a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, September 30, 2005

Another Dumb Plot Device To Avoid

As I come across these things in actual screenplays, causing me to vividly remember them (because I'd previously cast them out of my brain like Backstreet Boys lyrics), I'm going to post them, and warn you avoid their evil.

This week: Climaxes (and other plot beats) involving live TV shows.

I get that this is like other plot devices, in that if done well, they can work. The idea even sort of works in Tootsie, probably because it's such a comedy that we are more forgiving of dubious stories about a technician spilling a beverage on some tapes and thus the need to air a soap opera live (as opposed to, say, simply taping it an hour before it airs, or even ten minutes, so you have a chance to re-do any screw-ups). I still wonder what they aired on the West Coast, or what happened with the three weeks of other episodes they already had in the can. More live tapings, I guess, or reruns of "Little House".

The truth is, there just aren't a lot of TV shows that air live. The news. Morning shows. Sporting events. I guess the show in which they pick the lottery numbers. "Saturday Night Live". "American Idol", once they narrow everyone down. The occasional last five minutes of "Big Brother".

But over and over in scripts I read, there are big climaxes involving revelations on live TV shows. And I get why writers want to do this -- there's something climactic about having your big dramatic or comic showdown where millions of people are watching, and things can't be taken back.

But it's got to be credible. I've read at least three scripts that had characters getting involved in live episodes of "Cops", something that there have never, ever been. The vast majority of talk shows are not live. And the script I just read, which spawned this rant, centered on a climax involving a live episode of a sitcom.

I know that occasionally episodic television does go live. "ER" did it once. But it's a big deal. It involves a hell of a lot of work, and preparation. In this script I read, it wasn't a big deal. The writer handled it as if this is how sitcoms are always done.

It just comes across as stupid.

There are times when live TV climaxes can work, when it is finessed well, when something new is brought to it, and when it is made credible. But at least work hard to make the reader believe that what is airing live is something that might actually do so, and isn't the glaringly awkward attempt of a bad writer to wrap up all the script's plotlines in a badly-tied bow.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Other People's Rants

While I read, write and contemplate my belly button, go over to Hollywood Fun Camp and check out the latest rant by my friend Scoopy, a Hollywood insider and one of the smart/funny people who really needs to blog more often.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Look At Me, I'm Writing

It has been a tough year for me writing-wise. Early in the year, a friend was trying to set up a reading for my frozen-time script in New York, but I just couldn't get very enthusiastic about my notes, and when the reading kept getting delayed that rewrite went by the wayside.

I was determined to do a polish of my supernatural thriller, which centers on a woman who can talk to ghosts. But then came Medium and Ghost Whisperer, and even though my plotline is much more film-worthy, it just doesn't seem all that fresh any more. So I was doing a little work on it here or there, but there was always something else to do. A lot of reading, time with the wife, moving. Writing has been back-burnered for a long time.

In many respects, I started this blog to force myself to write, to be creative, to force myself to put down words-on-paper on a consistent basis. And it's working.

Plus, reading work has been a bit slow recently. So this is the time when I should be writing, when I have the time to.

And then, the other day, a movie idea pops into my head. And the more I think about it, the more interesting it gets, and the more ideas I jot down. The structure is there, the characters are there. It's a horror movie, and I think I can make it freaky, and scary, and exciting.

So I started typing last night, after my wife went to bed. The first script I've started from scratch in a couple of years.

I did four pages in the middle, which isn't the way I usually write at all; I'm usually a front-to-back-in-order kind of guy. But the scene was vivid in my head, and it flowed easily.

Today, I've done six more pages. A short opening bit, more from the middle, and the last two pages. Now I've just got to fill in everything in between. But the story is there. I've named all the characters. The sequences are filling themselves in in my head.

Look at me, I'm writing.

Sunday, September 25, 2005


The other day I was walking down the street, when I saw a large, scruffy-looking man sitting on the curb, loudly talking to himself. I averted my eyes; if I learned anything from my years of working in Times Square, it is not to make eye contact with the crazy people.

As I moved by him, I risked a subtle corner-of-my-eye glance. And I realized that he had a really small headset on, and that he was talking into it. He wasn't crazy, he was doing business.

There are occasionally times when I talk to myself out loud. Usually it's when I kick the leg of my coffee table. But I don't speak in long, expository sentences, telling myself what I'm thinking.

Because if I did, I'd be nuts, right?

But I'm constantly reading scripts, in which characters talk to themselves. Out loud. Alone.

I understand that there's a theatrical tradition of this, of monologues and talking aside to the audience, though even that nutty Hamlet was likely missing a few smaller nouns from his bigger noun (insert your own creative Danish historical metaphor here). Hamlet would have been a fun blogger.

In movies, there's a talking-to-the-audience device too, and when it's well-done, it's forgivable. It works in Ferris Bueller's Day Off. But even then, he isn't talking to himself, he's talking to the audience.

And obviously, if your character is crazy (or really, really drunk), they are allowed to talk to themselves. Because that can be a signifier, that they are not right in the head, or that the suspicious pile of Jack Daniels bottles in the corner of the shot might well have their fingerprints on them.

But what makes me crazy (and yes, sometimes it even makes me talk to myself) is when a writer has a character talk to himself, not because they are crazy, or because they are talking to the audience, but because the writer can't think of any other way to express what is going on in the main character's head.

It's the expositional explosion of contrived dialogue, that happens way too often. And it's awful. It's like waving the amateur flag.

I wish I had an example. I've been waiting for an example, but I've been buried in books, and in books we're inside the character's head, so it isn't necessary.

(So now I spend fifteen minutes looking for examples, without success. I need to save more really bad things, like American Idol does).

So I'll make up some examples:

Oh my God. She's his sister!
John really does love me!


Oh my God. Crenshaw is the killer!

Okay, those are awful. I'm really bad at writing bad dialogue. Hopefully that's a good thing.

But the point is that I see this stuff all the time, and it really isn't necessary. There are always other, better ways to do this (and some probably-even-worse ways, including dropping voiceover into that one scene, or having us suddenly be able to read the character's mind, or having the character suddenly burst into on-the-nose song).

One way is simply to put someone else in the scene, for the character to talk to. Dr. Watson hangs around just so Sherlock Holmes will have someone to tell about what is bouncing around in his head. Gay men in romantic comedies should charge the main characters by the hour.

