Screenplays: Statement of Purpose
Some persons may wonder why I display what would seem to be personal “trade secrets” for free browsing online – screenplays, screenplay treatments and even notes or outlines of proposed novels.
At the current time, there are four feature length scripts on display, as well as a number of shorts. There are three more feature length scripts that are not on display.
These screenplays develop a number of issues of great concern to me, as already presented in my books and various online essays. Many times the potential impact of a problem or issue on people’s lives becomes clearer when demonstrated in a dramatic scenario, as in a film or play.
Of course, I am interested in selling a screenplay, or in participating in making a film about issues that concern me. Is it reasonable then to display some material free? I think it is, up to a point. It is true that the film business has a “third party rule” where studios and large production companies will not look at an idea (even a logline) unless it comes from an agent. This supposedly is motivated by legal concerns and as self-protection against copyright infringement claims. With the Internet, obviously this practice will be modified. No, agents’ jobs won’t go away, but the way they do them could change. Some script agencies have said that they will work with material that is online. Also, with independent film, where investors are assembled with private placements, the procedures can be much more complicated, It is true that media companies do have disclaimers on their own boards about unsolicited contributions and that they own any material placed by viewers on their message boards. I would not place material on a message board (say TheWB) that I could “sell” but I might try to leave the impression that I could work with them on a project with certain subject matter on future shows.
As noted already, some of my material has not been posted on this site. When material is finally sent to an agent, postings on my own screenplays board may be removed, restructured, “professionalized” or otherwise modified in a way that is appropriate for those specific business circumstances. Free viewing of some materials may not be forever. When material is sent to an agent, it is usually also registered in its final form with WGA.
One other benefit from posting the screenplays is to show other directors and investors what can be done in dramatic films (present day dramas and even “science fiction”) with some of these ideas. This material may indirectly contribute to the development of other films about serious social and political issues and counter the “shopping mall” mentality that has preoccupied many of the larger studios who, as public companies, do have a fiduciary responsibility to their stockholders to deliver efficient earnings. Particularly in 2005 we have seen several award winning films, smaller in budget, that did well at the box office and explored issues with much more subtlety than is usual.
What issues are the most important? Of particular concern are the “culture wars”: the disparity in values between modernism (with its emphasis on personal expression and consistency of principles, and the subordination of personal relationships to personal success first) with older more communal value systems based on religious and blood loyalty and the willingness of people to fight for each other without heed to injustices in the system above them. The culture wars also show a wide disparity in the motivational value of biological life for its own sake and a connection to the transmission of life.
I have labeled some of the screenplay treatments with ICRA labels that would prevent access according to controls set up by parents. The pdf scripts themselves cannot be labeled yet (I don’t have access to server-side labels) although I could convert them back to HTML later. The entire site is protected also by safesurf labels. For details please see http://www.doaskdotell.com/crating.htm
The Self-Portrayal Problem:
There is very little in the way of explicit sex or gratuitous violence, hate speech, drug use (even tobacco use) or other material that typically raises obvious objections from some people, particularly with respect to minors. I am one of the litigants challenging COPA (the Child Online Protection Act of 1998). If COPA is read as dealing with explicit displays of certain sexually objectionable material (with respect to minors), it probably would not offend it; but it might if COPA were interpreted from the viewpoint of subject matter itself. There are passages of extreme personal or psychological candor concerning certain issues and potentialities in the screenplays, and the level of candor may be disturbing to some readers. (This comports with the practice of the MPAA of assigning "PG-13" and "R" ratings to some films that are psychologically stressful even if no objectionable visual materials are shown.)
There are passages where certain intimate conduct may occur. I have sometimes marked these as “Director’s Discretion” for public display purposes. The reader can imagine what would be shown in a mainstream (perhaps R-rated) film according to common production and legal standards. I have chosen not to have explicit details of intimate conduct in the scripts as they are publicly displayed. A screenplay sent to an agent or WGA probably would be textually different in that it might include more explicit suggestions as to what should be shown on camera. Sometimes there is extra spoken dialogue from the protagonist or other characters to explain the sensitive concepts and show why the scene is there. In a commercial film, that dialogue might well be truncated or simplified or made more conversational.
Nevertheless, in some of the fictive scripts, certain crimes of major public significance are committed. In at least three of them an older protagonist is accused and winds up facing charges, sometimes being convicted or pressured into plea bargains. Admittedly, the protagonist seems to have life circumstances similar to me.
