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Old 12-19-2012, 04:53 PM   #1
Rhodi
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Default The Ethics of Reading

I am an amateur screenwriter trying the break in to the business. I possess and read in-development scripts. I do so for purely auto-didactic purposes. I do not pass scripts on to others. I do not keep the scripts I read.

I know that there are several members on this board feel strongly that what I am doing is wrong and I am open to their views. I am seeking to initiate a civil discussion with those who feel what I am doing is unethical. I hope that others will consider my views below with the same open-mindedness.

There are two reasons for this post. One, I've noticed that a number of people on this forum and Twitter have recently decried the practice mentioned above, while subsequently subtly admitting to participating in this very practice themselves (I refuse to believe that all those who have read Hidden or Pacific Rim or Passengers were directly involved in those projects).

Two, the goalposts have recently shifted from the ethics of public reviewing (Scriptshadow) to private reading. While I was initially skeptical of the damage a negative review on a minor website could do to a film's development process (you truly have to wonder about the spinal fortitude of an exec scared by the poorly-informed and inconsistent views of an anonymous blogger). Nevertheless, I completely agree that a number of practices engaged in by that particular website are highly questionable and unethical.

It appears that the primary argument for not reading in-development material is that these days plenty of studios release screenplays following the theatrical release of a film. While I do often read this material I believe this is deficient for a number of reasons:

1. The material is often highly sanitized transcript of the released film. Scenes are omitted or added. It includes the input of executives, producers, directors, actors, other writers. Sometimes it is a shooting script, not a spec script. Sometimes it bears little relation whatsoever to the script that sold so we are unable to assess the original material that initially piqued interest.

2. We've already seen the film. I'm not sure about others, but for me reading a script after viewing a film is an entirely different experience. My reaction to the written material is controlled by the Platonic ideal of the film.

3. The material sold four or five years ago. When I started writing screenplays I went back and read some classic screenplays of my favourite films (Sunset Blvd., Casablanca, Citizen Kane etc.). This obviously affected my output as I was often told that I had an "old-fashioned storytelling style" or "they don't make films like this in Hollywood anymore". The primary piece of advice I received from managers and agents was that if you want to write something that sells, read what is selling today.

The secondary argument relates to the accusation of copyright theft. When downloading a film you would otherwise have watched at a cinema or bought from Amazon, the cost of copyright theft is obvious - it is the price of a movie ticket unsold or a DVD unpurchased.

So I ask - what is the tangible cost to the professional screenwriter or the film industry more broadly of an amateur screenwriter downloading and privately reading an in-development screenplay? I would argue that there absolutely no financial cost.

Finally, an argument is often made that should a screenwriter not wish to have their material read by the wider public then they should have their wishes respected. This, to me, is the most compelling argument against privately reading in-development material. However, I also happen to believe this is a minority view amongst screenwriters. Most screenwriters are extremely proud of their work. Most screenwriters wish to promote the craft of screenwriting and the role of screenwriting in the filmmaking process. Most screenwriters (as evidenced by this very board) are happy to go out of their way to help amateurs.

Yesterday, during the Blacklist Twitter Q&A, the following exchange occurred with a member of this year's Blacklist (not naming names):

Q: What are all of your thoughts about your work being circulated/reviewed online without permission? #BlackList2012

A: I think the more circulation the better. If you put something into the world you have to be okay w/where it goes.

This person was subsequently harangued as supporting public reviewing (which, if you actually take the time to read what they wrote, they clearly did not). But I believe generally the principle they expressed is correct. If there is no negative financial cost to private script circulation, and there is a net positive gain to screenwriting education I struggle to see the unethicality of my actions.

I look forward to hearing the views of others.
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Old 12-19-2012, 04:58 PM   #2
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

I don't think it's the reading of in-development scripts that's considered harmful. It's sharing, reviewing and divulging details of unfinished projects that is.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:00 PM   #3
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

I'm actually interested in hearing this debate as well. It's easy to see why Script Shadow or public reviews are a bad idea, but how does my spec being shared on a forum somewhere come back to hurt me somehow? Is it just because I should be able to choose who is reading my script at any given time? I haven't really heard any of the reasons why this is so bad, just a lot of griping that it's done. I'm honestly curious, not taking one side or another.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:19 PM   #4
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

Quote:
Originally Posted by ATB View Post
I don't think it's the reading of in-development scripts that's considered harmful. It's sharing, reviewing and divulging details of unfinished projects that is.
Completely agree with the underlined portion. But without someone "sharing" there is no "reading".

Where did you get Passengers? (not asking for a link, I'm asking what the source was)
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:33 PM   #5
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

To summarize my opinion:

OK:
- writers privately sending scripts to other writers that they know and trust for the purpose of improving their craft.
- reps and people in the industry passing scripts around to inform each other about writing they like.
- any variation of the above or below as long as you have the author and/or owners permission and knowledge.

NOT OK:
- publicly posting a script where anyone can download it without knowing who is reading it and what their purpose is.
- posting first drafts or not the final version of scripts - it's disrespectful and unfair to the original author and might reflect badly on him or the project.
- posting public reviews of scripts being sent out or in production that are negative or reveal plot details, especially if it's not the final draft and especially if you don't have the author or owners permission.
- any variation of the above if the writer/owner doesn't want it to happen.



The author and the owner might not be the same person, so it's an important distinction. And a studio putting millions of dollars into a movie doesn't need a public site revealing the entire plot ahead of time.

Basically it comes down to respecting the author/owners wishes. Get on the wrong side of that and you're never right in my opinion.
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Old 12-19-2012, 05:38 PM   #6
Rhodi
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anagram View Post
OK:
- writers privately sending scripts to other writers that they know and trust for the purpose of improving their craft.
Just to clarify, do you mean the original writer of the script, or writers generally?
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:21 PM   #7
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

I don't think most people object to private script trading. That's been going on for ages, and everyone has done it. The problem is when links get posted publicly. The thing about private trading is, by the time you get to a position where you know people who have these scripts, you've gained some knowledge about the industry. Getting access to the scripts was always a natural part of the process. So you know how to quietly read and analyze and take what you need. The difference now, I think, is that links are being put up so people who don't even know what screenplays really are can read them. And they do. And then it gets reviewed publicly by ignorant people. And that information gets spread to the general public, etc.

So it's the public thing. It's putting them in a place where anyone can get them, whether they truly understand how to read them or not.

But really, it's such a vague line right now that everyone has a different perspective on it. Some things are pretty obviously wrong, like trading a screenplay for a book review. Some things, much less clear.

I think this is a very good topic for discussion, so hopefully we can keep it civil and helpful.
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:32 PM   #8
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anagram View Post
To summarize my opinion:

*SNIP*

Basically it comes down to respecting the author/owners wishes. Get on the wrong side of that and you're never right in my opinion.
Anagram took my answer. Could NOT have said it better myself, in full.
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:52 PM   #9
CColoredClown
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

Great thread, Rhodi!

IMO, it boils down to what you do with the material when it's in your hands. I just read these scripts. I don't publicly review them in great detail and I've definitely never tried to make a name (or money) for myself because I have access to these scripts.
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Old 12-19-2012, 06:58 PM   #10
Rhodi
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Default Re: The Ethics of Reading

Quote:
Originally Posted by Bitter Script Reader View Post
Anagram took my answer. Could NOT have said it better myself, in full.
I'm glad you've entered the discussion, BSR, because I am interested in your views on this.

I actually don't think you and Anagram agree if you read what he wrote. Would it be safe to say that your view on unproduced screenplays is that unless the original writer (or owner) gives their express permission then it is unethical for other writers to read them or pass them on to people they know?
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