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Published:November 30th, 2005 05:07 EST
Writers Blocked

Writers Blocked

By Sean Stubblefield

Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon is quoted as saying that 90% of anything is crud. Usually, that maxim describes a phenomenon that occurs naturally, as a matter of course. But Hollywood " through its administrative actions and inaction " actually facilitates and contributes to this prevalence of crud in movies and TV, through their screening process for receiving and considering screenplays. This largely explains why a great many of the films and television shows produced are crap. This, and the economic necessities " of the profit motive and catering to the lowest common denominator but that`s another issue, which I won`t delve into here.

For now, let us directly address a very important and substantially significant problem Hollywood " due to laziness, stubbornness, ignorance, idiocy, bewilderment or any combination-- refuses to deal with and correct: The fact that Hollywood has setup an elaborate and complicated mechanism " by means both deliberate and negligent " designed to prevent screenwriters from gaining access to a producer, to present screenplays (aka- scripts).

Such a thing seems rather illogical, counter intuitive, and counter productive. One would think that a producer would be interested and eager to receive new screenplays " particularly good ones. Ironically, what Hollywood means to avoid by implementing this barricade " the influx of crap-- is exactly what they ultimately, although inadvertently, enable with their grossly flawed and woefully inadequate filtering system. While it does indeed serve to keep a large portion of crap out, it also keeps a large portion of the good stuff out--- paradoxically guaranteeing that mostly crap is what gets in.

A friend of mine, one of a multitude suffering the travails of an aspiring screenplay writer, eloquently illustrated the problem, with this apt analogy:

Imagine an enormous dam holding back a torrential flood. But then there`s that little muddy, slime covered spillway that trickles through unabated. That spillway is what all the so-called creative people in Hollywood are gathered around. Each one sifting through the brown, foul smelling run-off looking for a soft nugget to smear on a theater (or television) screen. "

Occasionally, if they`re lucky " the writers and the producers, something good just happens to slip through the hole and gets noticed.

There is, however, a rational and appropriately practical reason for the existence of this screening system... which is based on the afore mentioned Sturgeon`s Law, and unfortunately is commonly applied to the point of wasteful, thoughtless excess and exaggeration.

That reason, I am told, is this: approximately 50,000 screenplays are registered with the Writer`s Guild of America each year, and about twice that amount are written, but not registered. Combine the sheer number of screenplays with the crud maxim and it is not only logistically impossible for producers and their staff to examine every screenplay submitted, it`s also highly undesirable. A perfectly reasonable and understandable explanation " up to a point. What it fails to explain is why Hollywood doesn`t acknowledge that their system is severely problematic and inefficient, and then seek to do something to revise it into a more accommodating and productive form.

Why does Hollywood continue to allow a screening process that clearly and essentially works against both them and the writers? Especially the writers.

No, really. Why? That`s not a rhetorical question. I have no definitive answer to provide.

Aspiring screenplay writers are often frustrated and discouraged to realize that the door to Hollywood producers is bizarrely and brazenly closed to them; the writer`s work will not be granted an audience with the Great and Powerful OZ that is Hollywood.

Well, not very likely by going through the proper " official " channels, anyway.

Here-in lies the loophole of a key for bypassing the rudely obstructive screening process used in Hollywood the fundamental obscenity in this comedic tragedy. Pay close attention. As a screenplay writer, unless you know (and befriend " that`s a key element) someone on the inside, or know someone who knows someone, etc, you are effectively stuck " literally and figuratively " on the outside. Otherwise, lacking some kind of notoriety or celebrity reputation, you have virtually no chance of getting your screenplay even read by a producer, much less bought and produced. Networking and developing contacts might be the most " maybe even the only " successful method practically available for an aspiring screenwriter to pursue, at least initially. Identify and meet someone associated with or somehow connected to a producer who is willing to vouch for you, someone who could assist in introducing you/ your work to a producer (possibly through some six degrees of Kevin Bacon scenario). This, alas, may become the paramount and principle task of a screenplay writer--- dedicating more time, effort and resources to this negotiation and political maneuvering than actually practicing the craft. And all that`s just to get a foot in the door. But first you must manage to convince that person to like and trust you and/ or your work, persuade them to want to do you a favor by helping to convey you and your screenplay to a producer.

