ALLIGATORS IN A HELICOPTER

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

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Some Writers Need An Editor... Badly

So yesterday I read a 165-page, woefully-overwritten screenplay, with huge mobs of typos and spelling mistakes roaming its pages.

This thing is embarrassing. "Boston" is misspelled as "Bostin", twice. "Adolf Hitler" is misspelled "Adolph" time after time.

Apostrophes are salted in where they have no right being, and missing from where they should be. It's so bad that a key word in the title is misspelled, both in the title and throughout the script, yet I have absolutely no idea whether this is intentional or not.

On imbd, the title is correctly spelled, though.

Yeah, it's on imdb. As a film about to go into production. Maybe.

Because this mess of a script is written by a hip, finger-snapping Oscar-winning writer-director. I can't write his name -- I'm probably not even supposed to be alluding to reading this script, which is currently making the rounds -- but you can probably guess who it is.

Let's keep it between us.

A lot of people reading scripts by well-known writers can get into bad writing habits, because well-known writers can get away with things that unknown writers have a harder trouble doing.

Shane Black (who isn't the writer referred to above) can write whatever sort of witty aside he wants in a script, and he gets a pass, though mostly it works because he's such a good writer that it's clear whatever he is doing that he is in firm control of everything on the page. And no one is going to care if he misspells a word or two or thirty -- though he probably won't.

But there's no excuse for sending something out that is in this bad a shape. Especially something that is nominally a spec, that you are trying to get someone to give you a lot of money to make.

Because what the script should be saying to them is: "Yes, this story is different, and it's all over the place tonally, and it's unclear whether the same audience who would like this long, well-written part over here would actually like that incredibly-brutal other part over there. But shit, it's so well-written throughout, so polished and crisp that obviously I can pull it off".

Instead, the message it is giving is: "I couldn't care enough to actually reread this -- or get someone else to reread it -- and I don't have any real explanation why I'm spelling words like that -- but I promise the movie will be good. Really."

Looking beyond the typos and spelling problems, the script isn't bad. It's way overwritten, and certain sections need to be tightened down a lot, and it is all over the place tonally but there is some good stuff here.

(And no, you can't have a copy. I no longer have a copy).

But it's a borderline script, that he's been trying to get someone to greenlight for a while. The perfect example of a script where the writing needs to be spot on, to convince the people with the money that you are in firm, professional control of everything.

Instead, he has given them another reason to say no by having a script that constantly knocks one's brain out of the story by leaving around a forest of poor punctuation and egregious spelling mistakes to trip over and get lost in.

I don't get it. But then again, it's Hollywood.

54 Comments:

At 9:46 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

And if you write the name of the writer or the script in the comments, I'll have to delete your post. So... don't.

 
At 10:54 AM, Blogger Matt said...

I won't mention the name, but it's clear who you're talking about. It is frustrating to read a script like that, but this guy has never really needed to do any better. His other scripts were full of typos and spelling errors and grammatical mistakes and it doesn't seem to matter with him.

Clearly as a new writer, or hell even as an experienced writer, you don't want to copy these bad habits.

Regardless, I am excited as all hell to see this film when/if it gets made. Who are we kidding? Of course it will get made.

 
At 11:22 AM, Blogger Adaddinsane said...

As a magazine editor for 20 years and a book editor for three -- I'd say *everyone* needs an editor.

Luckily I never had to deal with anyone who had "status".

 
At 1:02 PM, Blogger Carlo Conda said...

Could someone email me the name of who this is? I'm missing the clue.

 
At 1:13 PM, Blogger Matt said...

Carlo,

Check your email.

 
At 1:46 PM, Blogger Carlo Conda said...

OUCH that's not pretty. I've never liked him/her anyways.

I've got to get me a copy of this script asap when it's available online.
People will ask, "Why don't you like ____, it's such a good movie! A cult classic, yeah?"

And I'll say, "No, it really wasn't that good. His/her movies tend to appear different AND good, when in reality they are simply different. Nothing more."

Then I'll open my jacket and have his/her scripts lined up.
"Here's proof of his/her excellence."

