Monday, February 04, 2008

Writers and Bad Attitude Part I: An Axe to Grind

Television writers and bad attitude come together like ugly white tourists and Asian prostitutes. I honestly don’t know of any writer worth admiring who hasn’t got one at some degree (a bad attitude, not a prostitute… most employed television writers don’t have the time to fraternize with after-hours merchandize). Attitude comes with the package, methinks. Any writer worth his salt has raw nerve-endings instead of skin and can quickly smell the manure they throw around the room like fucking wallpaper. That’s where the attitude comes from, dear brethren in the craft.


A funny little word that. Attitude is what they call this thing a writer who stands his ground has. Not courage. Not spunk. Not balls. Attitude. Some of us can hide it better than others. Some of us don’t even understand why we should bother, not when a lot of fucktards who call themselves directors are choking on the crapola pie upon which they seem to entirely subsist. A side-effect of being in love with themselves, apparently.

Of course there are also docile writers out there. I’ve known a few of them and mostly they are good people trying to make a decent living out of a vocation their friends and parents probably told them was the surest path towards starvation. Good people, yes… but I look at these meek creatures as more of craftsmen than writers. The money tells them to make a cart and they make a goddam cart. Exactly what the customer wants and nothing more. Don’t get me wrong, man… I don’t think there’s anything inherently bad in that. It’s a job. We all need to eat and watch movies and buy shit that’ll make us forget how repetitive and meaningless our lives truly are. By being docile these craftsmen are increasing their chances of keeping that job. Producers and directors want the guy who makes a cart when he’s told to make it. They want the bloke who wouldn’t call horseshit for what it is when he sees it. They want the good little elf slaving away at the computer, thankful for the little crumbs of bread they give him from time to time for his pains. They don’t want the grizzled old cunt with a chip on his shoulder the size of a porn star’s erection. A dude like that is too pissed-off to sit meekly on his side of the desk and eat the complementary offal. When a dude like that is told to make a cart he comes back with a gas-guzzling 1968 Corvette Stingray and announces to the room, who gives a flying fuck about your Christing cart? This motherfucker is going to kick your asshole up to the back of your head, man!

I remember I admitted to a producer once that writers are usually a pain in the ass. I was being amiable then. What I failed to tell him was that writers are a pain because we’re fucking pissed off. When an episode becomes a smashing success, everyone praises the director. When it flops on the floor like Mr. Bobbit’s cock, the writer gets lynched. Directors are paid top money as if they actually know how to snatch a story out of thin air and wrestle the accursed beast into scenes. Writers are paid a pittance as if making up shit out of the void is as natural as taking a crap after a particularly nasty burrito. When some hotshot director haggles his talent fee he acts like he’s God’s only begotten son out to save us all from our horrible sins and the everlasting fires of Hell. When a producer offers a writer an insulting rate he genuinely thinks he’s being magnanimous. That’s because Mr. Producer doesn’t really understand what it takes to make something out of nothing. The producer sees the director on the set for a whole day, yelling at people, dictating shots, instructing actors with brains like rancid cheese… he’s doing stuff, by Jove. The producer, who was probably a production assistant at the beginning of his career, knows what it’s like to work on the set. He, along with all the production people who have to sweat it out on location, secretly loathes the writer who makes up hard to shoot scenes that fuck up everyone’s day. Meanwhile, the writer is at home tapping away on his keyboard in what seems to be a leisurely pace. The producer doesn’t see the literally schizophrenic process of assuming the identities of a dozen characters at the same time, assuming them for days on end, thinking of shots even before the director does and disguising them so that Mr. Hotshot Sorsesewannabe doesn’t get insulted… in short, the stuff that happens on a cerebral level.

I once heard someone say that a director is to a television show what a captain is to a ship. Screw that, hombre. It’s bullshit directors would like to make people believe. A ship’s engine is a palpable beast. It’s uncouth and vulgar and immutable. All the engineers have to do is make sure the thing runs. The captain doesn’t have to know how an engine works to successfully bring a craft to port. A television show’s engine is the story. With no one to make stuff happen on paper, the engine isn’t there and the show is just a bunch of production people sitting around comparing the lint they fished out of their navels. I’ll submit a better analogy: the writer is the architect of the building and the director is merely the damn foreman. Narcissistic, self-important, egotistic, and glamorized as the asshole may be, he’s just a guy who orders the gang of laborers around to build what the architect draws. I swear I’ve seen directors screw up entire scenes by ignoring minute details in a script like a turn of a head or an article of clothing. That’s like an entire wall collapsing because some idiotic foreman thought the cornerstone was just a whim of the architect. I’ve frequently seen a director get congratulated by sycophants for a truly clever visual twist that—lo and behold!—was written in the script anyway. There was even this director, one who truly loathed me, who had the temerity to turn towards me with an evil grin and say, thanks for making me look good. I grinned back hoping the venom doesn’t start dripping and no one notices first-degree murder in my eyes.


Okay, here’s the part where I make a disclaimer. From what I said about producers and directors above, you might think I despise them all unconditionally, especially directors. Not at all true. I admire much more directors than I hate. It may surprise you to know that a lot of successful directors are kind and humble, a far cry from stereotype. Also, I don’t think all producers are swine. I’ve known maybe a couple who truly deserve to be fed to hyenas but most of them are pretty okay without the thorny cloak Mammon makes them wear. Writers and producers may be natural adversaries locked in blistering combat in the ancient war between profit and creativity, but after the day is done both want the same thing: for their show to rate. Really, I’ve made more friends than enemies among producers. I’ve engaged in screaming contests with producers during meetings and then ended up laughing over dirty jokes with them over cigarettes later in the day. That might sound strange but really the principle behind it is quite sound: it’s just a job. Toxic as a refreshing glass of cow’s milk from the dairy farms of Chernobyl, true, but a job just the same. Television production is hell on earth and a dude’s got to have Satan’s balls to endure it but if you know where your heart truly lies you’ll be able to survive not having a soul.

Anyway, I believe I’ve ranted enough for your entertainment for today. Let’s finish this some other time. Now before I go forth to let off some steam by kicking random children in the street, let me leave you with a shameless plug. Watch this show or get bent:

Now go bother someone else.

NEXT: Storytime

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