Sunday, March 30, 2008

Craig Mazin, The Artful Writer? You're Kidding, Right?

There’s nothing worse than a screenwriter. I used to wonder why “real” writers, novelists like Philip Roth and Mordecai Richler, were such terrific pricks. Here were guys with refined senses of humour, brilliant imaginations, and the ability to craft an actual story without jousting at readers with lines like, “Daddy. Where’s mommy?” (This coming, obviously, after the deranged filmic father has locked his spousal equivalent in the dark basement. Thunder, rain, etc. The eleven-ish girl dressed in white flowing robes or polka dot pyjamas with a stuffed animal in her arms. Just pure goddamn trash.)

I’ve since realized that real writers, like real people, have to live in this shitty world--a world peppered constantly by impotent fabulists who make very good money doing the literary equivalent of asking your niece to write the novel for you. Roth says he takes about three years to write a book. “For the first twelve months,” PR writes, “you don’t know what you’ve got.”

It takes three days to write a screenplay. If you’re a good writer, if you’re focussed on getting it done, you can write a draft in three days. Why? Because the goddamn thing is just dialogue and description. There’s no introspection, no meditation. It’s just get out there, be funny, steal from Ibsen, Chekhov, or Shakespeare, be sad, the end.

Here’s Roth taking years to polish American Pastoral, and here’s Craig Mazin churning out Superhero Movie. I'd be pissed off too. And I am. But I can't afford that cabin in Connecticut.

So what do we do with writers like Mazin, guys with the putative connections to rip plots from Doonesbury cartoons and actually sell their ideas to a studio. Mazin, a Princeton graduate, runs a blog called The Artful Writer. That’s like Saul Bellow starting a blog called A Black Man Talks About the High Jump. Mazin, an articulate, dry/scholarly prose stylist, proves that the actual physical ability to commit words to paper does not mean, in the indefinite sense, that a person can write. I guess the good thing about novels is that the average person lives seventy-three years, but the average novel takes seventy-four to write. So we’re not inundated with the amount of shit that’s percolating in MS Word Docs everywhere. But screenplays…Altogether a different story.

You have to ask a few legitimate questions: 1) would a good writer write screenplays, or would he write fiction?; 2) would a good writer write stories--write three separate stories--about ordinary people attaining uber status?; 3) would a good writer knot the rope and kick over the chair before going to Hollywood?

Mazin’s newest project, Superhero Movie, is so bad…It’s almost as if he went down to a kindergarten and asked the kids if they’d be interested in working on a collective creation. It's so bad that there's actually been talk of painting Mazin red and sending him back to 1947. A comedy? If Mazin had been writing jokes for Bob Hope, Pepsodent would be haemorrhoid cream right now. Yet here’s a solid technical writer with a loyal following of hacks. Writing scripts about comic books and road trips with the fam. That’s not writing. It’s shit. It’s the worst kind of intellectual-cultural-artistic subversion that convinces people THEY CAN DO IT TOO.

Most people have arms; most people can manipulate both of those arms in a throwing motion. Do most people show up at spring training hoping to go north with their squad as a fifth starter? Because that’s what guys like Mazin are: they’ve insinuated themselves into Hollywood, and we can’t get them out. But whereas the MLB has a minimum standard (say 90 mph), nepotism knows no cut list.

I think the point is that imagination trumps good grammar as the principal prerequisite for writing. But guys like Mazin persevere, buoyed by residual cheques.

Last point: whatever happened to the notion of shame? I don’t sing at weddings, I don’t figure skate, and I don’t play alto sax. But Mazin keeps writing. He won’t stop. It’s not enough that he’s bad; it’s not enough that he just can’t do it. He keeps going.

Even Danny Rose quit comedy. Yakov Smirnoff’s playing Branson. And Mazin’s writing ER Movie and Law Movie—two spoofs of the powerful TV dramedy genre. “Tonight, on The Bar, an innocent man sent to prison…for a crime he committed.”

Good. That means more rope and chairs for us.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

God Bless this post.

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