Somebody thought this script was amazing. And, I mean, it was, but not for the reasons he thought it was.
I’ve been reading a lot of really bad scripts recently. Between my internship and a work-from-home job I recently took in which I read and write coverage for $10 per screenplay, I spend a fair amount of my life wading through asinine bank heists rife with poorly spelled profanity, horror movies about horny college students that alternate between torture porn and just regular porn, and sappy romances where I’ve seen the line ‘a Taylor Swift song starts to play’ written into the script more than once.
In just about every bad script I read, there comes a point when something so mind bendingly stupid happens that I have to just step away from the computer and laugh, because the only alternative is crying. During that time, I usually wind up fantasizing about yelling at the person who wrote the script.
”Wait, so all of a sudden Otto and Roman switch bodies? Why the hell do you introduce this more than halfway into the movie!? It doesn’t make any sense! You can’t have your movie start out being about one thing and then have it turn into another thing! Also, being as this is a movie about the Holocaust, I think it’s in pretty poor taste to go all The Change Up on your audience. That’s got to be a hate crime or something!
Usually I start feeling guilty about halfway through my fantasy, though, because in all likelihood the writer in question probably didn’t set out intending to write a crappy movie – he just did it by accident because he thought that writing a screenplay was as simple as writing down every cool thing you can think of, throwing in a few awkward sex scenes (standing up the whole time, naturally), ending on a poop joke, and typing FADE OUT.
It happens every day, with horrifying results.
No matter how bad of a script I’m reading, though, it does wonders for my smug sense of superiority – with every bad script that I read, I subconsciously begin to feel more and more bulletproof writing-wise. Just like how ancient cultures would consume animal testicles to gain their virility, I’ll picture myself consuming bad screenplay testicles to gain immunity against crappy dialogue and a stagnating second act.
Unfortunately for my smug sense of superiority, I’ve just completed the most recent draft of a script Mike from Writers and I have been working on for awhile – some extremely late night writing sessions were a lot of the reason for there not being an update yesterday, for those of you who’re keeping score at home. The point is, it’s really easy for me to talk shit about how other people are crappy writers when I’m not putting any of my own stuff out there either.
The thing about writing a script is it’s a lot like having a child. Now, unlike everyone else who I went to high school with, I don’t have any children, but what I assume from Everybody Loves Raymond is that it’s a really difficult and often thankless task in which you somehow inexplicably love the little brats who make your life so difficult. This is presumably because the more time and effort you put into a thing, the more attached you grow to it and the more likely you are to ignore its flaws and think it’s perfect, hence why so many parents raise shitty children.
To be fair, sometimes they're shitty parents, too.
Mike and I have been working on our script for around 18 months at this point, which is an awfully long commitment for a couple of profoundly lazy people. We’ve put more effort and soul into this script than we’ve put into most jobs or relationships we’ve had, and after all that output I’m afraid we’ve kind of lost perspective. We’ve fallen into the trap that makes grade inflation possible: The assumption that if you work really hard at something, it’s automatically great.
As I proofread our script in advance of sending it out, though, I’m starting to see more and more elements in it that might be less funny or compelling than we think they are. It’s like I’m about to send my kid to his first day of school, and I already know that he’s going to get picked on because, well, he’s related to me, but right as he gets on the school bus I see that his fly is down.
Because I know how script readers work. I know that they swap stories about the worst scripts they’ve read, and I know that I’m not the only person who fantasizes about yelling at writers for writing crappy scripts. Here at the 11th hour, I’m worried that maybe my script is just as bad as some of the ones that I’ve read – maybe the stuff that I thought was so interesting in my script was only interesting because I find everything I do inherently interesting.
I care about my script, and I don’t like the idea that people might read it and hate it the same way I read scripts and hate them. Also, I care about my (currently and perhaps forever nonexistent) reputation as a writer, and I don’t want to sully it by putting out a script that’s crappy. And on top of that, I feel a certain sort of kinship with scriptreaders everywhere, and I’d really hate to contribute to their misery by sending them another script they have to slog through and hate – in a perfect world, my script would have the same effect on its reader as Ralphie’s fantasy-theme does on the teacher in A Christmas Story.
Ultimately, though, I guess the only way to tell if your script sucks or not is to send it out and let the world be the judge. I can only imagine how many truly terrible scripts are still sitting in the sock drawers of writers who, quite wisely, are too scared to send them out – maybe a few elusive good scripts are out there, too.
I still think that our script is going to stand out from the crowd, though: The movie is about one thing, the only sex scene takes place in a bed, and all of the words are spelled and punctuated correctly. You have no idea how few scripts can pull off that last one in a country with a 97% adult literacy rate.
Truman Capps has to read and cover two more scripts before he goes to bed tonight.