Monday, March 15, 2010

You're Only As Good . . .

. . . as your worst credit.

I exist on the fringe. In everything I do. I'm on the outer outskirts. Every apartment I've had in Chicago has been on the boundary of where the action is. With my last place, when leaving the el-station, all the young, handsome people would go left. I was the only person that would go right.

In the last year, I've sort of gotten some attention from my writing. There are rumors of some guy from the school of economics who comes in the night and revises treatments. I've been recruited for jobs based solely on my work. Which is awesome, and even as much as I might clown on the projects, it is pretty cool to see posters and advertisements for something I'm working on.

During the few screenwriting classes I took at DePaul, I got something of a reputation for being a good script doctor. Let me preface this with something. If you wrote a novel, you'd probably only give it to a few people to read because it's understood not very many people will take to reading your several hundred page, unedited manuscript. But with screenplays, they can be anywhere from a few pages to about 120, max. Plus, a majority of that space is blank - so there doesn't seem to be that much of a burden in asking someone to read it. Josh Olson (screenwriter best known for A History of Violence) wrote an entire essay about this. In it, He asks, "How long can two pages take? Weeks, is the answer."

And it's true. It's not just going through with a red pen and correcting the typos and writing questions marks next that which doesn't make sense. You can do that, but it's cheating someone out of the help they need. What few can do is understand why something doesn't work and be able to say, "Have you tried this?" There are even fewer who can do that and do that well.

A 12-page script was e-mailed to me last week with a plea for help. It was on draft 17 and it was a fucking mess. After I finished reading it, I was upset that I'd read it. However, the Director of Photography on it is someone I hoped to use on a project this spring. So I had to get in good with this team. The downside was that it couldn't be fixed. It was like a femur shattered into a million little James Frey-type pieces. You can try taping it together but nothing is really going to hold it. What I did was make a new femur in one of those Starship Trooper vats of liquid things. I kept putting it off until a few days ago when I re-wrote their first five pages. About as much as I could stomach. I e-mailed it back saying it's a work in progress and that I'd try to get the rest done this week. As Olson notes in that essay, all you'll get back for the misery is a simple 'thanks.' In this case, the director who sent it to me went on-and-on with a steadfast appreciation of the revision and . . . this is what I was dreading: offered a writing credit. Reducing the original scribe's efforts to 'story by'. Story by has a hint of failure to it. Like this person came up with this idea and wrote it all down, then it was taken from him and put in the hands of someone else. Someone competent. Where it was then improved. (I'm sure there's a ton of examples where 'story by' means that their work was ravaged by some fuckface, and I'm sure the original writer would call me that fuckface.) But the irony is, I don't want to be associated with the project. I thought it was stupid, violent, and without purpose. Which it still is. Only now the people don't sound like porn actors. I just needed to get in the good graces of this production team so as to pillage their human capital. And I like the original writer, he's a nice guy. Just not that great a writer. Add to that, he wrote 17 drafts. That's like a guy doting over a girl, doing everything he can think to win her over, then finding out she let some dude fingerbang her in front of all your friends. (Why do so many of my analogies revert to a girl I like being fingerbanged to the point of spectacle?)

So now I have to figure out a way to back away from the credit and in a nice way say, "Yeah, I don't want to be associated with your work. Say, can you give me a hand on this?"

This can only go well.