Some writers cheat by having the main character talk to a pet. Usually it's a woman, and usually it's a cat. The point of it is generally just to have the lonely woman say that she's just as happy hanging out with a cat and a pint of ice cream -- which of course, can be brought across just as easily by simply showing her with the cat and the pint of ice cream. Or the dog and the Pop Tarts. Or the pot-bellied-pig and the really big vibrator.

(Male readers, you have 10 seconds to picture it in your heads. Okay. Moving on...)

The best way is to simply trust the audience. If you've fleshed out your main character, if they are reacting to information the audience is also learning, the audience is going to know what the main character is thinking without going to the dreaded "blurt". If it's something weird, find them someone credible to talk to.

But if you run into a scene, where you need to get information across to the audience about what is in the character's head, and you think the best way is just for them to say it, even if there is no one listening?

There's always a better way.

Friday, September 23, 2005


Scott --

I recently discovered your blog, and noticed that along with Fun Joel and Josh F., all of you guys work/worked as readers.

I used to write coverage for my friends, who were assistants at various agencies, in exchange for all the free scripts I wanted. I figured I ended up writing 30-40 of them over 2002-2003, while I was in school, but they soon left their jobs and I forgot about it.

I never realized that you could actually get paid per script. I always figured it was all the assistants who were doing the coverage, as part of their job.

What does one have to do to get work as a reader? Do you have to work in an office? What is the average pay? How many scripts can I read per week? I've heard from friends that you can either be in-house, which is more of an office job, or a freelance reader... Is that true?


All good questions.

Basically, reading work varies, depending on the company. Some make the assistants or the interns do it. Many have at least some paid readers, to get the better stuff covered (or anything covered better), or to take the workload off the people in their office.

I've never known any in-house readers with offices, though I suppose they exist. Otherwise, there are union readers (who work for the major studios, though the union is pretty much impossible to get into) and freelance readers like me, who work for smaller studios, TV networks or production companies.

I'm very fulltime, which means that on average I probably read 5 books and 8-10 scripts a week, for about 4-5 different companies (I used to work almost exclusively for Miramax/Dimension, but that stopped when they started going through their divorce). But there are readers who only read a few things a week; it depends how much time you want to devote to it, or how much the people you are readers for need you to read.

I read in my apartment, or out at a coffee shop; sometimes people messenger work to me, and sometimes I physically pick it up. All of the coverage (around two pages of synopsis, and a page of comments) I write on my computer, and e-mail in; only very rarely am I e-mailed scripts to read.

Many people that I work for, I have never even met.

If you have samples, that's good; if you live in L.A., that's important too. I'd suggest just calling production companies or agencies, tell them that you have some experience and are looking for part-time reader work, and see if anyone bites. Often people need readers, but it is hard to know where to look for them, so you might get lucky. They'll probably ask for a resume and samples; they'll probably even ask you to do a sample coverage of something they give you.

Scripts usually start about $50 each, though it can be a little more depending on the company. Books escalate by page length; generally it is about $100 up to 300 pages, and then jumps by anywhere from $20-$50 for each 100 pages after that. But everyone pays differently, and usually experienced readers get paid a little more.

Good luck, and let me know how it goes...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

As If I Didn't Have Enough Distractions...

Over at THE SCREENWRITING LIFE, I'm part of a project of a whole bunch of writers to knock out a script together, each writing a few pages at a time, with no idea of where it is going.

It's a bit like stone soup; we're all tossing in a bit, and hopefully at the end it'll be tasty. So far, so good. Reminds me of when I was a kid, and me and my friend Glen did the same thing one afternoon on an old typewriter, writing a book taking turns; I think we knocked out about 25 pages. I think the Phillie Phanatic was a major character (which was weird, because I wound up rooming with the guy who makes the Phillie Phanatic outfit in Manhattan years later).

Anyhow, my pages just went up. Click on the The Screenwriting Life link on the right. And if you're inspired, Warren might put you on the list to add a chunk yourself. This thing looks like it still has a long way to go...

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Saved Again

So a couple of months ago, my wife comes home from work with a screenplay that a co-worker wrote, that he wants me to read. Now this isn't the worst thing in the world; unlike my friend the doctor (who changes the conversation whenever I try to ask him about my aches and pains) I don't mind doing a free read now and then.

And best case scenario, the script is great. Because it's a perfect Hollywood story -- some guy toiling in an anonymous job writes the next great American screenplay, and gets it to powerless me, who is so blown away that I am able to use my Hollywood power (which is somewhere just under that of Spielberg's gardener's sister's florist's half-brother's girlfriend's dog) to get this great script into someone's hands who can get it into someone's hands who can get it to someone.

So there's hope. Until I open the cover.

Without having to write it here, suffice it to say that the first word of the two-word title is the N-Word. The 5-letter version, ending in the letter A.

The second word in the title is Jesus.

Dread is already racing down my spine.

It's only 58 pages long, which could be a break, except riffling through it reveals that the guy has the dialogue stretching from one side of the page to the other, and the scene description is in the middle, sort of like if it was a play, except it isn't.

It's amateur city.

I read the first couple of pages, already knowing what it is destined to be. Sure enough, it's a modern-day ghetto story in which a drunk Joe is angry that his wife Maria is pregnant, because even though they have been married for three years he has never had sex with her. As the (apparently not so bright) Joe puts it:

I got blue balls baby because we have
been married 3 years now and haven't
"constipated" it yet.

Quotation marks his.

I flip through, reading snatches of dialogue here and there. Yikes. My brain cells are already getting petitions together or hiding under their beds.

There's no way I can deal with this. I have a pile of scripts and books to read, plus at that time we were getting ready for the big move to Woodland Hills.

So the script disappears, into the big morass of packing boxes, and I forget all about it.

We make the move, and though I still can't find a lot of stuff, the script turns up. Sitting on a shelf, like something out of a Stephen King story, haunting me. My wife doesn't nag me about it -- she's done her job -- but every time I see it I remember what it is.

I sympathize with the readers who have to read slush pile stuff for a living. But I still don't read it. No time. No desire. But it sits there.




Then it happens.

Last night, my wife comes home, and says "Remember that guy who gave me the script for you to read?"

Oh no. Busted. I'm going to have to read it.

My brain cells are already drawing lots, preparing to be the ones who sacrifice themselves to read it. Little, infant brain cells are crying as daddy brain cell trudges off to do his duty.

