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GETTING PERSONAL

Excuse me, your subtext is showing

There's no such thing as a casual read, once a script is involved.

January 26, 2006|T.L. Stanley | Special to The Times

WHEN he says those three words, I freeze like a deer in headlights.

Not "Can we talk?" or even "I heart you," but that most Angeleno query -- "Read my script?"

This situation is fraught with peril. It would be bad enough if a friend coerced you to read that Great American Novel he's been pecking away at for the last millennium. Legions of us have faced this down with varying degrees of aplomb -- and by that I mean the friendship has survived intact depending on our ability to lie convincingly. Unless, of course, you're friends with the next Paul Haggis, and the truth isn't ugly.

When someone you're dating asks that question, it's much more delicate. There's no graceful way out of it. Flat-out refuse, and you'll seem uninterested and unsupportive. Trying to evade the issue is futile.

It's beyond complicated for me. I always wonder if the guy hands over his writing because (a) I'm an entertainment reporter and he mistakenly thinks I have high-powered contacts standing by to snap up his movie rights, (b) he's trying to impress me with his Hemingway-esque prose or (c) he's already tapped out all his readers, including his improv group and the checker at Ralphs.

There's another touchy issue -- he might not realize just how much of himself he's revealing in that script, but I do. Writing gives a peek into the psyche, and that can be a very bad thing. I hold out hope that the subject will be inventive and the story well told, but the reality has been much closer to a bad community college play.

It's hard to hide your feelings when something strikes you as clumsy or cliche, especially if you're a sucker for a wordsmith.

Cases in point: Someone I used to date dropped his script in front of me, and I was too curious not to read it. What appeared was a subtext so sexually deviant and disturbing that I could never go out with him again. Note to self: Listen to the inner creep-o-meter.

Then an acquaintance-turned-date asked me to read a screenplay that he was "polishing" to try to get into an advanced writing class. I'd always seen this guy as a bit beige -- would his writing reveal vision or spice or passion? Maybe he'd poured his heart and soul into the script and left little of that for his everyday life. Maybe a much more attractive guy would emerge.

Sadly, no. When he asked, I picked a few constructive things to say without criticizing. I trod lightly and tried to change the subject, hoping he'd sense that. No such luck. As I became more vague and noncommittal, he blurted out, "Did you find it entertaining -- at all?" Yeah, not seeing him anymore.

RECENTLY, I went out with a guy who has a day job at a big Internet company and makes short films, his real love, on the side. He asked if I would watch a documentary he made. I heard myself say yes. Next came that familiar sense of dread, but it was too late. I took the DVD and tried to adjust my attitude, but I was still visibly flinching a day later when I popped it into the player. I had a death grip on the remote, ready to stop on a dime if the gag reflex kicked in.

Instead, my jaw unclenched and my shoulders relaxed as a quirky little character study unfolded in front of me. It was bright and memorable and kind of charming. Come to think of it, so is he. I felt a wave of relief, and just maybe something more.

*

T.L. Stanley may be reached at weekend@latimes.com.

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