Sunday, October 29, 2006

Joe Esterhaus action figure

Was at a newsstand last night and happened to glance through Scr(i)pt Magazine. One feature in particular caught my eye. I think it was called NEW VOICES. They must’ve selected the three most pretentious new writers who were lucky enough to sell a script and profile them.

Each answered a series of questions. What writing quirks did they have? One had to write when the sun was down (and I assume could not have a cross in the room) . Another couldn’t work unless he played a song that fit the mood of the scene he was working on. What? No deprivation tanks or a Joe Esterhaus action figure in your pants???

For upcoming projects most were just rewriting their current project or putting together exciting new things (i.e. they had nothing). One said he was trying to attract actors for his “amazing must-read other screenplays.” As Woody Allen said in ANNIE HALL, “what I wouldn’t give for a large sock of horse manure.”

Finally, they had the audacity to give advice to writers – based on their eleven minutes in the business. That’s like Kellie Pickler giving a master class in singing.

One rookie scribe offered that writing is a marathon not a sprint. (Gee, never heard THAT one before). Another said writing was a mountain not a plateau and that writers had to continue to strive to learn. Which Learning Annex Writing Seminar teaches clich├ęs?


If I may offer some advice, and granted I’m not a hot new voice – I would suggest that writing is a very humbling exercise. And the minute you think you’ve got it down, the instant you think you’re the “Prince of the City” – BAM!!! You are in for a fall. A BIG fall. I would love to read a follow up on these three guys in five years… after they’ve been rewritten, had four “amazing must-read” specs that didn’t sell, done the tenth rewrite of the sizzling screenplay they sold last month, and applied for a teaching position at a middle school.

If you’re an aspiring writer and do sell your first script. Congratulations. That’s fabulous. Enjoy it. But instead of viewing it as validation of your own brilliance, appreciate that this is just the start and your longevity will depend on your continuing to grow, luck, relationships, and keeping some perspective.

I guess I can kiss goodbye any feature article about myself in Scr(i)pt Magazine. Oh well, writing is a mountain not a plateau.


Anonymous said...

The blame blade should be pointed at scr(i)pt editors, no?

the young writers did not have the audacity to give advice, someone asked them for it. My guess if that if someone asked you for such a column a few years ago you wouldnt turn them down.

otherwise, great site.

Anonymous said...

Hi ken

Now that you mentioned Joe Esterhaz..I am really curious to know what you think of his ability as a writer. I enjoyed Basic Instinct, and Jagged Edge, and I even read the original scripts and found them visceral, page turning, and chock full of guilty pleasure.

what do you think, ken?
is he over hyped?

Riddley Walker said...

I've been in the business for over thirty-five seconds and I'm going to tell you all the secrets of screenwriti... [muffled sounds of a struggle, followed by a large croquet mallet being applied to my temple].

Ah yes, where were we again? ;-)

Good post, Ken.

odocoileus said...

The scr(i)pt article is a "Playmate Data Sheet" for screenwriters. The blowup blonde of the month tells us all about her "Turn-Ons", "Turn-Offs", and "What Characteristics Do You Find Sexy In Men".

Wish fulfillment at both ends. In a couple of years the blonde is back to dishing hot wings at Hooters, and the writers are back to recommending movies at Blockbuster. But telling the truth about that wouldn't sell magazines or Final Draft.

By Ken Levine said...


If I were in that position I would say I'm just happy that I can now spend my days writing and not at my previous non-writing job. And for advice to young writers I'd say find a guy named David Isaacs and partner with him.

Anonymous said...

Along with Neil Gaiman's and Teresa Nielsen Hayden's this is the third blog I've read today that made a really good point about how hard writing is and how it's worth it.

Anonymous said...


why do you think the 'young writers) don't have the audacity to give advice? Are you one of the three?

I was at a breakfast for the semi-finalist writers at the Austin Film Festival (2003). One of the semi-finalist was telling his table he hadn't seen any good screenplays in the competition - 'cept his, of course. He noticed me looking at him, tried to apologize ...till I agreed with him - there really weren't ANY good ones.

Mustang Bobby said...

Actually, these young writers are pretty good at writing cliches that they think are original...

the third coast said...

"I would suggest that writing is a very humbling exercise. And the minute you think you’ve got it down, the instant you think you’re the “Prince of the City” – BAM!!! You are in for a fall. A BIG fall."
... [and] "your longevity will depend on your continuing to grow, luck, relationships, and keeping some perspective."