I like this whole reverse anonymity thing.

 
At 1:57 PM, Blogger Matt said...

He's brilliant. As a writer, and as a director, he's brilliant. Lots of jealousy has always swirled around him, but he has made several of the best movies of the past fifteen years.

 
At 2:00 PM, Blogger Carlo Conda said...

Of course, he's one of those "you love him, or you hate him" writer/directors.

 
At 2:02 PM, Blogger Carlo Conda said...

And many people don't dislike him simply because they are jealous. That's offensive to assume.

It's like when people say many people hate Dane Cook simply because he's popular and we're jealous.
How about we don't think he's funny and we find him annoying, and the fact that he's a hack doesn't help his reputation?

 
At 2:32 PM, Anonymous peter said...

There were bits of the script floating around on the 'net yesterday.

Including the hand written title page.

Scott, that word in the title is a spelling error. It seems that much of what was out there was strewn with these errors.

I heard his very first script, the Sundance hit, was also presented in this manner (and, if I'm not mistaken, it was also entirely written by pen on paper). But the manager who picked him up thought it so strong she signed him on the spot.

And perhaps it was just that strong.

But now I'm wondering if this guy is not an enduring "artist" and instead is a product of his time; that if he came a couple years before he did, or a couple years after, would he have caught on?

I've just found all his stuff that's been produced in this decade exceptionally bloated and boring with a few nice scenes sprinkled throughout.

But a few good scenes does not a movie make.

 
At 2:44 PM, Blogger ehadams23 said...

A related article

 
At 3:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

duped.

 
At 4:12 PM, Blogger Laura Reyna said...

It's not that big of a secret. He's notorious for this... along with a few others things.

A few yrs ago, one of the producers of one of the movies he wrote published a bitchy behind-the-scenes book. It contained a copy of a hand-written note by this writer-director. It was bad. It looked like a brain-damages 8 yr old wrote it.

With each new movie he releases, i'm becoming less & less of a fan. They are becoming longer, stupider & more boring.

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, thanks for the post. It's encouraging to know that even those who have arrived make mistakes on the page. But I am currious how much of a professional this man/woman? How hard is this person trying to make a GREAT script? Sounds like the kind of person who under draft writes. (The more drafts you write the less errors you SHOULD have)

Can't wait to hear what you have to say about the two scripts I mailed you. Two rom/coms. Writing in my favorite genre... You should get them tomorrow.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

 
At 12:00 AM, Blogger Matt said...

Laura

Who the hell cares about his punctuation and ability to spell? How do you know that he doesn't have a learning disability? You don't. I'd take a guess that when it comes to math, or science, or several other subjects you're far from genius level. But hey, it's easier to talk crap about the guy that isn't around. I'm sure people will think I'm rude here, but you're calling a grown man an idiot, basically. Who's the rude one?

Also, his movies haven't gotten, as you so brilliantly put it, "longer, stupider, and more boring". Not in all cases. I checked out your list of favorite movies and anybody that lists Shakespeare in Love as one of their favorite movies has zero credibility, even if some of your other favorites are pretty good.

Shakespeare in Love? REally?

 
At 1:18 AM, Blogger Carlo Conda said...

He's a WRITER. If he cannot WRITE, then I find little reason to see him as a skilled writer.
Seems logical.

 
At 7:34 AM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

Also, it's not that hard to find someone to proofread your stuff before you send it out. He probably has an assistant.

Also, I have no idea who the hell you guys are talking about.

 
At 8:11 AM, Blogger Joshua James said...

i think SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE was a pretty damn good movie.

I think that also about ARMY OF DARKNESS.

and SLACKER. And NORTH BY NORTHWEST.

And a whole lotta more.

I don't think ROADHOUSE was a good move, but for reason I can't help but to watch it again and again, whenever it's on. It draws me. So it may not be good, but it sure it watchable.

I think the writer / director in question has done some really great work and some really non-great work but I don't believe dumping on SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE (produced, ironically enough, by the same company that produced most of the writer / director in question's work) has any bearing on whether or not the fella is a sloppy writer or not.

