Monday, July 22, 2013

The Reader

There is, in this business of writing, one thing that makes writers shudder.  For that one thing, it is a single person, male or female who, in their world have little or no power, but for writers, they are either saviors and monsters.

These are the "readers". And they can sometimes make or break you.

 Readers have always been around, I'm sure Homer had a reader or two on his plays more than 2000 years ago. And so did Shakespeare. And Stephen King too. We all meet the reader when we choose to write words.

The readers I am talking about are the ones that read our screenplays to see if they are good, bad or great. There are more readers now than ever, because I suppose, the executives are too busy too read screenplays.

It wasn't always that way.

Even back as close as 2005, an agent could call a studio exec and suggest he/she read a new "hot" script. A runner would bring the script over on a Friday and the exec would read it over the week-end.  This was before we could email screenplays. There was a time when there was no internet.

Now, with so much information on the internet, screenplays can be sent faster and easier and with more screenplays tumbling in, they need more readers.

Now the question you might be asking is this; who are these guys and why does anyone listen to them?  Remember that famous quote from that famous screenwriter, William Goldman who did Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, among many others. He said this;

Nobody knows anything.

And he's right. Readers are hired to read screenplays to find the next hit, and it's not a job that writers could call honorable. Most of the readers are secretaries or interns or friends. You can get anywhere from nothing to $100 a read.

So why, you ask, do the people on the lowest rung of the Hollywood ladder be given so much responsibility.

Nobody knows anything.

A reader and hand in a hot script and the exec pitches it to his upper management. If they hate it, guess who takes the blame.

I've had fights with readers on those rare occasions we've met, and I don't generally like them. They've said good and bad things about my work and mostly they were wrong although they were also sometimes good and gave me ideas.  The power that they have is not really anything, but a good review can push a screenplay further up and a bad one can kill it.

So... on my new screenplay The President's Heart, the reader gave me some initial great remarks. But then the reader launched into an area where politics come into the story, and 
said that a lot of what I wrote couldn't happen. In fact he said it is implausible.

"Implausible - causing disbelief." Websters

What the reader is saying about the politics scene I wrote is that it causes disbelief. You mean like a guy who flies in the air or space aliens attack earth, or Bruce Willis races a car through the streets of Moscow at high speed? Or how about Jim Carrey being God for the day in Almighty Me.

Are those plausible?

In fact, everything in a movie is implausible, it's not real, it's actors walking around talking perfectly and being heroes and murderers.

For your consideration; I know politics. I worked for Bobby Kennedy in 1968 and Trudeau in 1969 and read tons of books on politics and continue to be absorbed by all those pundit TV shows. 

But that comment remains on that reader's report and for that one time, he/she is king. And a lot of them know it. And ultimately it isn't usually good because it is subjective, I liked Lone Ranger, my friend Barry hated it. Who's right?

But finally, my last resort is this; when I taught UCLA screenwriting back in 2003, I had my students read each other's work and then comment. But I added one thing; if they criticized any other student's screenplay, they had to offer an alternative.

Now only if I could tell my writer he/she doesn't know what he/she is talking about.