Pardon me, I’m just the writer. What do I know?

Logo: Tales from the ScriptSo, there I was, watching the documentary, “Tales from the Script,” looking forward to learning about the lives of successful Hollywood screenwriters. Suddenly, I noticed their lives seemed a lot like mine.

Hey, advertising copywriters, marketing communications writers, and writers of any sort:  This is a movie for you.

See if any of these writing tidbits from the movie feel familiar. (I wish I could include them all!)

1. “Any jackwad on a street corner will tell you what they thought was wrong…”

Shane Black says this, and then adds, “I don’t go into an operating room and tell a surgeon ‘you used the wrong clamp’…”

But writers and most people in a creative profession are regularly subject to this treatment. The key is to develop a thick skin and keep an open mind.

After all, as Richard Rush says, “there are several right answers to all occasions. It’s ok that people completely disagree—that’s the creative process.”

2. “That was really good, but what we wanted was a buddy film.”

I’m sure when Jose Rivera presented his script then heard this, he was thinking the same thing copywriters often think: Why didn’t you tell me that in the beginning?

To avoid this colossal waste of time, ask a lot of questions. Not just about project specs and not just any question. Dig a little and see if the client has something already in mind. Ask things like:

  • Do you have a plan or ideas on how this will work out?
  • What words stand out to you when thinking of this?
  • What images do you see in your mind when you talk about it?

If your client says something like, “I want something cool or edgy,” find out what cool and edgy means to him.

3.  Know when to defend. Know when to let go.

That pretty much says it all. You can’t be resentful when someone changes your work. (Sometimes hard, I know.) That’s part of the job. You’re not in charge.

Decide when it’s important to speak up, but when it’s not, let it go and move on to your next project.

4. Actors change the words because they speak them, so they can hear what doesn’t work.

Yes, be an actor: Read your writing aloud. Better yet, get someone else to read it to you. If people change your work and it sounds bad, read it to them.

If you want to change someone else’s words, the same holds true. Say it loud, say it proud, and see which version sounds better.

5. Our (writers’) complaints are nothing compared to pipefitters, people working on ships or fighting overseas in military.

I don’t know why Mick Garris chose these professions in this order. I’m not sure he does either. But his point is loaded with truth. As he says, “to bitch about someone making a change to my script is just not worth it.”

And he’s right. (See #3.)

Parting paraphrase (of Joe Forte’s words)

If you define yourself only as a writer and have a bad day as a writer, that’s your whole world. It’s important to remember that you’re a brother or a sister, a mom or a dad, a friend or a mentor. It’s important to have hobbies and other interests that balance you out.

In my own words, when writing of any kind is no longer enjoyable, it’s time to stop. Life is too short, and working hours take up too much of that life to work in misery.


Like what you’ve heard so far? Check out the movie trailer.

I was not paid or even asked to talk about “Tales from the Script.” I watched it because I was interested and wrote about it because it was interesting (I hope you think so).



  1. Christine Marie · June 1, 2010

    The #2 spot reminds me of a show I recently watched. Celebrity Chefs, on Food Network, is about chefs being hired by the richest of the rich for their parties.

    Two chefs come in and ask what the client would like and he says a “rock n roll” menu. Ok, so what did you have in mind? Never actually stating what he wants, just “you know, cool, edgy, rock n roll.”

    Then proceeds to tear apart their choices while sampling the menu they’ve created for him.

    I agree, always get details. Your idea of “rock n roll” can be completely different from someone else’s.

    • ctmarcom · June 2, 2010

      Yep, and rock ‘n’ roll is the perfect example. Would that be Rolling Stones rock? Slayer rock? Bret Michaels rock? I could go on and on, but you know what I’m talking about.

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