But then she says it.

"The guy's a jerk. Don't read his script."

My brains cells are high-fiving each other, and hugging their families.

Saved again.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Wedding Crashers

So I finally saw this movie, and the obvious advantage is that now I can write about it without feeling like I'm giving anything away, because so many other people have seen it.

(If you haven't seen it, and don't want to read any spoilers, go work on your script. Or write a haiku).

Wedding Crashers (and The 40 Year-Old Virgin) are both examples of how to do a comedy right. The first, obvious thing is that they are both well-cast, and are carried by their leading men, something that is hard to anticipate at the screenwriting/reading stage; comedies are about the hardest thing to figure out if they are actually funny or not when they are sitting on the page, for both the writer and the reader.

I read a lot of comedies, and most don't work on the page, and likely wouldn't on the screen, either. Here's some of the things that Wedding Crashers (and Virgin) both do well.

YOU CARE ABOUT THE CHARACTERS. The central plotline of Wedding Crashers actually has its cheesy/predictable side; clearly Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams are going to wind up together, and some of their romantic scenes are run-to-the-bathroom moments, like their going bike riding together. Meanwhile, her fiance is such an obvious jerk that simply coming to her senses plays a bit too much of a part in her story. Still, the story works, because the basic situation makes us root for Owen to win over Rachel and wonder how he is going to get the chance to do it, which helps drive a lot of the last two-thirds of the film; it's formulaic, but they nail it here.

Importantly, the writers mine humor from the main characters while keeping them real and not demeaning them (with the possible exception of the horny mom and the weird gay son, both of whom subsequently feel underused and unsatisfying). Isla Fisher's character has her wacky side that is mined for some good laughs, but her character becomes appealing along the way, and though Vince Vaughn gets abused in the second act, the writers nicely juggle the sense that he is deserving of this and that he's growing from his experiences. Both romances have their good moments, with some of the more pat falling-in-love bits between Owen and Rachel enlivened by some solid details, like their hand-slapping bit or their banter, while the Vince Vaughn/Isla Fisher romance is quirky, original and funny. (Similarly, in The 40 Year-Old Virgin, the characters are kept real and sympathetic throughout, even as the writers are finding a lot of laughs in their experiences).

THE STORY HANGS TOGETHER. The best comedies find a solid storyline, and then hang a lot of funny setpieces on them. Wedding Crashers drags a tad in its third act, but the plot is put together well; throughout the movie, we're engaged with what is happening and wondering what will happen next, while the plotting never gets too silly or cartoonish. It also never feels like a cheat; the tale is true to the characters throughout.

IT'S FUNNY - AND IT'S R-RATED. Thank goodness comedies that aren't afraid to be a little adult and raunchy can make some money, or that the makers of these films didn't have to declaw them to get a PG-13 rating. Thank goodness for the kind of crispy, funny dialogue and comic banter between characters that is often attempted by so rarely works as well as it does in these films. And again, a lot of this has to do with casting -- obviously it is easier to write a funny movie for Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn to bring their strengths to, than it is to write one for Rob Schneider and Pauly Shore to pair up in, much less write a movie in which you really can't picture any specific actors in your head until they are actually cast.

IT'S FUN. This is probably the most important thing to keep in mind if one writes a comedy -- that the audience loves to go on an entertaining ride in which funny stuff happens to interesting characters whose tale spins in solid, humorous ways and all comes out right in the end. Movies like this aren't made to change the world; they are made to entertain people. But too many of the comedies I read just make me wonder who they were written to entertain; even if you don't want to feel you are writing to entertain everyone, entertain someone. At the minimum, entertain yourself; often I feel that people are writing the kind of comedies that they think other people will like -- they are copying something that worked even though they didn't like it, or get it, themselves.

In a certain sense, Wedding Crashers feels like a no-brainer; pairing up Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn is fairly high-concept, and they play off each other so well that one can't wait for the next movie they do together. But Wedding Crashers also works because it does a lot of subtle things well, because it isn't afraid to be funny yet (with the possible exception of some of Will Ferrell's late bits) doesn't strain for it, because the plot allows for some good comic setpieces, and those setpieces deliver, because Rachel McAdams is adorable, and because, by the end, it fulfills all of our expectations about what we want the movie to be, and it even has some heart, which people want more than many will admit.

They even get away without the characters crashing a wedding for about an hour in the middle of the movie.

All I know is that watching it made be want to rewrite one of my old scripts, that tried to be fun like this but never acheived it consistently; juggling story, character and big consistent laughs certainly isn't easy, but when it is done well it makes you want to tackle it.

Now if we could only do something about Owen Wilson's nose...

Saturday, September 17, 2005

I Wish Screenwriting Was More Like Math

I'm a very logical person, who is very good at math. The latter is a largely wasted skill at this point, good for figuring out tips or gas mileage but not much else; though I got an 800 on the math section of the SATs, I didn't want to be an accountant, an engineer or teach math, so I just sort of crumpled up the ability and threw it away.

Still, there is a part of me that likes puzzles and challenges. My sister was pissed when I figured out how to solve her Rubik's Cube. Sudoku is such a great time-waster that I've had to limit myself to one-a-day with breakfast. I'm not a devoted crossword puzzle guy, but every once and a while I'll curl up with one.

And I like to write screenplays.

If I have a strength as a reader/writer, it is story. I can read a script, and spot the story flaws right away. There is a flow that a good screenplay needs to have, a sense of everything clicking in and fitting in the right place, so that it just works. It's like a really good song, or an ice cream sundae that gets everything right. Like a kickoff returner, cutting, zigging and zagging, all the way to the end zone.

And there's logic in telling a good story. It all has to make sense, or at least if it doesn't make sense it has to do it in a satisfying way. And we want this to be calculable. There's a "formula" for every genre. A way to try to take the liquid essense of a good screenplay and hold it in our hands, so that we feel we can control it.

But that's a slippery slope, and one I often stumble on. Because, when I'm writing, and something works, I feel a sense of accomplishment. It's like with a crossword puzzle, when you've figured out the word that has to go in 9 down, and suddenly it gives you 6 across, and 12 across, and then you are filling in letters. Boom, you've cracked it.