According to the professional reader, whose blog we all are commenting on, it seems that he is.

 
At 11:29 AM, Blogger maria paola said...

This man has always delivered something special with his movies, so I don't really care about spelling mistakes.
Like you said, it's Hollywood, so for the rest of us a spelling mistake means the producer will drop the script and move to another one with proper spelling, but for this guy we cannot name, it's not going to an issue and as I said, he delivers. He really does and I'm happy he's out there, typing great stuff and spelling mistakes as well.
Peace and keep on writing.

 
At 12:41 PM, Anonymous estes said...

If you're focusing on the spelling and grammar errors, you're missing the point. I haven't loved everything this writer/director has done, but this was an exceptional piece of work. Expertly crafted suspense piece after expertly crafted suspense piece. Vibrant characters. Original. Involving. He might spell like an 8-year-old ESL student, but he more than makes up for it with gobs of natural talent. Should he have had it proofed? Sure. Does it matter? Not in the slightest. It's disheartening that someone who reads for a living can't look past these surface deficiencies and recognize a good story well told.

 
At 1:33 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Well, except for one thing: It's a potentially-good story that's really not very well-told.

Scenes are horribly-overwritten, particularly the opening scene, which should clock in at 4-8 pages and yet somehow stretches out to 17, though there's barely anything that happens.

There are radical tone shifts throughout. The title characters, who should be what the movie is about, briefly appear in the first half, only to disppear for another 40 pages or so until the midpoint.

A tavern scene goes on forever -- in some ways it's a great scene, but we don't need to see them playing a "famous people" game for pages and pages. While since he keeps changing how he refers to the characters (by first name or last) it's confusing who is dying when.

Boiled down, there's really not a huge amount of story here. This is a film that should clock in at about 1:45, well-told. Maybe 110 pages. The extra 55 pages here are all flab.

And I'm a fan of his. Generally.

And again, I know typos mean nothing in the end. But this thing is a mess (and I didn't even have the title page on my copy, and yikes when I saw that).

And one gets the sense that he knows it, but is cocky enough to leave it a mess to show that he doesn't have to care.

He should, though.

 
At 1:34 PM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

Okay guys I know who it is. You can't stop emailing me now.

 
At 1:36 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

And oh, by the way, I did give it a Consider. Because of who he is, and the potential in this script.

So don't doubt me there.

 
At 1:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mayb he do it two create buzz and git a bunch of non-righters taliking, because in his hart he knows hel'l be direkting it hims' self and that story is the mostest improtant thing..

 
At 1:58 PM, Anonymous estes said...

The opening scene "should" be 4-8 pages? Who says? I mean, if we're following Syd Field's rules, sure, okay. The opening J / V chat in PF probably "should" have been less than 9 pages too. But the movie would've been weaker for it. I'm not saying everyone should follow his lead -- I'm sure we've both seen the horrific results of those who try -- but to call the guy out on his spelling misses what's special about his work. It's different, it's non-traditional, it probably shouldn't work, but somehow, it does. Obviously everyone's going to react differently to a piece of material, but if a guy can give me a 17 page scene of two people talking and drinking milk that grips me -- if he can violate almost every "rule" and still tell a roller-coaster of a tale that's surprising, satisfying and -- most importantly -- not boring, I think that's worth celebrating. That said, I'm with you on the "famous people" game. Dude's not perfect.

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger Matt said...

I hate when titular characters disappear for huge lengths of the story... I mean, it's called THE GREAT GATSBY; why am I spending so much time with this Nick guy and the Buchanans?

Having read it, it must have been no fun to cover that script... but for me, as somebody reading for fun, although it slowed down the read, it certainly never hurt my ability to invision a scene... and hey, some of the typos are hilarious (especially the plural of that family name early on).

I kind of liked the drawn out nature of some of the stuff, especially the opening. It had a real Leone-kinda feel in that regard.

 
At 8:14 AM, Anonymous Kevin Lehane said...

Well, I have two chapters so far and I think it's great. I would never allow my own scripts to be so sloppy, but the story is good. I have liked all his scripts, except the last one that flopped.

