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Thursday, April 10, 2008

Getting To The Top of The Pile

Mike Le, a member of the Genre Hacks group on facebook, posted another funny story, which I'm reposting here for all to enjoy. Mike's blog, written as an ongoing comic, can be found here.

Mike writes:

Just before last Christmas break, another unsolicited script landed on my desk. Last thing I needed is more to read during my vacation, especially material that just randomly comes in the mail. I intended to simply pass it along to my assistant so she could tell the writer we don't accept unsolicited material.

But taped to the cover of the script was a $25 Starbucks gift card and a note saying: "Hope you enjoy the script and Merry Christmas!"

Granted, the generous gift will not change the quality of the script -- but it did change my mind about reading it. You gotta admire the moxie. It went straight to the top of my pile.

The next day, I was sitting at LAX waiting to board my plane. I was on the phone with a screenwriter friend of mine, whose comedy script I'm producing -- a comedy set in the world of competitive baton twirling. I'm telling her about the script that came with the $25 Starbucks giftcard, thinking she'd get a kick out of it. Her immediate response was, "You gotta send the gift card back."
"What do you mean?" I reacted.
"Either read the script or don't read the script," she continued, "But you can't accept the gift card. You're setting a nasty precedent."
"It was a Christmas gift," I defended.
"No, it was a bribe."
"I'm not a politician whose salary is paid by your tax dollars. It's not illegal to bribe me. In fact, I encourage it."
She didn't find my joke very humorous, awkward silence on the phone.
"Okay, okay," I said, "Let's put it this way -- this writer who submitted the script is an outsider looking in, she's not repped, she has no industry contacts, and she is sending her material to a company that doesn't accept unsolicited material. She is doing whatever humanly possible to get read -- so she used the holiday occasion to thinly disguise a bribe as a gift to appeal to my sense of materialism. Can't that kind of cleverness from a writer be appreciated?" I wanted to use the word "rewarded" instead, but decided to step cautiously.
"No," she flated responded. "It's so transparent on her part, and morally reprehensible on yours. She might as well have sent you cash."
"What if she baked me cookies?"
"That's fine."
"But what if baking cookies would have cost her more than $25? It's more convenient to just go to Starbucks and get a giftcard. She probably saved more time doing that, thus allowing her more time to write."
"You're reaching," my friend said. "I know I'm sounding like your moral compass right now, but I feel strongly about this. And I'm shocked someone such as you, who's a writer first, would be so flippant about it."
"Alright fine, let's say I do read the script and give her feedback. That means this writer is only paying $25 for professional coverage. Most pro coverage runs in the hundreds. Isn't that charity on my part?"
"Not at all," she said. "It's more of an insult to you. It's cheap. Your time is worth more than that. Read it because you want to read it, because it's your job and because it's the thing you claim you love doing. Don't read it because someone sold you on a gimmick."
I was silent, contemplating. "You're making me feel guilty," I said.
"That's my job," she responded, "And that's what I love doing."
We hang up and her words weighed heavily on me. I was going to send the gift card back.

On the plane, I decided to read the script anyways. It was okay, not great. But there was something very interesting about it that made me call my screenwriter friend as soon as I landed. "I read the script," I said into the phone.
"How is it?" My writer friend asked.
"I'm passing."
"You're sending the gift card back, right?"
"Remember when we sent your script to Ben Stiller's company?"
"Yeah, so?"
"And we sent an actual baton with the script? As a gimmick, right? For our project to stand out amongst their stacks of considers?"
"And?"
"So it was okay for Ben Stiller to accept the gift, right?"
"Yeah, because it's a natural extention of the story. What's your point?"
"Well, this script I just read is a musical set in a Starbucks."
Silence on her end.
"I can keep the giftcard, right?"
She grumbled, "Enjoy your vacation." I could tell by her tone she conceded but didn't want to admit she was wrong.

It was a good vacation. I spent most of it writing in a Starbucks.

By Mike Le