But screenwriting really isn't like that, because there is almost always a better answer. Too often I "crack" a scene, move on to the next part of the screenplay, and never really wrestle with the idea of whether or not there is a different take on the scene, on the moment, on the characters, that would make it work better. Unlike math, screenplays aren't about a scene being right or wrong and move on; there are much finer gradations. And not only do they take time to find, but sometimes we have to discipline ourselves to look for them.

(To continue the sports metaphor, that kick returner spends a lot of time each day working out, getting his body and skills in the best shape that they can be. While the average screenwriter is a lazy ass, content just to sit down, knock out a few pages, and not put in the real work. I'm guilty of that too. But again, it's all more subtle -- it's a lot harder to notice the pot belly on your own brain).

At this point I'm start to ramble; even my own blogging needs more discipline. A better blogger would make their point in the first few paragraphs, hammer it home in the middle, and wrap everything up late. It's the formula we were taught in school, when we were swiping essays about Tibet out of the Encyclopedia Brittanica.

But with screenwriting, formulas only work to a certain extent. Too many screenwriters just try to cram their romantic comedies or horror films into the accepted templates, without thinking about what it is about the formulas that work, or how they can be shaped. Sure, sports dramas are helped by having an underdog team to root for, but how can this be made more interesting? How can this be bent? What are new and different challenges for the team to face?

Maybe the answer is just to be more aggressive in blending the logical and the creative. Know the formulas, know all the rules, but don't feel that you need rigid set-ups and payoffs at every point in the script (and don't criticize a movie for setting something up and not paying it off -- two many scripts are flatly predictable because they insist on setting up dominos and knocking them all over, when sometimes dominos should just be allowed to dance).

Screenplays are a little like math. And a little like dancing. And a little like weightlifting. Like jazz. Like a child reaching up, and taking your hand. Sometimes we try to make them like math, but it's actually more complicated than that, in ways that are frustrating and exhilarating at the same time.

I'm guilty of trying to make my script do things that make logical sense, that complete a recipe, that seem to solve the puzzle of what it is, though maybe in too-formulaic, predictable and expected fashion. This results in my scripts being a bit reined in, like a dog locked in the house so that it'll stay clean and won't run around the neighborhood knocking up other dogs.

But maybe it's time to let it out to play.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Today's Creative Exercise - TV Porn Haikus

Time to work out those brain cells. Dig deep, and come up with dirty sex between TV characters, in haiku form (5-7-5).

Alice scrubs the floor.
Greg comes into the kitchen.
Doggystyle is fun.

Fill up my comments section (wow, that sounds dirty). Don't be shy. Bonus points for imagination and visual expertise.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Maybe It's the Former New Yorker In Me...

But I'm amazed that people in Los Angeles are so trusting. Specifically, people who leave their laptops unguarded on their coffee shop tables, while they toddle off to the bathroom for five minutes.

In Manhattan, your laptop would be gone in about 6 seconds. In L.A., I guess everyone assumes that everyone else is honest. And maybe they are, because I've never seen one swiped.

But I'd be curious to do a test. Someday, I'm going to go to a semi-crowded coffee shop, hang out writing for about a half hour, and then head off to the bathroom. And then my friend, who will have been sitting at another table, is going to get up, go to my table, fold up my laptop, unplug it, and walk out with it.

Do you think anyone will stop him? Will anyone say anything to him? And what will they say when I come out and find it gone?

I like the fact that Los Angeles is a more honest place than Manhattan (at least in some ways). But I think too much faith in people can be a mistake as well.

Yeah, living in Manhattan for 9 years made me cynical. Damn it.

Monday, September 12, 2005

The Best Scripts I Ever Read - Maybe.

Someone asked me in an e-mail today to write about the best screenplays I ever read, and I have to admit that that is a tough one, for a few reasons. The biggest one is that, to read as many things a year as I do, I generally try to forget everything I read after I write it up. Then, scripts I read after seeing the movie don't really count (because I am reading differently than if I hadn't), and while I'm sure I read some great unproduced scripts over the years, I'm really straining to think of any real examples.

Which might be the real story here -- that there just aren't a lot of amazing unproduced scripts floating around Hollywood. In fact, I can remember in the 1980s, when a screenwriting magazine would regularly put out their list of the ten best unproduced scripts, the list would inevitably include scripts that when they were finally made were very underwhelming, like "Miracle Mile" or "Man Trouble". Digging into my brain (for something, anything), I remember reading a cute/funny script by Garrison Keillor (of all people) about a teenage boy spending a night out on a line waiting to buy concert tickets. Was it a great script? I don't really remember. But it stuck with me, and that has to be worth something.

I read a draft of "Dolan's Cadillac", based on a Stephen King short story, that was supposed to be made with Sylvester Stallone at one point (who would have been totally wrong for the part). Someday, someone is going to make a very solid movie out of it.

Most of the very good scripts I remember reading were scripts thateventually were made into movies. "Saving Private Ryan" is probably one of the best, though the draft I read was better than the eventual movie. One great scene I remember, that didn't make the film, was one in which Tom Hanks and Tom Sizemore's characters are talking about the incident in which Hanks' character became a hero, after saving 10 men. The problem is that 9 of the 10 had since died anyway, making Hanks wonder what the point of his heroism was; Sizemore was the 10th man, and he soon died, as of course does Hanks (hey, if this is a spoiler, you don't go to enough movies). The whole exchange was thoughtful and sort of spoke to the sad, pointless side of war and heroism, probably so much so that Spielberg decided not to put it in the movie. Too bad.

Paul Haggis' "Crash" was a great script, one of the ones that stayed with me, that I was happy to hear was being made into a film. "Short Cuts" was a good read. "In America". "Life as a House". "Stay" I remember generally liking, though the huge amount of money that it sold for was too much for a small film that isn't going to be helped by the studio now needing it to be a big film. "Ocean's Eleven" is a great read, that somehow played better than the movie did, though the movie isn't bad.

For fun, I just opened up my logbook, to see how many scripts I read in September 2000 actually got made into movies; figure 5 years is a good benchmark (and also remember that I read for production companies and small studios, so most of these scripts came from agents or producers). Turns out I read 20 books and 50 scripts that month (and probably ignored my wife too much). 4 of the scripts were made into movies (though by companies other than who I read them for) -- "Ocean's Eleven", "Death To Smoochy", and low-budget movies "The Safety of Objects" (another good script) and "Morvern Callar" (which I don't remember much about). I know I hated "Death to Smoochy", was shocked at the cast that signed up for it, and felt validated when it tanked (though I'm not perfect -- for instance, I was underwhelmed by a collection of boxing short stories that was ultimately turned into "Million Dollar Baby". But Haggis' script worked, they cast the hell out of it, and Eastwood did a good job directing it. In other hands... who knows?)

