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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

There seem to be so many hack screenwriters, those who just "write on an assembly line," who are getting their works produced -- which is very discouraging to me, who really cares about what I write.  Do you have any advice?

Susan from Kansas

This week's Answer: 

To Hack or not to Hack

Thank you for writing, Susan.  Do you want advice on how to be a hack writer?  Or how to write on an "assembly line"? (which couldn't be that easy, what with all that jostling).

Or are you, Susan, instead, asking me how to adapt to the situation that much of what makes it to the screen (big and small) is not always of the highest quality and appears to be not given a great deal of artistic reverence?

I think what may be your problem -- and I say this with all due respect -- is that you, dear lady, have not made an important decision when it comes to your screenwriting career, one that you might do well to make sooner than later in order to ease your troubled mind.  Sometimes distilling something that appears perturbing down to its native essence (that's not a bad idea for a name of a fragrance, now that I think of it).  Your discomfort may very well stem from a deeper discomfort that is caused because you haven't considered or answered the following question (and let me put it in a classical way):

To hack or not to hack, that is the question.

'Tis not for me to say, nay, never for me to foist such a riddle upon thyself.  For I am but a -- (Sorry.  I forgot to stop speaking in faux Shakespeareanspeak.)  What I mean is that I'm not for or against what you call hack writing or writers.  Remember that these particular scribes are just trying or actually accomplishing making a living by writing (which is not always an easy thing to do).  What I do think is important is for you to try to understand why this aforementioned fact bothers you so much.  Please don't think I'm playing Freud or Jung or trying to get you on the psychiatrist's couch (unless I meet you and I find you inordinately attractive and have a sudden urge to take a long, sleepless and busy "nap" with you), but could there be thoughts, fears, ideas, worries, confusion, etc., that lie hidden in your attention on other writers?  Attention on others has always been a wonderful way for me to avoid putting my attention where it often needs to be:  on myself.  (Don't misconstrue and start putting a lot of attention on me now -- unless you have lots of money or praise or a free car for me and all the other script consultants sitting in the audience with me.)

So, let's get back to that decision I mentioned.  After you've looked into the "to hack or not to hack" question, thought about it, written about it, talked about it, or avoided it altogether as much as possible, then the next step -- when you feel you are really ready -- is to make a choice.  It might present itself like this:

Do I accept the six-figured deal for my commercial and not very artistically gratifying script that really doesn't show the depth and maturity of my screenwriting abilities or do I flatly refuse it?

And demand seven figures.



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