John Scalzi and David Gerrold are two of science fiction's most prominent writers. And it turns out they have one other thing in common too: They don't want to read your unproduced screenplay.
David Gerrold wrote a piece in the Village Voice, responding to Josh Olson's rant "I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script." And Gerrold, who wrote classic Star Trek episodes including "The Trouble With Tribbles," plus The Man Who Folded Himself, When Harlie Was One, and the Chtorr War series, explained just how annoying it is when other writers try to send him their unpublished materials for feedback, or so Gerrold can pass them along to the powers that be. Explains Gerrold:
Not too long ago, a writer of my acquaintance (a person of some fame in the industry) was hired to work on a major franchise. After several months of development, the project was making genuine progress and looked good. Then one day, out of the blue, an amateur from West Elbow, Nevada, sends him an email containing her outline for a spinoff of that franchise, asking him to help her sell it because "she has the story, but he has the access to the people who will produce it."
My friend backed away in horror, but the damage was done...
He had received this woman's email. Even the act of telling her, "No, I can't help you," was an acknowledgment of receipt. Therefore she could prove that he'd had access to her material — and it didn't matter that he'd already done six months on the project — her email had created a situation where she (and an unscrupulous lawyer) could claim that he had ripped off elements in her material.
The studio's lawyers were not happy and my friend almost got booted off the project, until he informed the amateur that he intended to sue her for compromising his ability to earn a living. She signed and notarized a waiver and he got to keep his job.
And John Scalzi (coincidentally, a writer recently hired to work in a major franchise, Stargate Universe) chimes in on his own blog:
You know, right after I announced that I was hired as the Creative Consultant for Stargate: Universe, people I didn't know came out of the woodwork asking me if I could hook them up with gigs or send along their scripts or if I give them the e-mail of the producers so they could talk to them about this great idea they had. You know what would have happened if I had done any of that? If you say "oh, you'd probably have gotten fired," you'd be absolutely correct. It would have been frankly insane for me to jeopardize my gig that way. I ended up putting up a note telling people to stop asking, but I still to this day get people who think that it's somehow logical to ask a complete stranger who knows nothing about them (and who they know nothing about) to carry water for them.
When you ask a favor of a writer, you're asking her to take time from her own work and/or her own life. You are asking her to assume you're not crazy or won't turn spiteful or angry when she can't give you 100% of what you want. You are asking her to assume that 10 years from now you won't sue her because something she's written is somewhat tangentially related to something you asked her to read. You're asking her to assume that continually pestering her own contacts on behalf of people she doesn't know at all won't jeopardize her own relationships with those contacts. And so on.
So there you go: Your unproduced screenplay may actually be the greatest thing since the invention of cameras. But hard-working, lawsuit-phobic writers still don't want to see it.