In one way, this is safer if the subject seems to be “me.” If I published a work of fiction in which another identifiable individual was falsely shown to have committed a major crime, I could face libel or false light invasion of privacy action. This possibility has always been a major concern in the book publishing industry. However, some people have suggested that “self-libel” could make one unable to defend oneself against false accusations and could in certain areas endanger others of facing the same. This does sound like an interesting and speculative theory, but I don’t know whether it would really happen in practice. This itself like sounds like “the movies.” Actually, the "rebuttable presumption" and "propensity" language in the 1993 (called colloquially "don't ask, don't tell") federal law regarding gays in the military seems to set a troubling legal example, because it supports the notion that the government (at least in taking civil or administrative actions) may sometimes interpret a "trolling" statement as meaning something more than what the words literally say.
Others have said that crime fiction self-published and widely read this way could inspire imitations. I think that as a practical matter the events in these scripts would be difficult to imitate, and that is not my intention. We often say that 9/11 resulted as a result of a collective "failure of imagination" at all levels, down to security awareness of ordinary citizens. I think that some of the scripts do demonstrate further vulnerabilities in our security that should be addressed, as well as weaknesses in our judicial system that deserve attention.
The Profile Problem:
Since about 2001 and 9/11 there has been a steady increase of concern about they way people use their freedom to express themselves with free entry on a public space, the Internet. In 2005 there was a lot of concern about the dangers that teenager can attract to themselves and others through careless postings on “social networking sites.” Now there are increasing signs that employers are paying attention to the way associates (and applicants) present themselves on the web.
As I have indicated elsewhere on this site, the dangers from misuse of a public space are real. But one of the greatest dangers would be a new culture of placation and conformity, of people treating their online presence as if it were an interview suit, or being more concerned of what “others think” of them (and of protecting their families, perhaps) than of speaking with any objectivity.
That’s one reason why I have suggested that people who have certain kinds of jobs, where they make decisions about others or where they are paid to speak for others, should not use a public space this way without supervision.
Typically, in the past, lobbying groups and political pressure groups spoke for the interests of their constituents. There was an implicit understanding that many people were not in a position to speak for themselves publicly. They must look after themselves and particularly their families in an adversarial, non-objective, even tribal manner. This observation links free and open speech to different cultural attitudes about family and the place of personal expression with respect to family responsibility—the culture war that I mention above. This gets into basic areas about philosophy: objectivism and situational ethics.
I can say, however, if that if I am to do any good with my own writings, anything has to be fair game as far as subject matter. Everything--anything has to be looked at from all sides, as to what it really is as well as to what it looks like. Art and movies are good at that, in exploring genuine moral ambiguities. The desire of an artist to explore an area, then, does not indicate a propensity to commit a particular act.
Those familiar with the site know that a lot of the “energy” comes from a connection that I make between my 1961 expulsion from a civilian college (William and Mary) for a statement that I made to the Dean, and the pursuit of the “don’t ask don’t tell” policy regarding gays in the military. The link generates a lot of my concern with many other concentric issues. The statement that made to the Dean was perhaps that of a troller. But nevertheless it deals with the need for many people to believe in the social supports that make their lives meaningful. The way the 1993 “don’t ask don’t tell” law is written, it can pose problems outside of the military in certain circumstances. Some of the situations in the screenplays dramatize these dangerous possibilities.
Relationship to other site content
This site has the text of my books and many notes and essays (non-fiction, generally with plenty of bibliographic references and links) on the many interlocking issues of concern. As noted on the disclaimers, legal "information" on the site is not intended to replace professional advice for individual circumstances; instead, it is provided (as factually as possible), in conjunction with certain "personal stuff" for the purposes of exploring social and political policy alternatives. Much social debate hinges on the variable interpretations of law that are possible, and it is impossible to have constructive debate without it (evermore so with Internet and "public space" issues). The screenplays present some legal scenarios that, while I believe them to be realistic, do not necessarily predict what would really happen in many states with varying laws and procedures and legal cultures. Likewise, while much material has been offered for free browsing, some material is being offered on other sites that provide paid advertising. Now some necessary material would drive away many advertisers, so a space for free material is always necessary for a balanced and complete and non-misleading presentation.
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