Otherwise, the September 2000 roster is made up of a lot of scripts and books that don't ring many bells. I read a few of the Chronicles of Amber books for someone that month, but it's going to take a miniseries (or a TV series) and a solid budget to really bring the stories in those books across. I also read a script based on Robertson Davies "Deptford Trilogy" that didn't really work well, and a draft of "The Incredible Hulk" that had nothing at all to do with the eventual film. Aside from these is just a bunch of titles that don't mean much; quite possibly some of these were solid tales that no one wanted to take a flyer on, but more likely they were just entries in the grand mass of mediocre scripts that drift by and never really go anywhere.

And that's the bottom line. Every month I read 50-80 new things. Some are good, and are going to go on to make decent movies; some will get made even though they aren't all that good. Most just lack the really great idea, the fresh writing, the crisp storytelling or the collection of interesting characters that are going to spark anyone's interest -- and unless you are writing a high-concept comedy or a horror film, you really need all those things to sell your script.

Everyone is looking for a great script. And there are a lot fewer out there than you might imagine.

Vegas, Baby

While I'd like to claim that I wasn't posting all weekend because I was working on my script like a madman, actually the Wife and I went to Vegas, to meet up with my parents. My dad had never been there before, and I think I turned him into a slot jockey.

Otherwise, there isn't much to report, other than the fact that technology is ruining Vegas. Everything is now just as much about selling you overpriced stuff as it is taking your money at the tables -- though there is a monorail running up the strip, just to get to a monorail station involves running a gauntlet of about a half-mail of shops, and then when you get off you have to run another gauntlet to get back to the strip. Plus it costs $3 a ride; if you are with a group of 3 or more, it's cheaper and a lot easier just to grab a taxi.

But the worst is the slot machines (file this under "Important Stuff To Know If You Are Writing a Vegas Script".) Only a few casinos now even have slot machines that take or dispense coins any more; they only take bills, and if you do cash out you get a slip of paper to redeem at the cashier. With the exception of a few casinos, there is no longer the satisfying sight of a stream of coins plunking into the tray at the bottom of a machine; instead, when the slip of paper prints out, the machine tries to fake this same sound, badly and shamelessly.

So if a waitress asks you "Is that a roll of quarters in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?" it's probably the roll of quarters, stuck in your pocket because there are no longer any machines to put them into. Call it the blanding-out of gambling.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

So I'm Trying To Work On My Own Screenplays

Which sucks when you are a reader, because just when I get rolling on something, I'll get a pile of work that will bog me down for 4 days, and then I'll have no idea what I was writing about.

And I know, the answer is to carve out a little bit of time every day. But I have the wrong job for that. Because reading too much makes the same parts of my brain hurt that I write with.

It was easier when I was a theater manager. I could sit in the office while the movie was on, and knock out some notes and pages. That part of my brain wasn't being taxed.

But writing in general was easier back then, because I was innocent about the whole process. When you are just knocking out stuff, thinking it's good, it's a lot more enjoyable. I used to be prolific as hell, churning out screenplays. Bad screenplays, but at least I was putting words on paper.

I've written 10 screenplays, plus parts of a few others that I jettisoned along the way. Generally I gravitate toward character stories hinging on a fantasy premise (think Groundhog Day, or 13 Going on 30), mostly because I'm afraid that if I wrote a romantic comedy or a dysfunctional family drama, I'd wind up inadvertently ripping off one of the many such scripts that I have read over the years. But if I can come up with an unique (or at least under-explored) premise, I can have fun exploring it without worrying that I'm stealing someone else's idea.

The best script I ever wrote was a frozen-time fantasy/romance/thriller, which about 5 years ago got me a few meetings with agents and even a couple of chances to pitch my take on writing assignments (which I failed miserably at). But a bad teen frozen-time movie called "Clockstoppers" came out and pretty much made my script unsellable, and since none of my other scripts were great, no agent saw any particular need to take me on. If my buzz meter was at 1 (on the scale of 100), it quickly ticked back down to 0.

I think at least half my scripts have some real potential, if I ever get around to rewriting them. I'm going to try. But I also sympathize with the whole process, which probably makes me a more sympathetic (and yet tougher) reader as well. Writing is easy. Writing when you develop a feel for what is good or not is hard, and it is frustrating. And my feel for what works has in some ways outstripped my ability to actually write that well. Which explains why sometimes I'd rather Sudoku. Or read your blog.

But I'm trying. And feel free to nag my ass about it.

Today's Crouchy Goes To...

I almost didn't post this one, because it sounds made up. But it isn't, and it serves as a perfect reminder of why you should always proofread your script before giving it to anyone to read, particularly a reader who has a blog.

The context: a man, concerned about his friend's sexual excess, lectures him.

A better context: If I ever do a serial killer version of "Master and Commander", the line might work.

The line:

You are vile! Stop wasting your seamen!

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Scare Me

Occasionally one of the production companies I work for will ask me to give notes on a script, to make it better. Usually its something in development, and I like the work, because it's one of the few times that I feel like I'm actually contributing to something that might become a movie. Plus it pays a little extra, and I don't have to do a damn synopsis. On the downside, there are usually reasons why they are turning to me for notes; the scripts need real help, and everyone there (including the janitor) has probably put their two cents in already.

So last year, one of the companies I work for asked for notes on a horror script. It was pretty bad, a generic horror tale with a plotline that had a ridiculous number of basic logic holes -- the premise didn't even make any sense (and no, I'm not going to tell you the title, though I'm not sure exactly what the title even is now -- but it will be rattling around somewhere in your multiplex in the next few months).

(And no, it isn't The Exorcism of Emily Rose, though how shameless is that, to namecheck the movie you are ripping off in the title of the movie? It's like actually calling Under Seige "Die Hard on a Boat". Or The Dukes of Hazzard "Smokey and the Bandit with Brothers".)

So, over the course of several drafts, I gave them a blizzard of notes, many of which were incorporated (by a bevy of new writers, including one A-list guy who cruised in at the end). And the screenplay they wound up shooting is world's better than that first draft I read.

