Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I Saw What You Stole Last Summer

I was cleaning out my emails and ran across one I saved to blog about regarding a screenplay I reluctantly agreed to read a few weeks ago. This month has been insanely busy and I had all but forgotten this little adventure.

The screenplay was written by the friend of a casual acquaintance (who is now no acquaintance whatsoever and you're about to see why). I don't read many amateur scripts because (1) I am an amateur (2) I don't have Tour d' France input -- I'm on a bicycle with training wheels, and (3) my limited reading time is better spent on novels, produced screenplays, noteworthy blogs and an occasional bathroom wall. (people, please use Sharpies, I can't read those skinny ball point numbers without getting closer than is sanitary)

The casual acquaintance said this "author" needed some feedback and she was recruiting people to give it to him because he didn't know anyone else. The word "author", in this instance, means would-be boyfriend she was trying to score points with. But he's clever, she assured me, tells great stories, and has a quick wit. She loved his script. Would I help? Fine, I bit. I must admit that I was a little flattered to be considered knowledgeable enough to help. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid ego!

A few pages into the script, I knew I had made a terrible mistake. There was nothing positive, and I do mean NOTHING, I could say about this screenplay except that it was positively terrible -- dozens of misspelled words in the first pages, poor grammar, helter skelter dialogue, and no comprehension of story elements. It was a mess. No professional reader would have gone past page one. But, out of obligation and after a shot of tequila, I kept reading. Please don't give me that "you can always find something constructive to say" baloney because, I'm very sorry to say, that is simply not true in every case.

Then I saw a line of dialogue that I recognized. I spewed my second shot of tequila all over my monitor and then emailed the guy.

The line was mine.

How did he get that line? Why would he steal dialogue from an unproduced nobody? I gave him the opportunity to say it was a joke, a spoof, or placeholder dialogue until he thought of something better. It took several emails but I finally collected all the sordid details.

This guy never reads. Never. He plays in a fairly successful garage band by which he earns a modest living. He doesn't even read music. He plays by ear. He gets online now and then to IM and email his friends but never picks up a book, magazine, newspaper, or anything that doesn't have cartoons in it. Why in the Sam Hill would he want to write? Because his potential girlfriend knows people and it would be good for his band. Oh, good grief!

He'd always wanted to write, he also claimed, but he "can't think up stuff for people to say" so his friend emailed him some screenplays to read including one of mine that she had exchanged with me for feedback last year during my brief participation in a well known screenwriter's forum. (Argh. I knew I shouldn't have posted on that site) She had told him to familiarize himself with dialogue. She didn't tell him to shop for lines. But, he figured scanning other screenplays for dialogue was easier than writing it himself so he took random lines from several unproduced nobodies and put them all together in a big melting pot of plagiarism.

He stole lines and then emailed evidence of his theft to one of the people he stole from? Please, where are the stupid criminal cameras when you need them?

Rather than restate my position on the increasing illiteracy of society, I'll just point to my 2004 Wordplay post where I rant about the decline of the written word in lieu of video games and DVD's and the dismal future of generations who don't read.

As for that plagiarist, I fabricated a story about a scornful screenwriter who once enacted a Lorena Bobbitt form of retaliation on a guy who stole her lines. Then I gave him notice that, as a warning to other screenwriters about passing their own and other writers' work around, I would be commenting about his theft on my blog.

"Cool," he said, "nobody I know would read it anyway. Can you mention my band?"


1 comment:

Scott the Reader said...

Yikes. And yikes.