In the latest issue of Creative Screenwriting Magazine (Volume 14, Number 4), Jeff Goldsmith wrote a giant 6-page puff piece on Milos Forman and his latest film, Goya’s Ghosts, which Jeff called “a finely told tale of torture and the abuse of power, a story whose sophisticated narrative and memorable characterizations… make it one of this summer’s standout screenplays.”
THIS, a film that scored 30% on the Critic’s Tomatometer. THIS, a movie Richard Roeper said was “Wrong, wrong, wrong, every step of the way.” THIS, a film Matt Zoller Seitz called “an unwieldy mix of political satire and lavish period soap opera.” Even Roger Ebert, whom I love dearly but his reviews have become generous to a fault, admitted in his review, “It's filled with so much melodrama, coincidence and people living their lives against the backdrop of history that Victor Hugo would feel overserved. There are so many dramatic incidents, indeed, that it's hard to figure out who the central figure is supposed to be.” And this was almost everyone’s complaint, the fact that the film’s title character, Goya, was lost in the shuffle and shoved into the background to make way for a subplot involving a Priest named Lorenzo and a girl named Ines, who is wrongfully imprisoned, raped, and tortured as part of the Spanish Inquisition.
My question is this – how does an article like this serve all those aspiring screenwriters out there who are trying so hard to learn the craft? Because this does more to reinforce Goldman’s comment that “nobody knows anything” than provide any semblance of edification for newbies. Almost all of the articles (in both Creative Screenwriting and Script Magazine) about screenwriters whose scripts have been produced and whose films are soon-to-be-released never fail to be mindless puff pieces, because the assumption is that they succeeded because they got a sale and because they got produced.
Just because a script got produced does not mean that they wrote a good script that’s worthy of our time. This is not the measure of success. All things are not equal when it comes to script sales.
It simply isn’t enough to get a sale. You have to master the craft in order stay alive. Would anyone think Milos Forman successful just because his Goya’s Ghosts screenplay (in collaboration Jean-Claude Carriere) got turned into a film? The fact is, even the masters fail from time to time. Magazines like Script and Creative Screenwriting sacrifice intellectual honesty about the craft by foolishly propping up endeavors that fail under the guise of “supporting the writer.”
What’s better for the writer - false praise or intellectual honesty about how something failed?
So where can a screenwriter get fed? For me, personally, I feel more nourished by reading the New York Times Arts Section, Roger Ebert, GreenCine Daily, and all the people on my sidebar.
How about you?