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Counterpunch

Everybody's Gotta Get Into the Act

June 15, 1998|LEE GOLDBERG and WILLIAM RABKIN | Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin are executive producers of "Diagnosis Murder." Goldberg is also the author of two novels about television, "My Gun Has Bullets" and "Beyond the Beyond."

Screenwriting is like any other profession; the only difference between it and, say, designing airplanes is that everyone thinks they can do it. James Brachman complains that, although he has a degree in writing, it's worthless ("Script Success: It's All Who You Know," Calendar, June 8). Success in this business is all about who you know. Hollywood execs, he laments, don't read resumes.

He's right. They read scripts.

Nowhere in Brachman's article does he give any indication why anyone should buy his scripts except that . . . well, he has a degree and some agent liked his work.

We are so tired of people complaining about not being able to break into the business. Of course, that's easy for us to say, because we have, right? We've written hundreds of hours of television, published novels and are running a show.

And because of that, we get inundated with letters from aspiring writers asking us to be their mentors ("All you have to do is take three 10-minute phone calls a week!"), unsolicited e-mails from complete strangers telling us how their writing is going ("I just finished a really terrific 'Ally McBeal' spec and my writing group says my 'X-Files' is fabulous") and bizarre personal appeals ("When I was 9, I saved a boy's life. What does that tell you about me? I'm an Aries with boundless enthusiasm that I bring to my acting and writing every day!").

Suddenly our families are full of formerly closeted screenwriters, the pool man is a hyphenate and the gardener has a really terrific "NYPD Blue" spec he's just finished. One of us got married, only to have his rabbi pitch him a TV series before the ceremony was over. The other got pitched episode ideas while being examined by his proctologist. Honest. Hard to say "no" under those conditions.

Everyone we meet, it seems, has created a TV series that they just don't have time to write but will be willing to let us run with--just make sure the truckloads of money stop by their houses, too.

And what all these people have in common is that they know they are as good, or better, than any David E. Kelley or Diane English. They know how easy writing really is and that all it takes to succeed is to know someone who already has.

*

The problem is that everyone can write, so everyone thinks screenwriting is easy. The truth is, it's really no different than any other profession. But you don't see people scribbling designs for a new Impala and handing it to their local Chevrolet dealer . . . and then whining that the corrupt old boys' network in Detroit won't listen to them. You wouldn't think of sending your wonderful chicken recipe to Kenny Rogers or your fabulous cuff link concepts to Ralph Lauren.

For some reason, everyone accepts that every other industry requires special skills and training to get in--except the entertainment industry.

We didn't get in because we knew somebody, and neither did most of our friends. Most of us got in the old-fashioned way--writing spec script after spec script until something we wrote got us noticed. Ours was first noticed by a William Morris secretary who wanted to be an agent (and later became ours) and then by the executive producer of "Spenser: For Hire," who picked our script off the slush pile a year after it had been submitted and started shooting it the next week.

Screenwriting isn't an entitlement. It isn't a right. It's a business, like any other business, and the sooner aspiring writers understand that, the less bitter and disappointed they will be.

And we won't be afraid to visit our dentist, who might whip out that "terrific spec 'Manimal' " he's been saving for us.

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