Unfortunately, it's still a terrible horror movie (I haven't seen it, but current online buzz is pretty bad). It's yet another generic tale of young people getting chased around by a killer, who butchers most of them in graphic ways before the attractive-but-nice female character who you know is going to kill the evil thing and survive, kills the evil thing and survives.

And I had a hand in the damn thing. Yet I don't feel like I could have steered them anywhere different. Because that's just the movie they wanted all along.

Because as long as audiences keep on going to see generic horror movies in which young people get butchered by an evil man/creature/force/alien/puppet, Hollywood doesn't have to bother making them good.

Now I read bad horror scripts all the time, but I have to admit that I have missed all the horror movies that have actually come out in the past few years (it's a side effect of being married). So I turned to the best expert I know, my friend Danny, who goes out and see every single bad horror movie on the weekends they open (Danny would be perfect for Movie Night). The rant he sent me is so dead-on, I'm sticking it in in it's entirety:


What's wrong with horror today?

It's not personal.

No one (it seems, judging by the fear flicks that get made) is writing what *personally* scares them. It all goes back to the whole thing about writers not investing enough of themselves in their work - they're writing what they think people want to see, instead of what genuinely crawls under their skin and wiggles.

Think about it:

What if you absolutely *couldn't* go to sleep? What if you knew for certain that if you did, you would die? And not only would you die, but you would get slashed to pieces by some burned guy with knives for fingers?

That's scary.

What if your 12-year-old daughter got very, very sick, and couldn't get well again? And not only was she very, very sick, but she was speaking in strange tongues and claiming she was possessed by the devil?

That's scary.

What if your son turned out to be someone else's kid? And not only that, but everyone close to him started dying? And not only that, but there is more and more evidence (backed up by genuine biblical passages) that he is the antichrist?

That's scary.

What if you got stranded in the middle of nowhere? What if the house you went to for help contained cannibals? What if one started chasing you with a chainsaw, and you had absolutely nowhere to run?

That's scary.

What if you went camping, and got lost and couldn't find a way out of the forest? What if your food supply slowly ran out? And what if, on top of all that, mysterious figures were chasing you at night?

That's scary.

And on and on and on. I think writers need to focus on what is truly terrifying, what really keeps them up at night. I mean, look at the current situation in New Orleans: what if your entire town flooded? What if the government promised help, but none came? What if your food and water supply was slowly being exhausted?

That's scary.

I think too many movies are focused on "way cool death scenes", as opposed to what is really scary: the *threat* of dying. I think that when people are talking about "atmosphere", they're really referring to the *imminent threat of death* - whatever the protagonist is doing in their current sotuation to avoid dying. This is where fear lies: not in death, but in the circumstances surrounding death. Death is really the boring end result - terror lies in the gradually and slowly-accelerating issues confronting the protagonist. And this is where most horror wusses out: it's just not personal.

Thanks, Danny (he's sort of like my 50 Cent, hopefully throwing in a guest rap now and then).

I'd like to add that the problem with most horror movies is that they are only fake-scary. Gross stuff is going on, but there is too much of a comfort level too, because it's pretty easy to tell early on who is going to live or die, and then everything just sort of plays out.

I know there have been exceptions, and a lot of times the exceptions work pretty well. The Blair Witch Project is a good example, despite its flaws (like an ending that is too vaguely unsatisfying to really be perfectly scary), because it does a good job keeping the audience off-balance. They have no idea of what might happen, or who might die.

The scary movies I want to see are ones that achieve this sense of unease more aggressively. Freak out your audience not with gore, but with the sheer power of being kept off-balance, by not giving them genre conventions to anchor themselves to. Give the sense that any character can die at any time -- kill off the WB star 30 minutes into the movie. Keep the audience disoriented and fearful, with the sense that they don't know what could happen next. And hang this all on a story that makes sense, something that taps into primal fears without feeling derivative, with interesting characters whose lives spin more and more out of control.

I'm not saying this is easy, and that's the problem; too many horror writers/producers/directors take the easy way out, trying to come up with different setpieces to chop people up with, rather than trying to come up with different stories. But there are signs that people are starting to get tired of this; there seem to be more underperforming horror movies now, and too few break-out ones. (And an aside - what's with PG-13 horror movies, like The Cave? If there is something in your movie with teeth, it needs to be an R-rated movie).

Figure out what scares you; odds are that it will scare other people too. Work harder to bend the boundaries of what makes a scary movie, because its still a very-viable genre to sell a script in, and people want to be scared. And they want to be scared well.

Scare me.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Movie Night

I was dismayed to hear that the Howard Johnson's in Times Square recently shut down for good. Because for about 8 years (circa 1990-1998) I was there almost every Friday Night.

Because it was Movie Night.

For those of you who never heard of it, on Movie Night a bunch of people (numbering from 2 to 60, depending on the night) would get together at the back of the Times Square HoJos restaurant, where for about an hour and a half we'd eat and talk. And then, at midnight, we'd go see a movie in Times Square.

The thing that gave it cachet was that it was set up by Penn Jillette, who for long stretches was there about 60% of the time. Holy crap. Fucking Penn Jillette.

(Okay, now I'm going to start dropping names, but I'm not going to do it in an "I'm cool because I was once in the proximity of famous people" kind of way. In fact, to counteract these charges, let me establish up front that I am not cool. I'm Newman from Seinfeld.)

(Actually, the other day while waiting for a table at a restaurant, a man thought I was Laker's coach Phil Jackson. Which is flattering, except for the fact that Phil Jackson is about EIGHT INCHES TALLER THAN ME. So... maybe a thin Newman, crossed with a short Phil Jackson, if Phil Jackson wasn't cool. And you're drunk in a restaurant waiting area.)

When Penn Jillette started Movie Night, he actually would pick up the tab at HoJos, until too many hangers-on started showing up; then it was pay-your-own-way. But I didn't care; I wasn't there for the free food. I was there because it was Penn Jillette, who when he was there would dominate the table, with stories and anecdotes and just being Penn (and for the record, Penn in real life is just like Penn in his act. Teller, on the other hand, talks, though he was never there much).

And he'd bring the occasional celebrity along with him. Lou Reed was there one night. Another night, I sat next to Debbie Harry (who was quiet, but nice). Michael McKean was there once, and I think I asked him some really stupid question about Spinal Tap, though I guess that's better than asking him to do his Lenny.

