Thursday, November 07, 2013


Why do writers get all huffy about their "respect"?

Writing scripts is easy.

You just need a cup of coffee, an idea and something to type it with.

Hell, with today's screenplay formatting software, you don't even need to tinker with the different formatting between dialogue, description, and character names. The writing software does it all for you.

So, even a monkey could write a script, if given a laptop and enough bananas as incentive.



No, actually.

And sadly, I come across this attitude towards writing quite frequently.

I'm not talking about ambition. The idea of someone saying they can do something difficult is very different to declaring that same challenge is easy.

Ambition still implies respect.

Declaring the pursuit of writing as 'easy', on the other hand, is akin to the broadest disrespect for the craft. And it is a craft. You have to sculpt characters, create narrative, bound them together in structure, and, if that wasn't difficult enough, make the reader/audience care enough about the whole endeavour to actually FEEL something at the conclusion of the story.

Noah had an easier job.

And yet, still, the writers are taken for granted.

Take this scenario: do you think, from a sample of 16 million people in the general public, you would be able to source a script good enough to be made into a film?

If your answer is no, what if that same group didn't have to come up with the original idea, just to write the script based on a story idea they are given? Would that change your mind?

Surely, given writing is so easy, someone would have submitted a script of notable quality. A secret enclave of talent was finally discovered?


And I can say that with authority because it has been tried. Recently, in fact.

Paul Verhoeven, the noted director of 'Robocop' and 'Basic Instinct' completed this experiment in his native country of Holland.

The results were, to put it delicately, awful. But I will let Verhoeven speak for himself on the quality of the submissions:

“You know,” he says, “there may well be some talent out there waiting to be found. But frankly – I doubt it...We actually found the whole process a headache. Because no, the public can’t write – not professionally, anyway..."


But that's for a feature film. Perhaps if it were for something more free-flowing, and a little crass, like a 'Simpson's' cartoon? Surely, someone from a large sample of the public could produce a 'Simpson's' script worth making? How much skill does it take to make Homer Simpson look like an ignorant and oafish middle-aged man?

'Without doubt, the most mathematically sophisticated television show in the history of primetime broadcasting is The Simpsons...Al Jean, who worked on the first series and is now executive producer, went to Harvard University to study mathematics at the age of just 16. Others have similarly impressive degrees in maths, a few can even boast PhDs, and Jeff Westbrook resigned from a senior research post at Yale University to write scripts for Homer, Marge and the other residents of Springfield.'


Apparently, the Simpsons is written by mathematical prodigies and geniuses, who have made a career of inserting complex mathematical equations and theorems amongst the numerous witticisms on Evergreen Terrace.

'The first proper episode of the series in 1989 contained numerous mathematical references (including a joke about calculus), while the infamous "Treehouse of Horror VI" episode presents the most intense five minutes of mathematics ever broadcast to a mass audience. Moreover, The Simpsons has even offered viewers an obscure joke about Fermat's last theorem, the most notorious equation in the history of mathematics.'

Maybe this writing business is not as easy as is often suggested?

Perhaps, to be good enough to capture the attention and mindshare of millions of people around the world, writers have to develop a skill level that goes beyond strong coffee and formatting software?

Now, that shouldn't be a deterrent to anyone who wants to write for a living. It just means that, if you are serious about it, you must realise that great writers make it look easy. But it's not.

You have to make mistakes. Develop your skills. Learn the craft.

But learning always starts with acknowledging the skill that we don't yet have and admitting that these gaps need to be bridged. That takes humility.

And it starts with respect.

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