« Canterbury’s Loss | Main | Character Ark »

Stupid Bloggers Need the Most Attention

About a month ago, Ken Levine posted a moronic critique of No Country for Old Men, written by Bob “Back to the Future” Gale. (Some of the nitpicks are reasonable, but the bulk of them are either a side effect of not paying attention or just not understanding what was happening. I don’t understand why people, especially professional writers, found the movie so difficult to follow.) This post isn’t about that.

No, it’s about the comments, many of which fawn over Levine’s incisive and insightful criticism, while failing to realize he didn’t actually write it. From these comments, I found a gem of a blog, somebody who wrote in the comment that she read the screenplay and “didn’t get it.” I thought, “Hmm, that might be interesting.” I clicked on the blog…

…and found pretty much the stupidest analysis of a screenplay I’ve ever seen. I’m not the smartest guy in the world, and I’m often the last person to accuse someone of outright stupidity — hell, even in this case, after examining the full breadth of her posts, I’d chalk it up to a toxic combination of ignorance and naïveté — but her blog post was full of woefully misguided arguments founded on her misunderstanding of certain English words. Quite seriously, this was the problem with her post: even though she admits she understood these confusing passages in the context of the next sentence or two, the Coens’ (or Cohens’, as she repeatedly calls them) are at fault for confusing her momentarily.

I’m not going to link to the blog specifically, but I will post excerpts that will easily trace back to it with a Google search, because I’m that kind of guy.

The windshield stars.

A quick second round pushes part of the windshield in.

“The windshield stars”? As clever as that may sound, it’s confusing. I had to stop a second and re-read the line because I wasn’t sure what it meant. So I was like, huh? Wha…. oooh.

I don’t understand this at all. Has she never read a novel? She’s really gone through her whole life, gotten a Masters in creative writing, and never seen or heard “stars” used as a verb to indicate the unique way windshields shatter? Beyond that, the next sentence makes it very clear. It’s a sudden, surprising — dare I say confusing? — moment in both the screenplay and the film.

Later, she writes:

Part of me wants to chalk that up to style points and get over it. But part of me does not like the way I had to constantly pay close attention to understand what the hell was going on in this script. The story should flow like a story, not feel like an assignment for my college English class.

Here are the flaws in that logic:

  1. She’s a writer, but she doesn’t like a script that requires you to pay attention to the words on the page?
  2. “The story should flow like a story”? Yet the bulk of her criticism revolve around the script being too novelistic in its approach.

Nobody in Hollywood wants to read, so you want to pack as much power into each individual word as you can — that’s where the challenge lies. A screenplay’s a blueprint for something that will appear on the screen, and like a blueprint, everything has to be very carefully planned out — especially for unsold spec writers. For instance, you don’t want to “direct on the page,” so you have to use the power of suggestion — if you write it well enough, the director will take an individual sentence and shoot it in the exact way you want it shot. Those sensitive folks don’t want you doing their job for you, which is why so many newbie spec scripts loaded with camera jargon go nowhere.

It’s also why reading a shooting draft, especially by a writer-director, isn’t the best study tool for an unsold screenwriter. It’s useful in a lot of ways — you can see what they cut out, you can see how they wrote out a particular sequence, how they restructured it in the editing room (for instance, the Point Break screenplay opens with the big robbery/backyard chase, then flashes back — horrible for a movie, but what a great way to open a script) — but you have to learn to ignore endless sluglines marking shots and angles, overuse of the dreaded “we see,” etc. When it’s at the shooting draft stage, all bets are off. It’s been sold, greenlit, and it’s on its way to being made. You can be as lazy as you want.

Or you can be as dense and novelistic as you want. I’ve read several Coen scripts, and they all read that way — slugs are rare and vague, action blocks are loaded with purple prose, often with unfilmable character details that one assumes is there for them to remember while directing. You know why? Because they’re a writing/directing/producing team that has made a shitload of successful movies. At this point, even with the stinky recent legacy of Intolerable Cruelty and The Ladykillers, they could shit out pretty much anything and get a greenlight. They’re the Coens.

So if they write “the windshield stars,” do they really care about Joe or Jane Schmoe seeking the screenplay out online or buying it from one of those scuzzy guys on Hollywood Boulevard who makes his living selling tattered, fifth-generation Xeroxes to wannabes? The Coens understand what they’re writing, one assumes the cast and crew understand it if they realize reading comprehension involves stringing many sentences together to form a greater understanding — so who cares?

This blogger does, and that’s the problem. I started reading forward in her blog, but it took awhile for the obsession to set in. The more she wrote, the more ignorant and irritating she seemed (especially when she started mocking the writing skills of her inner-city students, rather than lamenting the total institutional failure their poor writing represents). I started to wonder, “Has she always been like this, or is she getting a little too hoity-toity now that she’s directed a short film?” So I went back to the archives…

…long story short, this is not a new thing. And after reading obsessively, it occurred to me what her problem is. It’s not just the ignorance and the naïveté coloring her judgment and causing ill-informed, dumbass opinions. It’s the fact that she blames everything and everyone else for anything bad that happens in her life. Since I’ve already belabored the point with the Coens excerpt, I will use that as the example: she didn’t like the script because she doesn’t understand English words and (apparently) has a problem with putting thought into what she reads. Somehow, this is the Coens’ fault.

The entire blog is littered with examples of this blameless attitude. Sometimes it’s justified; more often, it’s just shrill stupidity. But after reading through the archives, it made me wonder:

Do people think the same thing about this blog?

That implies people read it to begin with, but what if they stumbled on me randomly? What if I started commenting on others’ blogs to generate traffic, and before you knew it people were clicking through, reading posts they find stupid, ill-informed, and offensive, and then they go back through the archives and make judgments about my character that are, quite simply, the unvarnished truth?

It’s the way shit goes when you let it all hang out, but I’d hate for someone to jump the wrong conclusion, like if they read a post where I do something nice for somebody and assume I’m not conniving and hateful.

Tags: Bob Gale, Coen Brothers, confusion, Ken Levine, No Country for Old Men, reading, stupid blogger, stupidity, style

Posted by D. B. Bates on March 24, 2008 11:42 AM  |   | Print-Friendly  | Screenwriting Articles

Comments (2)

On March 26, 2008 at 4:24 PM, Gunther P. Sassback wrote...

“I teach high school English in South Central LA and I write film and TV specs while I’m supposed to be grading papers.”

I like to think she is there because she is stupid rather than that she is there to make some kind of difference and save a new generation of young “Doughboys” from having to avenge their dead half-brothers after they are gunned down right after winning their scratch lotto ticket.

“Doughboy: Life would be different if God was a bitch. “

Tru dat, Doughboy… Tru dat.


On March 28, 2008 at 8:16 PM, D. B. Bates wrote...

Did I mention that I just watched Boyz n the Hood a week ago, or is this a creepy coincidence?



Post a Comment