The producer who, if-- by the divine grace of God-- you actually attain an opportunity to pitch your screenplay to in person, you must then succeed in convincing to like you and/ or your idea enough to want to buy it. That`s the real trick. You have to run through some demented, perverse gauntlet to prove " yourself worthy, which has more to do with your schmoozing skills than your ability to write screenplays.

While keeping in mind that no amount of networking will do you any good, and indeed will be for naught, if you don`t have a decent screenplay to show when you reach the end of the wretched maze of insanity.

Assuming you aren`t annoyed into giving up because of all the ridiculous hassles blocking your way, you are forced by circumstance to either hope your work miraculously falls through the cracks in the system, or trundle through an obstacle course. A producer`s drinking buddy, college drop-out nephew, assistant`s kid, or girlfriend`s cousin`s friend`s waitress (who really wants to be an actor) " who may have no training, passion or skill as a writer-- has first dibs and a better shot at getting a screenplay seen than a writer attempting to make a career, and maybe struggling in vain for years to get attention. There`s a sad commentary on the screening system.

Many of the scripts getting read and accepted by producers are not necessarily the ones that are exceptionally good, but are merely the ones that get through the blockade, and may only be just good enough ". Most of the good scripts are inevitably lost in, and obscured by, the crowd. Ironically, Hollywood`s feeble attempt to be discriminating in its selection process has instead become quite conversely indiscriminant in its laisezz-faire attitude and approach.

One of the inside contacts could be an accredited agent, if you are lucky enough to find one willing to take time and a chance to promote you, the supposition being that an agent lends credibility to a writer and his/ her work. An agent indicates to a producer that the writer is legitimate, talented ", has something potentially useful to offer and is basically not wasting the producer`s limited time. Hollywood is a business, and time is money. But accomplishing this task is almost as Herculean as trying to go straight to a producer. Therefore, your screenplay will probably never be seen by a producer, and thus never produced. Never considered, never even given a chance for consideration.

Although, there is the equally improbable option of having a screenplay financed by an independent producer.

You may have written one of the greatest stories ever, but the world will never know, never get to see it, because Hollywood couldn`t be bothered to answer the door when you knock. Not only is that the writer`s loss, but the studio`s loss as well, and furthermore the world`s loss. Hollywood, through its negligent ineptitude, has " yet again-- denied the creation the existence of a good story.

The defective logic " in Hollywood seems to be a general assumption that a truly talented and determined writer will manage to find a way in, despite all the ludicrous impediments thrown in his or her path. More probable is that this habit, this mentality, will only succeed in keeping most of the really talented and determined writers at bay, even causing them to eventually give up the exercise in futility and move on to other things. What a waste.

In light of all this foolishness, it`s no wonder why so many bad and mediocre movies and TV shows are produced, and relatively so few good ones. Production studios simply don`t have much to work with. And it`s their own fault, for being so obstinate.

Granted, I concede that such entry should not exactly be easy, so that not just any " person with a screenplay could gain access to a producer.

Yet it should also not be so exceedingly difficult, convoluted and prohibitive as it currently is. Writing well should be the challenge and criteria, not getting noticed by someone who can bring your story to life, and to the public.

It makes no kind of sense that Hollywood, who thrives on putting good stories on screen, would not actively look for and foster new and beginning writers in order to increase the chances of obtaining good stories. They are making it necessary for writers to fight, contrive and connive their way in surreptitiously. There ought to be a process in place that helps attract, locate, induct, guide and cultivate the talent of extraordinary new and un(der)utilized writers, simultaneously weeding out the mediocre and untalented.

If not, then we are ensured that the majority of material produced in Hollywood is, and will continue to be, the proliferation and perpetuation of more crap. As it is now, Hollywood apparently avoids devising or providing a system that seeks to discover and encourage good material and good writers; inexplicably settling, instead, on a deficient system of barriers that merely blocks access to prospective writers. I think it is seriously an unfortunate shame that there are so many talented writers being ignored and overlooked in Hollywood, while so many terrible scripts are made into awful movies and TV series.

To all Hollywood producers, on behalf of all screenplay writers, I recommend " no, I implore-- you try being more cooperative and establish a path for writers with talent but no contacts or celebrity status. Please help them, help you.

My sources shall remain anonymous, at their request, for their protection