The content works. The characters are fun. It's very much a typical script of his, and that's just fine with me. And remember, a screenplay is always a work in progress, what matters is the film it becomes. No one will care what shape the spelling and grammar and tone is in if this movies is half as good as his previous work.

 
At 12:25 PM, Blogger Travis Fields said...

And I thought *my* handwriting had gone to Hell from years of emailing.

I've got the script and have yet to read it - if anyone wants it.

 
At 4:25 PM, Blogger madreviewervickie said...

If you could send it to me that'd be great.

 
At 4:26 PM, Blogger madreviewervickie said...

It sucks that he can get away with it. But isn't he dyslexic anyway?

I like him. I'm not gonna fault him for some typos and what not. Hopefully the movie will be amazing. Production starts in October I heard.

 
At 4:54 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

Travis - you know where to find me, right? (not this compuserve address) - send me a copy... or a link.

- Bill

 
At 5:01 PM, Blogger wcmartell said...

PS: Hemingway said writers need a bullshit detector - and that wasn't for other people's bullshit, but their own. A writer needs to stay grounded, and be able to look at their own work objectively. To see their own flaws and correct them. One of the strange issues with this hero-worship that happens with some rabid fans is that they lose their objectivity completly - they can not accept that their hero could write a bad sentence... and they fight to the death with anyone who says something "bad" about their hero - whether it is true or not.

But the very first step to success is to be objective and admit mistakes. To see the bad as well as the good so that you can correct the bad. If you can't be objective about someone else's work, how can you possibly be objective about your own work?

- Bill

 
At 6:46 PM, Blogger Travis Fields said...

I've tracked down you two's emails, but if anyone else wants it, to save me the hassle just email me at calitravATgmailDOTcom

 
At 11:23 PM, Blogger ALLEN said...

excited to read it this week, though im not a huge fan

 
At 1:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't an original idea. lke many of his films, they have been made before as B movies. Once you've worked it out search for it in Wikipedia and you'll see the original film.

 
At 1:46 AM, Anonymous Samantha Carver said...

But dude, that's what makes it so cool!
Correct?

 
At 4:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Download it here: http://tinyurl.com/57oep7

 
At 6:53 PM, Blogger Chris said...

i read it this weekend and i think it shows a couple things that any writer should keep in mind

first, you can get away with a LOT of crap, like replete typos, if you're a director at this person's level

second, you can get away with a LOT of crap, like overwritten dialogue (though i wouldn't recommend testing this theory), if you have a good story at the heart of the script.

despite the LOT of crap that's going on, i kept turning pages. maybe part of that's due to who wrote it, but i usually don't keep turning pages unless the story compels me. through it all, i had no problem seeing how it would all play out onscreen -- which ultimately is the primary function of a screenplay.

it read to me like it would be no different (for better or worse) than any of this person's previous films

 
At 6:57 PM, Blogger Chris said...

oh p.s.

the absolute best part is that the writer makes sure to tack on the

"Written and Directed by . . . "

at the very end. lest we forget he's the auteur!

 
At 7:36 PM, Anonymous yvonnjanae said...

I'm gonna say he's a storyteller moreso than a writer. He tells interesting stories. Perhaps it's like the emporer who had no clothes -- no one has bothered to tell him that his writing is poor. Maybe word will get out this time and he'll hire an editor for his next script.

 
At 3:40 AM, Blogger James said...

"oh p.s.

the absolute best part is that the writer makes sure to tack on the

"Written and Directed by . . . "

at the very end. lest we forget he's the auteur!"

He did that at the end of another script of his. One he didn't direct.

It's just how he works.

Seriously, lighten up people. The typos and misspellings aren't that bad. And they aren't anything new from this writer. It's funny that everyone is so surprised.

Some scenes are over-written, but over-written in a manner that makes them a lot more appealing to an actor. It's not like they go completely off on a tangent. like most of his writing, his diatribes, tend to directly relay character.

You also know they'll shoot everything of the 15+ page opening scene and it will be cut down to under 8 minutes.

