A little HONESTY can go a loooong way...

Other than local news, an occasional reality show, a few classic retro shows (TV Land!), and some great stuff on HBO ("Entourage," "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), I’m not much of a television watcher. Life’s far too short to sit numbly in front of one of those things for too long. However, sometimes you just want to veg out, kick back and see what’s on. I usually do this just prior to going to sleep. So, at 4:30 a couple mornings ago (yup, I keep some very odd hours), I caught a showing of “American Idol Rewind.” I’m sure pretty much all of you are in on the “American Idol” phenomenon. I am not. But I sat through 30 minutes of this show the other morning and watched as contestant after contestant did their best to impress Simon, Randy, and Paula. Most of these contestants failed miserably. Some of them sounded like dying yaks, some sounded like air escaping from a balloon, and some sounded like...well, I’m not really sure what they sounded like. Needless to say, I was truly amazed—no, truly appalled—by what I heard. Do these people actually think they have any singing ability? Do they actually think they will be the next American Idol? Yes, sadly, I think most of the really do. This brings me to my word for the day: DELUSIONAL.

For some inexplicable reason, these people are dead certain they have true talent. They think their voice sounds like honey dripping down silk when, in fact, it sounds like corroded metal bolts clanging around in a clothes dryer. They are absolutely convinced they have what it takes to be lauded and praised from Nome, Alaska to Boca Raton, Florida. It’s the same thing with many of the budding screenwriters of the world. A vast majority have little or no talent whatsoever. Sure, most will read the books, take the classes and courses, but when all is said and done, they still won’t have the ability to write a saleable screenplay. To wit...

Today I did a critique on a TV script. After reading a mere few pages, I felt like I was Simon Cowell with one of those dreadful “singers” shrieking into his ears. This was a bad script, folks. Forget about the poor execution and the misspellings, I’m talking about mind-numbingly awful, thoroughly unrealistic scenes where you couldn’t care less what’s happening (or what was about to happen), and dialogue that reads like something ripped from a fifth grade school play (one actually written by fifth graders). I’ll tell ya, when a scene is built upon fart jokes, you know you’re in trouble. (To think this writer actually got the script registered at the WGA. Trust me when I tell you that nobody—and I mean nobody—is gonna steal this script. N-O-B-O-D-Y.) Sadly, this type of writing is the rule and not the exception. But the question I have is: Does this wannabe screenwriter actually think what he’s written is any good? Is he that delusional? Is this the best he can come up with? You might be thinking, “But surely writers improve with each script. The next one might be pretty good.” Actually, that’s not necessarily true.

A couple years ago, over a period of several months, I did three critiques for one writer. The writer got progressively worse with each script. No joke. I've found that a majority of writers’ script attempts start off in the Man, that’s really dreadful category, and after a few years of study and cranking out a handful of scripts, they’ll work their way up to Ouch, that still really sucks category. That’s not much of an improvement. I’m here to tell ya that being a dreadful screenwriter, or any variation thereof, just ain’t gonna cut it in Hollywood, New York, Canada, England...or even Bollywood!

I think back to when I first threw my hat into the screenwriting ring. I spent months on that first script. I was excited by the words I was slapping down on those pages and thrilled with how it was all turning out. But when all was said and done with that first script, I wasn’t satisfied. I just didn’t feel it was ready. Sure, a couple of friends told me they thought it was good stuff, but I knew I wasn’t ready. Not yet. So I wrote another script. That one was definitely better than the first. With what I learned on the second script, I went back and revised that first one. Both of those scripts eventually ended up in a drawer. I just knew they weren’t in any shape to be seen by anyone other than a few close friends. Point is, I didn’t delude myself. I didn’t finish the first draft of that first script and say, “Man, this is one $#&@%$ great script!” No, I was completely honest with myself. I had to be. Everyone in the world can (and will!) lie to you, but you—yes, YOU—have to be honest with yourself.

Still...knowing the humiliation they potentially face, I wonder how many “American Idol” contestants will continue to fool themselves and push forward with their dreams of stardom. I wonder how many budding scribes will keep pushing forward and never write anything of merit. My guess: plenty. So, this means “American Idol” will have its steady stream of atrocious singers searching for stardom, budding screenwriters will keep churning out unmarketable trash (and the WGA will keep collecting those registration fees!), and that’s just the way it’s gonna be. I suppose I have to admire the “never say die” attitude some of these folks have. Oh well.

Write on. Sing on.

My book, Q and A: The Working Screenwriter -- An In-the-Trenches Perspective of Writing Movies in Today's Film Industry, is available at Amazon.com!!


Matt Hader said...

It's like that whole bad breath thing, isn't it?

I don't need a mint, do I?

mark said...

jesus Hader, we've all TOLD you about that open ass breath of yours... a million chinese can't be wrong can they? :)

Great job Jim- double fisted post!

on the American Idol thing and this whole reality craze in general I have been hoping with all my might it is a fad... sadly I think we have entered what historians will one day say is the "Everybody needs their 15 minutes of fame." age. It's sad, really.

On the never say die vs talent portion I can say this is a question I see bouncing around alot on all of your blogs in some form. Man, It's a tough question b/c who's to say enough already to someone, but all you can do as someone with talent is give your unpadded, completely un-sugar coated opinon. Sooner or later the poor bastard will either give up and hopefully try something that can satisfy him in another way; or the lucky untalented prick will land a three pic deal. We'll be blessed with the trilogy of the land of orbiton and their epic struggle between the orbotons and the evil darkness known as baranapuss.


Matt Hader said...

Mentos me, dude!