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Why Screenwriters Deserve Your Pity

The more I learn about the richly textured lives of big-time Hollywood screenwriters, the more I want to stay a trashy little gossip wretch in Murray Hill. Even if you get your screenplay green-lit, the studio will surely change it from a quirky romantic comedy to a superhero prequel in 3D, though the star will inevitably take charge at the last minute and instead make it a futuristic rock musical set in an oil spill. They’ll fire you, hire you back,then kick you out of the premiere party. If they call you for another meeting after it bombs, it’ll only be to pick your brain so they can rip off your ideas and give them to a more “commercial” writer who’ll make that one bomb too. And even if you still manage to make a hit of yourself, like multi-million man Shane Black (Lethal Weapon, The Last Boy Scout), you’ll have to go into hiding for years to avoid the hideous backlash and nagging self doubts that accompanied your whopping paycheck.

No, thank you. I’ll stick to writing about the real-life exploits of celebrities rather than tryto become one by facing down any exec who adds a car chase and potato chips placement to my script about a cancer ward. I’m all the more convinced I chose the right career path after readingTales from the Script (a companion piece to the documentary on DVD), in which 50 screenwriters blab about the joys and horrors of their profession. They blab a lot–-these people really could use an editor—but they do so in trenchant and heartbreaking ways that often underline the fact that screenwriters have fewer rights than gays. (And gay screenwriters? They’re lower than unpaid interns.)

Most poignantly, Bruce Almighty scribes Mark O’ Keefe and Steve Koren remember a security guard vehemently denying them admission to the VIP area at their own premiere. “You have a job tonight because we had an idea once!” Koren shrieked to the guy, but he wouldn’t budge, determined to keep out the riffraff. A higher-upmanaged to sneak them into the area, and it turned out to be practically empty except for Jim Carrey, Will Ferrell, and the woman who trained the urinating dog in the movie. “Wow,” she said on meeting them. “It’s so cool they invited you to this.”

Shocking. Painful. Yet the true artist continues to pound the keypad, aiming for lofty ideas that might actually get produced without the addition of medieval battles on horseback in the middle of Times Square. I wish them luck.  I also wish them klonopin.