One reader had a very good suggestion that I am trying to follow through on. I’ve mentioned a handful of times that reading scripts has helped me improve as a writer. He asked me if I had a list of scripts that writers should read, and honestly, I don’t. But I should, right? It just makes sense.
So, over the weekend, I spent some time going through all the scripts I’ve covered to compile this list (which, in its current state, is out of hand—I need to pare my choices down), and I discovered I passed on a script called Cover Girl by Gren Wells. This shocked me, because although it’s not without its problems, I have nothing but fond memories of the script. I really enjoyed it—so why did I pass on it? Well: “Without extremely good casting, it’s more likely to end up as a bland, forgettable romantic comedy.”
That’s the problem, right? I read for a company involved in distribution. It’s too late to solve story problems, so I had it repeatedly drilled into my head that if the script won’t make money, I should pass, no matter what. A more optimistic version of myself—not the soulless husk you see before you—would make the argument that a good script trumps everything else. But I’ve seen enough good scripts go bad to know that isn’t true. I’ve also seen enough terrible scripts receive inexplicable praise (Black Swan!) to know that script quality isn’t the only factor at play. It’s probably not even in the top 10.
So I passed. I liked the script, but it wasn’t absolutely perfect enough to try to argue that its quality will trump all other marketing pitfalls. The fact that the script’s refreshingly human, stereotype-free portrayal of gay men is key in making stale rom-com conventions feel fresh and compelling is wonderful for the script but potentially disastrous for its commercial possibilities. A significant portion of the world has little tolerance for “the gays.” A film that posits that gay men are just people—instead of inhuman monsters infested with demons—may have trouble finding an audience.
I don’t like thinking that way. I don’t like thinking about an audience at all. In stark contrast to the prevailing wisdom of Hollywood, I think things like, “Let’s make sure the script is the absolute best it can be, and use the marketing to convince the potential audience it’s not trash.” I live in a fantasy world where people yearn to see great movies and don’t laugh at stale Viagra jokes in Little Fockers trailers.
Reading for distributors beat that sad optimism out of me, because it’s too late to make the script as good as it can be. So if the script can’t get better, and it’s not perfect, and its very premise contains factors that could inhibit its commercial success, I have to pass. Cover Girl is one of a very few that made me feel like a hack for passing. The finished film is probably something I’d enjoy, which is not something I can say about the majority of romantic comedies. Shouldn’t that be enough to argue for at least a “consider”? Not in the distribution world.
On the other hand, I never recommended a piece of shit because I thought it’d sell. I actually got in trouble because I didn’t jizz all over Stephen Gaghan’s Blink script, a flaming turd if ever a turd did flame.
So, even though I’m pretty sure nobody reads this site, I’ll pretend Gren Wells will some day stumble upon my coverage and feel very insulted at the overall harshness of my comments. I liked the script, and I am actually sort of eager to see the finished product if and when it happens. Please accept my humble apology, Ms. Wells. And, if the IMDb is correct and you are doing rewrites on Spy vs. Stu, I hope you can work some magic on it. That’s a story with a ton of potential and disastrous execution. If anyone can save it, it’s you.