Big development since the last blog: All those emails I sent out finally paid off, and now I’ve got an internship. Two internships, actually – both part time at two different production companies.
After less than a week, both internships have warranted some truly valuable experiences; they have not, however, warranted truly valuable cash money, but I have reason to believe that my chances of getting a job through connections forged at either of these internships is pretty good. Also, my landlady seems reasonable, so maybe she’ll be willing to let me pay my rent in truly valuable experiences for a while.
My primary duty at both companies is a task called script coverage, which is often foisted off on unpaid interns or other bottom level employees because it’s an unpleasant yet important job that few people want to do, like coal mining or being President of the United States. It goes like this:
Nerdy, self-loathing writers like myself write screenplays, most of them bad, and through either talent agents or fortuitous social connections they submit those screenplays to production companies, like the ones I work at. It’s the role of the production company to look at all the scripts they’ve received and make the executive decision on which ones would be profitable and thus worthy of attention and which ones are terrible and worthy of the garbage can (or recycling, if you work at an environmentally-friendly company like I do).
There’s more nerdy, self loathing writers than there are production companies, though, so every company has a giant stack of unread scripts that grows larger by the day as more writers submit stuff. The only way to tell if any of these scripts are good is to read them, but that’s something of a time consuming process, and it’s an assured fact that the vast majority of them aren’t good (see Sturgeon’s Revelation.)
In order to weed out the gems from the shit, production companies have people like me do script coverage, in which we sit around all day reading the submitted scripts and, when we’re finished, attach a page to the cover of the script with three things on it:
1) Whether we think the studio should PASS or CONSIDER the script
2) A summary of the script’s story
3) Comments backing up our decision on whether to pass or consider
Then, I put the completed script and coverage in the producer’s inbox so he can read my comments and make a decision on the script without having to blow an hour reading it. Meanwhile, I continue reading and rating scripts.
I absolutely love this fucking job. I love it so much I’d do it for free. Which, I suppose, is why I am. Hell, I love it so much I’d do it for money.
I love it because I love Mystery Science Theater 3000, the TV show where people (and profane, low budget puppets) watch terrible movies and make fun of them the whole way through. That’s my job now – I get to read scripts, the majority of which are bad, and then explain to my boss exactly why they’re bad and shouldn’t be made into movies.
Also, as a writer it’s really just delightful to be able to crush other writers’ dreams of having their scripts made into movies. This makes me sound like an asshole, but I actually think that passing on a bad script is almost an act of sympathy to the person who wrote it.
Think about it: You’ve poured your heart and soul into something that, it turns out, is shitty – would you rather have one person read it and laugh at your shoddy work, or have it get turned into a movie so millions of people can laugh at your shoddy work? Just ask Tommy Wiseau how he feels about The Room.
If the writer in question is serious about his craft, he’ll learn from his mistakes and either change his script or write a better one, and eventually a good movie will get made. If he gets disheartened by rejection and throws in the towel entirely, that’s good too, because the world needs plenty of bartenders and accountants.
And it’s great for my own writing skills – which, for the record, I don’t think are quite good enough for me to get a script past the snide intern at a production company either just yet. Bad examples, as I’ve said before, are in some cases better than good ones, and every day I discover all kinds of new ways for a screenplay to be bad. Protip: “Fucken” is not a word – it’s spelled “fuckin.’” Other protip: When every other word in your script is “fucken” or “fuckin’”, there’s a good chance your script isn’t a winner.
Of course, there are good scripts too – so far I’ve read two scripts which really knocked my socks off, an experience the guys on Mystery Science Theater 3000 sadly never got to have. After a day of shaking your head at scripts with no conflict and one dimensional characters who blurt out exactly what’s on their minds, reading one of these scripts can really help you appreciate how much the average moviegoer takes things like pacing for granted.
What I’ve found in years of watching Mystery Science Theater 3000 is that there’s a little nugget of good movie buried in almost every shitty movie, some plot point or idea that was strong enough to get somebody to write the script and then bring a crew together to raise money and shoot the thing:
Time Chasers actually has a pretty well thought out plot once you get past the shitty acting and effects. The relationship between the disembodied head and the monster in The Brain That Wouldn’t Die is slightly engaging amid the 1950s sci fi schlock. The concept behind Hobgoblins is pretty cool when you forget literally everything else about the movie. The plot twist at the end of Monster A-Go-Go would’ve been thought provoking if the rest of the movie had been remotely comprehensible.*
*The Starfighters is terrible in every way and I want to punch all the surviving crew members square in the dick.
It’s fun to find those moments in the scripts I read every day – the one idea so good that a writer thought, “Fuck it – I’m going to build a screenplay entirely around this idea.” And it’s even more fun, in a sort of House MD way, to reconstruct what went wrong and try to figure out how the writer could make the rest of the script live up to that one idea.
Oh, and on top of all that? Free employee kitchen!
Truman Capps was late on this update because he got hired on the spot at one of his internship interviews and had to work late, which is the best excuse he’s had in a long time.