Greg Small is a Hollywood screenwriter and–full disclosure–I’m proud to say he’s also my cousin. After he read my three-part post called “Giving and receiving critiques,” he wrote me an e-mail that makes a perfect companion piece.
I have enjoyed the blog, particularly the entries about constructive criticism. I love constructive criticism, because often, as a Dreamworks executive once said to my partner and me, writers get in the bubble where they can’t see the project objectively anymore. And, for a short while, others who become involved in a project are outside the bubble, but then they too get subsumed inside. So, then, to get any dependable criticism, you have to look elsewhere. The problem is that most criticism sucks.
People seem oblivious to how hard it is to start from nothing and come up with anything and are stunningly terse and presumptuous. Worse, of course, is when people have crappy ideas, which is usually the case, and others in power think they’re right. Then we end up having to rewrite something incorporating the stupid idea, just so the myopic executive can discover how shitty the idea was to begin with.
And of course that doesn’t even include the people who have ulterior motives to torpedo you, which is regrettably not unheard of in Hollywood.
Buuut, when somebody has smart, insightful, well-intended criticism…hallelujah!
Then there’s the other side of the coin, when I’m asked to read something. I hate to admit it, but I really try to avoid it, because it rarely ends well. Most scripts, like most criticism, are crappy. And then you end up trying to offer constructive criticism, but the wannabe writer often believes so vehemently in the greatness of his/her work that they won’t hear it, and often end up pissed at you.
Here’s one of the more memorable, from a guy who started talking to me at the gym, and one thing led to another and suddenly I agreed to read his horror screenplay. It was a horror in more ways than genre. I tried to be patient and give him some pointers, but our contact quickly descended into hell. Here’s an excerpt from his last e-mail to me:
Ok, you obviously didn’t understand it on its strongest levels, though, you pinpointed out some technical things I do appreciate. But I must say, you have a real bad attitude about generalities, and how you percieve [sic]…life. this is what has brought you your bitterness. Try not to have such a quitter mentality and you might get somewhere, but don’t try to project it on me.
Now I rarely read other people’s material. It’s a drag, because I want to. I want to find that gem. I want to be helpful. I did recently read a script by a Trader Joe’s employee who helped me with some heavy stuff to my car, and, there again, it just wasn’t any good. But at least she didn’t threaten me. In fact, she took my criticism in the positive light it was intended, and now is always cheery and appreciative when she sees me in the store.
Whew. In the course of a couple of decades of private editing, I’ve worked with loads of gracious writers–good and bad–but I’ll never forget the handful of bad and angry writers who attacked me for even my gentlest attempts to show them where the problems were.
Here are Cousin Greg’s bio and credits:
Writer/Executive Producer, untitled mini-series (Lifetime Network/SONY TV, 2015); JODI ARIAS: DIRTY LITTLE SECRET (Lifetime, 2013); PLAYING DIRTY (spec sale, 2012, Millennium Ent./Mandalay Pictures); SOMEONE IN THE DARK (spec sale, 2009, Dreamworks/Gavin Polone, Producer); Writer, THE RUN (LightWorkers Media/Arenas Entertainment, principal photography 2015)
And here are a trio of columns he wrote for the Hollywood Journal:
FYI / Independent Bookstores from Coast to Coast
A Capella Books, Atlanta, GA
Country Bookshelf, Bozeman, MT
Talking Leaves Books, Buffalo, NY