And to say nothing happens in those 15 pages -- Scott... Seriously. That scene does a lot of heavy lifting. Time, place, period, sets up the antagonist, language barriers, the mentality of the people that have to endure such a circumstance, and there's mounting tension in it. It basically sets up the stakes for the whole film.

I don't see what the big deal is about.

 
At 9:39 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Everything it sets up is really pretty obvious. Nazis are bad? Really?

 
At 10:08 AM, Blogger VELMA SABINA!!! said...

so, when he started out as an unknown screenwriter with bad spelling and grammar, how the fuck did he land an agent or manager who may have read his scripts and be like, "you have really bad spelling...."

 
At 10:22 AM, Blogger VELMA SABINA!!! said...

WHO THE HELL IS IT?!?!!? Come on, peope, I need to know.

I'm guessing it's a douche-bag whose name starts with Q, but I'm not sure.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger Host said...

Matt, the Great Gatsby is a novel first (and an excellent one, I think), don't forget.

And I think having a character's name in the title doesn't mean a) that this should be the main character or b) that this character needs to be in the majority of the movie. For example: The Wizard of Oz, Kill Bill, Being John Malkovich...

(Although, I'm with Scott -- if very important characters disappear until the writer needs them again, I'm not a happy reader/watcher)

 
At 7:55 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

The bottom line is that writers should have respect for the word and the page.

 
At 6:55 PM, Blogger Travis Fields said...

What really happened:

Mr. Auteur tried to translate his Awesome Auteur-ese into Hollywood-English, just so us rubes would gain one more moment of glorious wonder in a theater - and he failed.

For years, he tried -
and for years, he failed.

People began to post.

And post.

The posters posited that the Auteur had become a Poseur.

Desperate to stop the mocking, Auteur-Man broke Super Villain Syd "The Sandman" Field out of Arkham Asylum for advice -

who droned "the inciting incident goes on page 17" before unleashing his Hiroshima-wave of narcolepsy upon somewhat-innocent citizenry.

Barely escaping with his life in the screaming chaos (thanks to his awakeness-inducing Super Fun Power)

the Auteur failed to realize -

Syd actually said:

"the inciting incident should END on page 17."

 
At 8:59 PM, Anonymous Bob said...

The guy knows how to write a compelling story. Period. I had a hard time putting it down. He's a storyteller. And what I like most about the way he writes is that he doesn't stick to all of the Hollywood, Syd Field BS (BTW Syd has several TV credits from the 1960s along with a story credit for one movie...let that sink in...ONE MOVIE...and he‘s the man who wrote the BIBLE on screenwriting...the guy can‘t even write a successful screenplay for himself...and I mean no disrespect, but I would think that would be a prerequisite for holding the title of Screenwriting Guru).

Thank God for originality...I’ll take it any day of the week and twice on Sundays no matter who it comes from...a one-eyed pirate...a serial misspeller...an ADD afflicted wing nut. I don't care.

What I see written here is jealously. Sad. Petty. Jealously.

 
At 11:04 PM, Anonymous Samantha Dee said...

We can't dislike someone without being jealous? You're doing a top job on being a douchebag, bob.

 
At 5:48 PM, Anonymous Bob said...

Samantha, thank you so much for that little nugget of insight. Your very first sentence was so very revealing: "We can't DISLIKE SOMEONE without being jealous?" I believe that is it word for word. So clearly IT IS personal. Exactly as I had suspected, at least in your case.

And by the way I appreciate the personal attack...I so love the anonymity of the internet...don't you?

Anyway, if you are in fact so impassioned by this subject, as your expletive sling reveals, then I implore you to at least take the time to rebuff my comment with something more original. If not, then I would certainly be gentlemanly enough to accept an apology. All the best...

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger Travis Fields said...

I thought it was obvious I was mocking those who worship Syd Field.

Maybe not.

 
At 3:31 PM, Blogger Carlo Conda said...

So, when people talk about structure in a story, they are automatically talking about Syd Field?

 
At 8:50 PM, Anonymous Hmmm...? said...

I'd like to know why anybody is reading a 160 + page script in the first place--the page count alone should've put it in the shit can.

 
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