A Script Is Not A Movie (And Other Reasons Why You Shouldn't Visit Script Review Sites)

The internet is a big open source party and I'm a proud user, abuser and contributor.  I'll read a bit of this, watch a bit of that, tolerate your ads and your pop-ups for the right porn, the best reviews of restaurants, the coolest recaps of shows I never plan on watching.  When I feel crappy I google "My So Called Life" and watch bits on YouTube until Angela Chase and Rayanne Graff have proven their aggregate problems are bigger than my little temper tantrum.

So with all that use and abuse why do I have a problem with Script Shadow?  For those who don't know, and because I will not link to him, Script Shadow is a website that is run by a guy using the moniker Carson Reeves.  He reviews screenplays before the movie comes out.  Hell, he reviews them before they go to the producers or studio.  He posts the scripts in their entirety and then reviews them using a version of what studio readers use when they read for money.

First, we all know how he gets them.  Here's the best explanation:

We like to be in the know in this town. Even more than in DC. The trading of information, no matter how ill-gotten is the coin of the realm.  Interns use it to become assistants, assistants use it to become Creative Execs, etc. etc.  So a bunch of people who want/need to move up are sending Carson scripts he shouldn't have.

But here and now in the world of Geek-dom where we read the scriptment for Avatar and spend pages on boards talking about it, why does it matter that Carson reviews and posts scripts before they are movies?  Don't audiences have a right to see inside the process?  Shouldn't you be able to read a script and watch a movie and talk about it with your friends?

Because really, what are we Hollywood types hiding?

Honestly?  A lot of things.  A script in active development is not a blueprint for a movie, it is an archeological footprint of the development process itself.  It reflects a writers reaction to producers, her input from her agent but not her manager, his notes that get the lead actor attached, the draft that costs $30 million more than any studio would spend, the version that attracts foreign sales agents.  A draft is just a draft, a living creature caught in a freeze frame.  Every time we send one out we think of a million things that could be different.  They aren't meant to tell the story the way a movie is meant to tell a story.  Not even close.

Frankly, most people shouldn't read screenplays. They shouldn't review them.  They certainly shouldn't post them without first checking with the author.  

And they aren't Carson's to post.  They belong to either the writer (if they are a spec) or the studio who hired the writer.

And when a script gets out there and gets reviewed, most fanboys and fangirls think that the process of voluminous feedback (aka "the comment section") helps.  It doesn't help.  We love fans.  We love having fans.  But the plain truth is that scripts aren't for fans.  They are for us.  They are a way of getting a story you will love a little closer to the multiplex.  When a script is out there and reviewed it can actually stop a movie from getting made. So the story you claim to love now is in turnaround and that writer didn't get a chance to do a thing about it.

Let me make a big freaking jump here.  You take a picture of your kid pretending to drink a beer.  You send it to your sister in Tulsa who thinks it is hysterical.  She sends it to her friend.  The friend posts it on a website.  You get a call from Child Protective Services. You're pissed, right?  Because something private has now become something public and something damaging.  So now instead of taking the kid to Mommy and Me, you're fighting to prove you're a good mom to people who have no idea what the photo was in the first place.

Now of course scripts aren't kids.  But they are a livelihood.  And when they get posted and reviewed they become less viable as movies.  You're screwing over the thing you say you love when you visit that site and trash the script.  And you know how I know?  Because movies haven't become better since the internet started publishing screenplays. 

Here's the other thing.  Writers talk about this.  A lot.  We feel angry and helpless and pretty screwed over by the sense of entitlement that triggers screenplay review and publishing sites.  And we get defensive.  We want to write mean things about the people who are mean to us, and we get angry at Carson Reeves and his website for feeding the internet more material.  If you bring up this site in a room full of writers people have opinions.  One writer friend (who has dealt with having a not for distribution draft posted on Script Shadow) said this:

Sending a screenplay into the marketplace is a delicate endeavor. You're dealing with timid buyers who are looking for any reason to say no and who are highly susceptible to outside influence. Timing and momentum are everything. As soon as one studio passes, your chances of a sale start rapidly deteriorating. So who would want a third party like ScriptShadow, who has nothing at stake, to play any role in that process? Even if a bad review from ScriptShadow doesn't kill a sale, or weaken the writer's negotiating leverage, the question remains, who is it benefiting? 

Fans will tell you it benefits fans.  Because they get to see how the movie gets made and they love that.  But I think there's a bigger picture here, and one we have to address as fans and creators of content.  We want to entertain the viewers.  We want to entertain each other.  And when fans get scripts before writers are ready to show the script, our ability to entertain is diminished.  And as we become less and less able to entertain, fans become more and more jaded about the entertainment provided.  Its a vicious circle.  And while it is a blast to be in the know, to read a script before it is a movie, to rip a writer apart when you think you could do better, it isn't getting us anywhere in terms of protecting our beloved stories.

Carson will tell you that he deletes the script as soon as he is asked by the writer.  But the review stands.  And the script is out there; the second it gets posted the toothpaste is out of the tube.

I'm hoping that people who run sites like ScriptShadow stop.  I know they won't.  But I have to implore everyone I know to do the right thing: ignore those sites and stop reading them.  Tell your friends.  The only way to win is not to play. 

(these views aren't necessarily the views of every GeekWeek contributor.  Which will be self evident when they comment)

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