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04/27/2002 - Hack is Whack. Don't Be A Hack

It's easy to sell out; to become so wrapped up in the business of entertainment that "good enough" becomes "good", "bad" becomes "ok", and "awful" turns into "hey, we can sell it". After all my recent de facto promotion of spec sales and streamlined concepts, allow me to momentarily leave behind the cynical crowd and tell you to buck the system as necessary to find the best writer inside.

Yes, perhaps the best way to rake the cash your way is to toss a coloring-book spec into the ring, but many writers win the spec lotto only to disappear into a huge tier of "now-what?" writers, all scavenging for work. A strong premise with so-so development can definitely sell, but will you get hired for rewrites based on that writing sample?

A spec came in earlier this year that had an innovative setting in time and place, but the writer flaked on his characters and plot. It was all lifted from other movies -- not a crime, mind you, as there's nothing wrong with classic plots and character arcs - but the characters were dead inside (the writer even had the cheese to actually reference other movies in his action lines!). Their victories and losses left me numb, especially because the writer didn't even hint at deeper themes that could be fleshed out in studio development. It sold big, but could easily bomb unless a miracle happens in development. And we all know how often creative miracles happen in committee.

It made me mad to read that script, although at least I had the freedom to honestly say that although I hated it I could see it's potential as an epic. It's cool when you see an imperfect but ambitious spec sell. It's not cool when empty writing wins big.

Hollywood is cynical, but the writers at least must be sincere. Maybe that's why writers feel so put upon; they're supposed to consistently regenerate childlike wonder at the keyboard while production execs and agents drown themselves in green tea, Pilates and new cars.

But please try.


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