outside of the entertainment industry... and (per the the Hollywood Reporter Headline) those on the inside as well.



JACOB STUART'S REPLY

To my POST ABOVE 

Submitted on 05/13/15 

Reader: Please note that the content of Stuart's post reply has NOT BEEN edited, but has been altered for presentation on this blog. All the Bold faced/ital/red highlights are editorial choices made in an effort to be consistent in style with my original post above. 


After reading your rebuttal post, it's fair to say you have made some very valid points. So let me start with this. Since posting this article last week, I've had 2 "producers", who on the surface, seemed to be very reputable and wanted to post their “needs” with me. Perfect. After back-and-forth e-mails and some misguided phone tag, it occurred to me why nothing was getting done: compensation. Not their compensation, but the compensation for my writers. 
What do my screenwriting members get paid? Is it upfront, or it on the back-end? I’m not here to judge, I just NEED details to share with my writers. So I thought on it, and in some ways you are right, these producers were desperately seeking someone to write their “scripts” without nailing down any type of agreement (probably because they were broke or unprofessional), but here’s the thing, they didn’t make it through… they were vetted and their leads NEVER came to fruition. The 3 examples I use in my article are all very real, reputable industry pro’s. Were they desperate? I guess that depends on your definition of desperation... but they weren’t desperate to break into the industry… they already are in the industry.

I think for the most part, those who are members of my service, understand full-well what I was saying (that’s the overall consensus I’m getting). That’s not to say everyone agrees with me though. But for those who aren’t familiar with my site, think of it as a drive-thru for industry pro’s. These aren’t pro’s who have days, weeks, or months to comb through material. They need something now, for a number of reasons. What many of them have is resources and money. What they DON’T have is time. So if a screenwriter chooses to use my service, it’s in their best interest to send the proper material requested in a timely and efficient manner. Your comment suggests that it’s OK for writers to submit improperly because Hollywood was founded on risk-takers and rule-breakers? I’m not a Hollywood theologian and doubt I could talk “shop” with Hollywood’s elite, but I do know one thing. When it comes to screenwriters, risk-taking to me is about writing content no one wants to “talk about”. Starting a social movement based off of your words. Getting out from behind the computer and going to places where industry pro’s congregate… festivals, mixers, bars/coffee shops… anywhere! These are all very broad and vague, but I hope you get my point. But I think what you said is the mind-set these writers who don’t follow instructions come from. They have been told by professors or by seminar “speakers” to NOT follow the norm. So if society says one thing, do the other! This has now manifested itself in simple screenwriting searches. If a producer provides their full name and e-mail, and asks for a specific request via e-mail only… they still get phone calls! Why? Well, I’ve spoken to these writers, and they all say the same thing: I thought it would make me stick out. They are right, it did! But not the way they were hoping.

My formula to 100 success stories in 2 years is not complicated. The writers with the best material and/or skill-set, who follow instructions, get the job. If a writer doesn’t follow instructions, 9 times our of 10 it’s because they don’t have the right content or skills to even be applying for the job, so they mask it by being “different”... or as you suggested: “breaking the rules”.

It should also be noted that my site isn’t for the screenwriter who “can’t break in”, as you suggested. I have a plethora of writers who are WGA, won prime-time emmys, and have been recognized by the Academy.… I even have wga-accredited agents and managers who use my services for their screenwriters. My site is not for the screenwriter who wants to “break in”. It’s also not where a screenwriter should “end” his/her destination. It should only be used as a resource in their never-ending journey to screenwriting success. That’s why it was created. It’s there for the screenwriter who can’t spend hours upon hours searching for leads during the day. It’s for the screenwriter who’s working on an assignment at this VERY moment, but is worried about finding their next paid opportunity when “this” job ends. It’s also for the screenwriter who doesn't have representation (or their representation lacks contacts), and needs a friendly and productive place to begin. But most importantly, it’s just another place, regardless of how much success the screenwriter has had, where a screenwriter can try to find a home for their script.

I could talk for hours on this subject. So let me try to wrap this up ;) 
Producer’s should expect getting inappropriate submissions when submitting their info and requests online. That’s a given and risk they are taking. So for the most part, I don’t sympathize with them. But here’s who I DO sympathize for: the screenwriter following instructions. Because when writers become “risk-takers” and “break rules”, showing up on door steps, making phone calls to the producer’s cell, or submitting polar-opposite material that wasn't requested, the producer then suspends the search (all of these things have happened). That producer then spreads the word to other producers, meaning these “other” producers won’t submit with us. I want to give my screenwriting members the BEST opportunities available (at least within my reach). Having ONE screenwriter ruin that IS and WILL always be infuriating to me. And it’s not something I will ever apologize for. I’m not angry because it’s hurting my “business”... there will always be “new” leads. No, I’m angry because I’m a screenwriter myself. And I take my craft serious, and I would expect that my fellow writers do as well.

A FINAL THOUGHT. The original article (or rant) was designed to shed light on a very isolated way of submitting. There are a million and one ways to get your screenplay “produced”. There are volumes of literature that explain in detail the tricks to selling a screenplay. And just like in any line of work, a screenwriter MUST stand out of the crowd (and so should their screenplay). But when it comes to submitting scripts online through script searches, whether it’s through my site or a similar site, the producer is ONLY seeking a “breaking the rules” style of screenplay, NOT a screenwriter “breaking the rules”. The producer is using this platform and approach because it’s organized, safe, and quick. So when a screenwriter doesn't follow basic instructions, making the submission process more complicated, my platform (and similar sites) loses its original purpose. Do producers always follow instructions? No way! And that’s why, for the most part, their “request” never makes it in our system. But if a request does get approved, it’s because the producer followed our instructions, and in all fairness, they expect (and so do I)  the writer to do the same.

Jacob N. Stuart 

Founder, Screenwriting Staffing