Thursday, September 24, 2009

Burnin' Down The Country Club

(Finally, a long essay! Something more than a tweet or bulletin board post can do justice to. Enjoy or endure as you will.)

Imagine climbing a mountain. Steep, cold, harsh, just you and the elements. One little mistake, one weakness in any part of your body or mind, and it's all over for you. But you climb the mountain because you need to, because you love to. And finally you reach the mountaintop, to find...
Another mountain.
Steeper, harsher, and now flanked by militia nuts who wish you harm.

Welcome to a professional artist's world.
In my main field, script writing, new writers are under fire. More so than normal, if such a thing is possible. Terry Rossio advises young artists to "Throw In The Towel"*. Josh Olson declares that "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script", and Harlan Ellison eagerly echoes the sentiment in rhyme.
I think writers are in need of a little love right now.
I've been covering amateur scripts with my internship and reading and critiquing the same for over 6 years now. I'm up to about 100 a year, two or three a week. (A professional can cover two or more a DAY. But no one is paying me, and I have a life, kinda.) And I'll let you in on a little secret.
They're not all that bad.
There's a dozen or so in recent memory that made me want to hit the writers for making me look at that garbage. There's also three or so a year that overjoy me, that make me wish I was an agent and I could force someone into giving them a big bag of money to film the movie. Legalities prevent me from telling you all about them here, but we're getting ahead of ourselves.
The rest are in the middle. The authors can spell and understand how humans talk. The story is energetic, has good flow, involves emotionally in some way. The script, in a word, is good. Good is worthless in Hollywood. Good won't get you a cab ride in LA, or anywhere else. There are simply too many good or really good scripts out there, which is why we have development executives and story analysts and paid readers to dig through them for treasure.
But what of the great, the fantastic, the inspiring? They've always had a tough ride to the top, but is the hate for the untried author turning into a lynch mob of sorts?
Don't misunderstand, the hunt for work is challenging. It builds emotional strength, and it proves one is willing to work hard in this profession. But has a good defense turned into an aggressive offense? Call me paranoid, but are the hard working and imaginative getting swept up in the witch hunt along with the drunks, posers and starstruck teens that have always comprised amateur hour? What a tragic thing that would be. A tragedy of epic proportions.
Or let's look at it a little more cynically: where will the fresh meat come from now? Hollywood has had one of the worst years since...ever. What can you say about a year when the #1 movie is about big toys? And it's getting worse. How badly do you want to see what's opening this weekend?
If there's something that does catch your eye, I bet it has to do with the idea. The poster, the trailer: these are the parades heralding that magic thing in Hollywood, the thing called The Good Idea. Accompanying it are snappy lines that make you laugh, or a riddle that makes you think, or a depraved threat that makes you lose sleep when you think about it. This is what we do. Everyone thinks they can do it, so everyone tries. And as any Hollywood reader, development exec or story analyst will tell you, everyone fails.
Well, almost everyone. The recording industry was only as good as the songs on the top 10, and the movie industry is only as good as the movies in octoplexes this weekend. And the blockbuster movies all start with one special ingredient.
They start with a great script.

Let's go back to the mountain - you've made it up the mountain beyond the other mountain, eluded the commandoes and not fallen to a painful death. Now there at the mountaintop, surrounded by nothing but sky, is a beautiful club house full of elegantly dressed people. They look up from their strong stylish drinks to look at you, and they point.
And laugh. They're laughing at you. And they point down, as if to say hope you enjoyed the climb, now go back to Idaho where you belong. Meet the new country club, same as the old country club.
Maybe burning down this club is a harsh idea. Better to build our own clubhouse. Or screw the clubhouses, just create a new Hollywood, as one kid on a internet BBS suggested. Our own studios without red tape and marketing firms, just artists with common sense and uncommon talent. It's how it all started. It can happen again.

*I cannot post a direct link because when links to same and credited quotes came up on a website bulletin board I frequent, the author threatened to have the admins sued and ARRESTED if all quotes and links were not immediately deleted. Gee, who'd a thunk promoting your publicly viewable website is a bad thing? What country is this again?