Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Expert amateurs

Sex. You can imagine what it's like, talk about what you think it's like, even write about it. But until you've done it, you really don't know what it truly is like. 

Got your attention?

Where is this going?

Where it's going is here. And it started with the Internet and now, with blogging and millions of other information sources on the old world-wide web. When I hooked up to the Internet on Compuserve, wayback in 1991, I didn't know anyone else who had it except my brother Dave, who told me to sign on. There were different forums for different topics, and I ended up mostly on the film forum.

It was there where I discovered a curious thing.  People would argue with each other about films and screenwriting. Someone would post their idea of how screenplays are written and not long after, someone else would challenge them. Often these discussions turned to full-blown name-calling.

Then I noticed something else.

There was a common factor in who or whom were the biggest voices. It was something that was far older than the internet and forums. In fact it went back to the Greeks over 2000 years ago, and probably back to the time we lived in caves and discovered fire. The loudest voices, the ones who could trample on other voices with rage and energy were always the winners.

And that reminded me of any organization I ever belonged to. The biggest mouths were the ones who ruled the crowd. You can see this especially now in America with right-wing politics. But there's no politics in being a bully. Just go to a school meeting and listen to left-wing entitled parents. Same thing. And the majority of the room is usually quiet, not because they don't have anything to say, it's because the loud ones take over the room, and the rest of us are usually reluctant to make our point and either be shouted down or just embarrassed for saying something stupid.

There's one more interesting point in this.

More often than not, the loudest ones are the ones who know the least about what they're talking about. A woman named Amy Wallace wrote an article about how panicked parents skipping vaccinations for young children is endangering all of us. Her article was carefully researched and had major expert opinions contrary to the urban myth that autistic children are caused because of vaccinations. This included 12 major studies that could not find any co-relation to vaccinations and autism. Even the Center for Disease Control experts agreed.

Within days the woman got savage reaction from parents armed with anecdotal stories and straight-forward misinformation, attacking her and doctors and the government. The majority of readers however, supported her.

What this is about is "The Cult of the Amateur", a recent book on the subject.

How is this connected to the movie business?

Well, we have more reviewers of movies than ever. Anyone who can figure out a blog or website is telling us their opinion. Are they qualified because they watch a movie? Are you qualified to know how a lawnmower is built if you use it? Sometimes. Can you build an iPhone because you have one?

Can you write a screenplay because you have the software?

Members of the WGA have an alternate site where we can rag on producers or complain about guild practices. I used to go there a lot but have decreased my attendance mostly for one thing; the loudest voices there are more often than not, writers who either have written very little, or nothing at all.

One writer has 25,000 posts! In comparison, I've had about 255 posts in 4 years. Does this person have a life? When can they write scripts if all they do is post his opinions. Based on what? There are others also, who can tell you what's wrong with your script even though they've never sold one or had one made.

A year ago I put two screenplays on Kevin Spacey's Trigger Street website which opens up a world of wannabe screenwriters who read and rate each other's script. I signed on without giving any credits, I really wanted to see what these people thought of  my screenplays without knowing I was a produced writer. Both scripts leaped to the top 10 within a week, with great remarks and with some notes.

Then I blew it when I got into an argument with a wannabe and frankly told him what I thought of him, his script and his chances at selling it (none!).  I became persona non grata instantly, and was found out to be a produced writer and then had attacks on some of my movies. But I was not to be run out of town. A local group in the forum was having a dinner at a local pub on Sunset Blvd.

I decided to attend. To my surprise they were all very nice to me and it became clear that I was the only real writer there. But what I was seeing was very Twilight Zone-ish. They were all acting like they were real produced screenwriters. They shared stories of their new screenplays, repeated the mantras of screenwriting gurus and spend an evening pretending they were in the movie business. It took me a good 5 years to learn how to write well and they were expecting that all they needed was the software and a week-end with Robert McKee.

In spite of their ripping me on the website, in person they were mostly all anxious to be BFF's. Several of them asked me to read their screenplays and at least 2 asked for an agent referral. On the whole, they were all nice people, working day jobs in offices or stores and they shared a dream of selling their screenplay for at least $500,000 against points.

In the end, I realized I should just leave them to their dream world and avoid any contact because I couldn't lie to them. It's the reason I stopped teaching extension classes at UCLA years before. I couldn't lie to them that they have any kind of a chance selling their screenplay, because they really weren't writers.

So rather than disappoint, I just avoided them. And maybe a few might even get a pitch meeting or get someone who's a friend of a friend who works as a secretary at an agency to read their script.  But mostly they will go back to their jobs after a year or two, and tell friends how they were, for one glorious moment, a screenwriter.

An unproduced one.

But maybe that's better than never being one at all.

For some people.

No comments:

Post a Comment