And the movie itself was a kick too. We'd go to see the worst movie opening that weekend in Times Square, which usually provided a wide range of options, some which you've never heard of (the first movie I ever saw at Movie Night was "Crackhouse". I think Anthony Geary was in it.) The rules said that everyone had to sit in the front row of the theater, plus there was a bunch of esoteric rules as well -- when a character in the movie said the name of the movie, everyone had to politely clap (I think "Candyman" holds the record). When a character said the name of another movie, you had to say "wow". It was goofy stuff, but fun, and we tried not to piss off the other people in the theater too much (though, if you go to see a crappy movie in a Times Square theater at midnight, you have no reasonable expectation of audience silence).

(And yes, when I had my brief (18 month?) stint as a Times Square movie theater manager, I used to get the group into my theater for free. And I'm sure, if I ever ran into Penn today, he'd give me a vague look, and maybe say "Oh yeah (lying) I remember you. (Politely) How's it going?)

Sometimes we had to range a little farther to find a movie that fit the criteria. One night we wound up seeing "Longtime Companion", a very serious AIDS movie, which managed to do it so well that everyone was dead quiet throughout. Some nights a few brave souls would go see a second movie, around 2:30 in the morning, at the Embassy Theater, which was open all night; it would be four guys in the front row, and about 30 sleeping, snoring drunks in the seats behind us. Good times.

And there were long stretches when Penn didn't show up. And that was cool too. Because when he wasn't there, it was a smaller, non-Penn-dominated crowd. The other regulars were nice people, and it was nice to have a place to go every Friday night, where people just showed up or didn't, but you always knew that someone would be there. And the other regulars were interesting too, most just ordinary people -- Sal was a dentist, Maryanne wrote magazine articles, Jamy was the best close-up magician I ever saw. Another guy had a great act in which, among other things, he ate a lightbulb. But he was still an ordinary guy.

At a certain point, Penn moved out to Vegas, and then (aside from Penn's few-times-a-year visits) it was just a core group of regulars, 5-12 people every Friday night. But we kept it going, people joining, people leaving. I finally moved out to L.A. in 1998, but I heard the group was still meeting every week for a while. And then I lost touch.

Long before I came out here, another regular moved out, and tried to get Movie Night started in L.A. But it's a different culture -- there is no real Times Square equivalent, no ready source for bad midnight movies. Still, if anyone has any ideas -- and wants to set up a regular Friday Night gathering in the L.A area, I'm all ears.

Goodbye, Ho-Jos. I hope there are still a few regulars who have found a new place in Times Square to get together on Friday nights.

And if you are ever in a Times Square movie theater on a Friday night at midnight, and hear polite clapping coming from the front row, tell them Scott said hi.

Friday, September 02, 2005

Can Someone Write a Good Romantic Comedy?

Romantic comedies are one of the hardest genres of scripts to sell, because generally unless you have A-list stars attached, it isn't going to get made (and don't bring up "My Big Fat Greek Wedding". That's not a romantic comedy -- it's a wacky ethnic family comedy. Big difference).

But even then, the sad thing is how few good ones there have been in the last decade or so. And the sadder thing? The romantic comedies that have been coming out, even the by-the-numbers ones like "The Wedding Planner" (which I felt I sat through after watching the coming attraction for it) are pretty much based on the best romcom scripts out there.

Do you know why executives hate reading romantic comedy scripts? Because they are all the same, generic paint-by-numbers tales that take two people who you know are going to wind up together, and have them wind up together by overcoming the same clunky, cliched obstacles and making the same this-really-isn't-a-choice choices.

You want to write a good romantic comedy, that is going to stick out from the pack? Consider some of the following. Please.

GIVE YOUR MAIN CHARACTER HONEST ROMANTIC CHOICES. It is dumbfounding how many scripts I have read, in which the main character is a single workaholic woman who goes through the typical page-10 montage of Dates-From-Hell (just to establish that she is trying) before meeting the Yuppie-Who-Is-Wrong-For-Her and getting involved with him (though, sometimes she just starts out engaged to the Yuppie) and then meets the funny/cute guy without a high-paying job who we know she is going to wind up with. The woman spends the script wondering who she should be with (while the funny/cute guy, who is inevitably a bit immature, realizes it is time to settle down), and then the Yuppie does something that reveals him to be an asshole, while the cute guy gets involved in a misunderstanding, that puts him on the outs until the ending, when someone runs to an airport/bus terminal/church, the misunderstanding gets sorted out, and they kiss.

I have just described 85% of the romantic comedy scripts circulating through Hollywood. The other 15% tell the same story with the main character a guy.

A slight exaggeration, but not by much. And what makes me crazy is that we're supposed to think that the (often-flawed) funny/cute guy is the right one for her, only because every other potential male love interest in the script is an asshole Yuppie, or a Date-From-Hell. In other words, though the Female Lead is adorable, her dating pool inexplicably consists of complete losers and the main character. How is that a choice?

(This type of movie has also traumatized a generation of people, because movies don't show the actual reasons that people wind up not going out, which is more subtle -- sometimes you are both great people, and you just don't hit it off in that way. Instead, we've been taught that the only reason that relationships don't work is because someone is an asshole or a Date from Hell. And if the person you went out with seems cool, and then she/he isn't calling, then it must be you).

So avoid this trap. Be brave enough to give your main character choices about who to be with, and have them pick the one they really love. Isn't that more romantic than taking the last man standing? (Good past examples of this -- The Philadelphia Story. Pretty In Pink. Some Kind of Wonderful.)

AVOID IMITATING THE CLICHES OF ALL THE OTHER MOVIES. The number one bad scene, that turns up in at least 50% of scripts (no joke) is the choice for third act misunderstanding that drives the couple apart -- the main character seeing her love interest kissing someone else, which leads her to run off, not realizing that the love interest was just kissed by his former girlfriend and that he pushed her away the moment she turned around.


Does this ever happen in real life? And if someone actually claimed that this is what happened, would you even believe them? (Two-thirds of the scripts helpfully later have the kisser tell the main character that the love interest didn't kiss them back -- as if).

Separating your characters before they come together at the end is fine; it's dramatic, and it makes the ending mean something. But have it come out of their characters, and don't just rip off tired moments because you are too lazy to come up with a good one.