Wow. This reinforces my own suspicions that, aside from talent (not to minimize talent), persistence, humility, and the ability to cope with a semi-regular diet of disappointment are essential ingredients in writing for TV and movies. While my persistence and work ethic can hold their own against those of practically anyone I know, whether I will have the mental/emotional toughness to pick myself up repeatedly after rejections and setbacks remains to be seen.

I know some extraordinarly talented people who decided to take a different path (while keeping a foot in the business) precisely because it can be so demoralizing. What I find interesting is to hear someone with your kind of long-term success acknowledge that potentially demoralizing setbacks never go away.

Thanks, Ken.

Anonymous said...

Usually a fan of this blog, but I was put off by this particular post.

Selling a script is a huge deal when you're an aspiring and unknown writer, and I say let them enjoy it.

I'm sure there will be plenty of humbling experiences just around the corner for them.

"Eleven minutes in the business" is nothing to snort at when you're just trying to break in, and I imagine they thought they were giving advice to writers who have yet to have success-- which is really Script mag's audience.

Sure there were some clunky cliches thrown about, but ultimately the advice Ken is mocking is not that different from that which he's giving.

Rookie scribe advice: "writing is a marathon not a sprint."

Ken advice: "appreciate that this is just the start"

Rookie scribe advice: "writing is a mountain not a plateau" and "writers need to continue to strive to learn"

Ken advice: "the minute you think you’ve got it down... You are in for a fall." and "your longevity will depend on your continuing to grow..."

There are plenty of pretentious writers out there who've been in the business a lot longer with a lot more success than these three. I'd rather Ken take shots at them.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of pretentious writers out there who've been in the business a lot longer with a lot more success than these three. I'd rather Ken take shots at them.

I think he has already.

Anonymous said...

The format may have changed, but the roll of the court jester is still the same. He is just payed better today.

By Ken Levine said...


I DID say those who sell their first script should be congratulated and should enjoy the experience. I'm just cautioning those who take themselves too seriously.

It's a trap when success comes to think this is how it will always be. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

I've published two boks, and my advice to young writers is, don't listen to anything I say, including this.

Anonymous said...

BOOKS, they were BOOKS.
All my boks are unpublished!

Anonymous said...

Preach it, Ken!

Oa Rove said...

Hi Ken,

Speaking of young writers and the special little world of self-regard they create, thought you might enjoy this story. The writer/journalist Ron Rosenbaum was in town a few weeks ago promoting his new book The Shakespeare Wars and made an appearance at the local state university campus. During the Q&A, one student prefaced a question with, "Like myself, Shakespeare was a playwright and actor..." I'm happy to say that Rosenbaum essentially laughed in his face, adding, "I'm glad you were willing to put yourself and Shakespeare on equal footing." Of course, to all appearances, the student remained oblivious to what he might have done wrong. But it was priceless.

Anonymous said...


Well, I certainly wouldn't argue with that.

Thanks for the always interesting site.

Milehimama @ Mama Says said...

And here I thought that writing was a journey that began with a single step... no wonder I have problems sometimes.
I've always thought of writing as that dream people have of showing up at school in their underwear, except they actually do it. And then the readers point out the holes in the undies, and maybe some cellulite. So the writer goes on a diet. Does some reading, some exercises, some rewriting. Changes their diet - less Tarantino, more Mamet. Maybe they stop by Victoria's Secret for an analysis, and hopefully don't pay too much. Eventually they show up in their skivvies, completely vulnerable, and no one laughs. They might even get paid.

Anonymous said...

Maybe in the next issue they can interview aspiring screenwriters about how Hollywood just doesn't get them.

Oh, and let David Isaacs find me. I did just finish my first screenplay, you know. I have the world by the balls.

Anonymous said...

Good point Ken and well taken, god knows screen writing is a humiliating grueling process. What I cannot figure out and I have written two and starting on another is how do you find an agent or get past the cache-22 no unsolicited material?
This is compounded by not being related or able to network into agencies that ts but even in a coal mine there migseem to be based on all those personal isms that are such a pain when you have none to utilize. That and a none CA area code.
So apart from humor, any good advice, apart from the old keep trying.
(Already know that one)

Sandi said...

You need to do a follow-up post of 'Where Are They Now'?