June 22, 2011
Spoil Sport


CK: Are screenwriters now affected by “spoiler culture” before they even begin the writing process?  This is an impossible question to answer definitively…

For some strange reason, people take great pleasure in being the first to reveal industry secrets on the internet.  I suppose, with the constant inundation of information to which we are subjected by switching on our televisions or booting up our PCs, possessing a tiny piece of the (nearly) unknown provides a certain thrill and creates a fleeting notion of uniqueness or relevance for the possessor of such knowledge.  Why, among the billions of people who all have unlimited access to galaxies of information, do I stand out as someone special; why do I MATTER?  Because I KNOW SOMETHING YOU DON’T KNOW.  Even the fact that I was writing a piece for Grantland about spoilers was spoiled by a few websites, and before I had a chance to launch a counterattack and spoil their spoilers by pointing out their numerous spoiling inaccuracies (e.g. that I ghostwrote the screenplay for Torque), my rebuttal was spoiled by other spoilers who spoiled not only my response but also spoiled my second and third responses before I even composed them and also spoiled the Lethal Weapon II joke I was planning to make on Twitter about Dominique Strauss-Kahn (“Diplomatic immunity!”) before I even TiVo’d the scene with Patsy Kensit’s boobs last night (which, after all these years, have remained unspoiled). 

As suggested in my piece, perhaps the hardest hit by “spoiler culture” is the entertainment industry, particularly screenwriters (nevermind the studio heads, who invest millions of dollars in, and their reputations on, green lighting films).  These writers of the screen can create brilliant cinematic or televisual twists and turns that would dazzle and enthrall an audience from thirty years ago, (if “1981 me” saw the first five minutes of Transformers II, I think I’d scream “Holy Toledo!” while simultaneously vomiting and shitting myself) yet now they lose sleep wondering whether internet vultures have gotten their grubby talons on top secret intel and plan to “Joe Wilson” all the intricate and subtle plot twists labored over for months just to feel a miniscule moment of significance, get a few extra hits on their shabby blog and maybe score an ad on their site from BangBrunch.com – the exclusive dating site for discriminating individuals who want to rub genitals, then eat an omelet together.  How have we gotten here?

In my previous piece, my central question was whether screenwriters are actually changing their scripts to protect themselves from the barbarian army of spoilers at their gates.  I may have been too quick to decide that this was unknowable; that we as a society could never understand the deep artistic motivations that compel the artistes in question to pen such cerebral masterpieces as Lucky Number Slevin (the genius of the title alone makes me shiver).  So what can we do to bring us face-to-face with the truth?  I identified several avenues that might just bring us closer to our elusive destination.  Join me…

1. Call a Screenwriter and Ask

I called one of my favorite screenwriters, Joel Coen, of Coen Brothers fame, to get a real writer’s perspective.  Luckily, my editor Vance’s sister went to school with his favorite Key Grip.  I opened by asking him whether any of the dark twists and turns his films take, whether it be the death of a character or the significance of a final scene, have ever been revealed prior to the movie opening successfully.  “I’m not sure that I’ve really made a movie like that before,” Joel said, and sighed heavily.  Was he such an artist that these scripts just oozed out of him; that he didn’t have any personal, tangible connection to the emotion contained within?  Is it possible in 2011’s culture to have such a distance and dissonance to the outside perception of one’s work?  “Before we get any further, I’m Joel Cohen, with an ‘h.’  I wrote Garfield and Daddy Day Camp...”  I’m going to fucking kill Vance.  As a professional, I had no choice but to insist that I knew this all along, that I love his body of work, and continue with the interview.  I soldiered on and asked Joel whether he ever thought about “spoiler culture” and the outside world’s perception of his art while he was in the act of making it.  Did the cold breeze of public opinion and criticism ever sneak through the cracks of his “creativity house” and chill him to the bone with their hypothetical slags and unwanted prognostications and pontifications?  “Do I ever think about how an audience might react to my work?  Do I worry about what some faceless public will think about what I’m writing?  I’m a screenwriter, for christsakes.  Movies have to make millions of dollars to be successful.  Of course I think about that stuff.  I think about it all the time.  Do you think I’m a fucking idiot?”  OK, moving right along…                  

2. Assume Certain Screenwriters and Hollywood-Types are Concerned About Money

Regardless of whatever was going on in Mr. Cohen’s personal life that caused him to lash out at an innocent journalist who was showing him nothing but respect even though he writes hacky movies for people who eat Dinty Moore stew directly from the can, he does raise a point.  In today’s film industry, it takes a small fortune to produce a mainstream movie.  Now I’d hate to think that the visionary artists in Hollywood would ever taint the purity of their craft due to financial pressures, and I’m not necessarily saying they do, but what if they do?  What if some unscrupulous studio head or director or screenwriter weighed the financial implications of their creative decisions?  What kind of a world would we live in if artists tempered their artistic impulses in deference to profit?  If box office returns somehow became the most important aspect, the “bottom line” if you will, of the entire enterprise?  Wow, what a frightening image of a bleak, dystopian world… I can’t bear to think about it anymore.   

3. Assume Screenwriters Have Internet Access

The majority of Americans have internet access, either on their phone, at home and/or at work.  But what about screenwriters?  Do these tortured geniuses, these schizophrenic puppet masters who can inhabit the minds of a multitude of characters and give voice to larger-than-life personas like Stiles and Yee Sook Ree realize that their artistic brethren are perpetually under fire by internet bloggers who would love nothing more than to dissect and dismember the artistic child which they have created, nurtured and granted life to after a long and particularly painful labor?  Not to mention what they’ll do to the placenta (the DVD extras).  I assume with the shades drawn and inspiration flowing, it doesn’t really matter to these brave souls whether an outside world even exists.  The world could be decimated, set ablaze by extraterrestrial separatist fiscally-conservative Chechnyan rebels but they wouldn’t know it, as they are routinely lost in a complex and captivating universe of their own creation, universes that they have no choice but to communicate to the world with the most gripping dialogue and vibrant action our contemporary viewing audiences have ever seen.  But, in my sample size of one, Joel Cohen definitely has the internet, as he had some very unflattering and hurtful comments about my physical appearance and how my beard must be very uncomfortable on the balls of the several guys I blow every day.  I, for one, maintained my professionalism.

4. Ask Tyler the Creator

Recently I’ve felt like I am the only reputable music journalist left who hasn’t either interviewed or written a feature article on Odd Future and/or their artistic leader, Tyler the Creator.  Seeing as though he came to prominence partially through the savvy use of the internet and social media, he would likely have an opinion on this modern day phenomenon, as it is an issue movie goers of his generation will need to contend with for years to come.  He was on tour in the UK when I attempted to reach him, so at the suggestion of his manager I used email – the internet – to send him several questions on this topic and others related to his perception of the positives and negatives available to all on the web.  He must have been pressed for time, because I only received this brief, cryptic response:      

“FUCK. You sound like a dude who would hang out at a jungle gym in a tank top and brag to 12-year-old boys about how much you can bench press.  Go fuck a shetland pony.  FAGGOT.”