DON'T MAKE THE LOVE STORY CARRY ALL THE WEIGHT. A lot of good love stories worked well because they were in scripts in which something else was going on. The scenes between Matt Damon and Minnie Driver in "Good Will Hunting" are funny and adorable, and they are only a small part of what the movie is about. The romance between Tom Cruise and Renee Zellweger in "Jerry Maguire" is cute, but again the movie is about a lot more than this.

Which leads into --

MAKE THE CHARACTERS AND THEIR STORIES INTERESTING. Even romantic comedies need interesting plotlines. Give the characters something to go through together (a la "Romancing the Stone", or "The Sure Thing") that makes their bickering and moving apart and together flow out of a story, that provides honest conflicts. Bend expectations ("My Best Friend's Wedding") and come up with good reasons why the characters can't just get together on page 5. A good example of this is "When Harry Met Sally", in which the characters aren't ready to be with each other until the end, when they have gone through everything they go through. "When Harry Met Sally" also offers a primer on romantic-comedy dialogue, as well as on making-scenes-interesting-by-having-something-going-on-besides-the-dialogue.

And only Kathy Griffin is allowed to have gay best friends any more.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Readers Aren't Your Enemy

There's a post in the Hall of Fame section of Wordplay (which if you haven't been there, you should go immediately, by a professional script reader named Travis, which he posted way back in June 2000. The gist of it is that he's a reader, and he's your enemy because he isn't nice; if he thinks your script sucks, he's going to say so in his coverage.

To me, that doesn't make him an enemy. That makes him exactly who you'd want him to be (provided, of course, that he knows what he's doing; ignorant readers are your enemy. Hopefully they don't keep their jobs long).

Because face it, professional readers are just another filter in the long line of scripts getting to the people you want them to get to. And you want us to be the right kind of filter -- the one that rejects the scripts that are undercooked, underthought, underimagined or just plain awful, and rewards the good writing by bringing it to the attention of the people we work for.

And we aren't your enemy, because the holes in our filters aren't small. It's not at the reader level that well-written scripts are being stymied; it's at the one after that, where of the 100 scripts I might slap a consider on for a given company in a year, maybe 5 get much interest.

So as a reader, I don't have to make the tough calls. When I read something I like, that works, that's well written, I'll say that in my comments, even if it might not be right for the company I'm reading it for. Hell, I read "Being John Malkovich" for HBO Films back in the mid-1990s, when they were looking for issue-oriented, mostly true stuff, and were never going to make a movie like that (while I never thought Malkovich would go along with it either -- bless him). But it was a fresh, original, inventive script, and worth a consider, which it got, even though, indeed, HBO didn't make it.

The job of a good reader is to write concise coverage and good notes, so even if we don't think it is going to work, our bosses can read through it and decide if it is something that he might spark to. I've had that happen.

The bottom line is that there aren't swarms of unproduced great scripts out there. I've put a "consider" on scripts that were just fairly good, just because, grading on a curve, fairly good is good enough to make it through my filter. So don't think that if you write a great script, it won't make it past the readers. I love reading great scripts.

There are a lot of good readers out there, and a good number of half-assed ones. But even Travis isn't your enemy, because though his attitude might be a little sour, it sounds like he's being a fair judge of what works or doesn't (assuming that his brain hasn't exploded by this point). And that's really all you can ever ask.

Kicked in the Crouch

Because I mostly read for good-sized production companies or small studios, the scripts I read are usually/supposedly of better quality; most come from agents or producers, so in theory all the bad scripts have already been culled out. I sympathize with readers at agencies or contests, who really have to wade through the slushpile.

Still, I'm amazed by how much bad writing I see. I wish I could give you a litany of the past abuses I've seen, because you wouldn't believe it if you saw some of the stuff. Unfortunately for you (though fortunately for me) I've purged most of it from my brain.

Except for one. I was reading this comedy script, and a character gets kicked in the crotch. Except the writer writes that he was "kicked in the crouch". I was amused by this, but figured it was a typo.

But then another character gets kicked in the crouch. And he falls down, holding his crouch. And as the script goes on, there are endless references to people getting hit in the groin or grabbing their nuts, and each time, the writer refers to it as their "crouch".

I don't think he was trying to be polite. I just think that, incredibly ironically/amusingly/jaw-droppingly, the script that I have read that had the most crotch references in it was written by a man who didn't know how to spell the word crotch.

So, in his honor, the Crouchy Awards, for egregious/sloppy/eye-rolling scriptwriting. I'll post them as I encounter them.

And feel free to submit any you come across.

Screenwriters Don't Know How To Play Bingo

A solid 1% of the screenplays that I read consist of a scene in which there is a bingo game going on, and it isn't the worst idea. If the characters are playing bingo next to each other, it means they are sitting down facing the same direction, so you can get their faces in the same shot. Plus the bingo gives some action to enliven the dialogue scene; while they are talking about killing Rocco or having their meet-cute, there are spaces on their bingo boards to cover, or quirky old ladies leaning into the frame.

Sometimes the bingo scene will pop up in an action sequence (the main character tries to hide in a room of people playing bingo!). More commonly we get it in the type of not-as-original-as-you-think-it-is moment in which the Likable Male Lead goes to see the Female Love Interest at the old age home where she works. She ropes him into reading the bingo numbers to the oldsters, he's a sport, it goes well, he sees the look in her eyes, the old people are happy. And when the seniors go down for their nap, it's cue the wild sex in the catheter closet (okay, maybe not. But the characters are hooked, now, they're in love, because she sees how sensitive he is around the elderly. Cue montage in which they hold hands in the park, or let each other taste their gelato).

The problem is that screenwriters don't know how to play bingo. It's dumbfounding. It's the simplest game in the world, yet every single bingo scene I read is all "I-9!" "B-32!" "O-21".

No, no, no, no, no, no. No.

So as a public service, let me lay it out for you. If you're a screenwriter, tell another screenwriter. If you aren't a screenwriter, tell the guy next to you in the coffee shop, because he is one.

Bingo has 75 numbers, that can pop up in 5 columns, B-I-N-G-O (it isn't just a dog-O). B runs from 1-15. I is 16-30. N is 31-45. G is 46-60. O is 61-75. The letters are absolutely unnecessary in theory -- there is only one 9, and it's B-9. But giving the letters gives the old ladies, the drunks and the chatty a column to focus on, so they don't have to think while playing.

They have an excuse. You don't. No more G-67s! No more N-22s!