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Anything Goes : Writing ethics by Max Boyce

Max Boyce

Writing ethics

So a money man hires you to write a script for big money. The main characters are tentatively cast (say Jake Gyllenhaal or Susan Sarandon) but as you read the proposal you realize the themes are to the far right politically (or far left). You are of the strong centrist political persuasion and know the best years of your writing lay ahead. Do you do it for the money ? Or do you opt out and follow your ethics along the course you truly believe in? It is required that you use your established writing name, not a pseudonym.

Karen Keslen

I follow my beliefs and I write by love to inspire and change lifes.

David Micallef

If by "strong centrist", you also mean being careful in case you hurt somebody's feelings, than you're pussyfooting around, more than anything. Whatever we say and do is political even when one claims to be apolitique. Are you ready to carry the weight implied by your political statement made through your script ? If you're looking solely to make money than you shouldn't be wasting time asking these questions, but rather on the lookout for any script that will give you the money you seek. Your conviction should be reaching your goal. If your objective is ethics and morality than you should aim to achieve that, look at specific sources of such scripts rather than trying to analyse every story that you come across. What I mean is be pro-active and work towards whatever goal you set. David (Malta-EU)

Amy Kelly

If the money is good and it isn't preaching against American Ideals, I say leave the politics at home and do the job. As a writer I find it extremely rewarding to write characters that I would never want to know in real life. It takes true integrity to remain true to a job no matter what your political views are and there is always an opportunity to introduce an antagonist that does reflect your view point.

Daniel L. Noe

One sees this disclaimer in every dvd...."The following commentary may not reflect the views of "XYZ Productions"......so write it.....or don't write it. Personally, I would write it. Especially if I knew aforehand that my political views were in conflict with the story. Provides a bit of personal mental challenge.

Bob Schultz

As writers, we all have an obligation to make the world less mediocre. Writing a quality script that you disagree with is less egregious a violation than writing a milquetoast script which you do agree with, in my opinion.

Ray Anthony Martinez

Take the job. So long as it doesn't interfere with your religious beliefs. Other than that, get your work out there and seen! Good luck!

Andrew Gruffudd

You're the writer, so you write what you like. Obviously, the money has a framework he wants you to write to, but even so you can nuance things in a way in which the discerning can tell it isn't a straightforward polemic. It's like "Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas" - you might think it's an advertisement for substance abuse, which it may be. But then it's tempered with moments of melancholy like the "wave" soliloquy and the broken dream of Dr Timothy Leary at the end, so you could say it does have arguments for both sides. You're the artist. Basically, I look at it as if the money had wanted propaganda, he'd have hired someone with sympathies towards that cause. You don't hire a Pagan to write Christian polemic (although the Catholic Shakespeare did have a hand in the King James Bible), nor someone who's never been to Nigeria to write a book in Ibo.

Robert S. Evans

Honestly, people don't propose themes, as the writer is the one that puts his own spin, the director does as well, the actors do, etc. A producer isn't going often be hard set on a message, they are hiring you for YOUR writing. Your writing has your touch. It is your take. Regardless of the message they would like to convey, the message is lost in interpretation most of the time anyway.

Joe Orlandino

I faced a similar situation about four years ago. I won a hard earned contract for a politician's entire media campaign. At the 11th hour one of my creatives decided they did not like my client's political views and pulled out of the project leaving all of us scrambling for a replacement to finish the job on deadline. I found it necessary to then sue the artist and make sure my colleagues in other Chicago agencies were aware of her behavior. Unfortunately, this misstep has continued to follow her in her career.

Mark Ratering

My Michigan brother is in Tne Newsroom. People hate it even the liberals because it's such bullshit. People know truth. He really is dumber.

Dustin Bowcott

I'd write it for the challenge. Money really isn't the point.... although it certainly helps. I'd do it more for the challenge. I'm neither right, left nor central. I'm outside. So i don't care what i write as it will be fiction, no matter how many others believe it is true.

Joseph V Sultana

Is the question one of ethics or principle?

Patrick Stephan Marshall

I did some ghost writing for a very acclaimed writer and I have worked on spec and order. But I never loose my ethics. I consider it my responsibility as storyteller to tell the moral stories I believe in myself. I do not sell out and rather stick with my convictions.

Andrew Gruffudd

@Mark - "People know the truth". That's actually incorrect. People know what they've been led to believe, through propaganda. The truth would scare them shitless.

Eric Raphael Harman

Get over it and right the script. You can argue with God or the Devil when you are DEAD, who knows maybe Michael Jackson will greet you with his smelly white glove!

Max Boyce

Gods and devils are human constructs created by men to explain good/evil abstractions in a life lived, not a life dead. (Paradise Lost is a great read!) So, back to ethical dilemmas: a man is a well-know soft core and product film maker who wants to break into mainstream film making, but money offered him, to make a series of hard core gay pornos, is more than he makes in five years. He must use his established name of the past. Does he/she do it for the money ? Or does he opt out and follow his ethics along the course he truly believe in for a mainstream future? One can extrapolate this dilemma to apply to all choices a person makes in life. Is this film maker making a Faustian bargain? Or is our society to the point of moral corruption where anything is justified in the realms of ambition and self and money?

Jennifer R. Povey

I would not write anything that significantly violates my principles OR anything I don't feel I could give my best effort towards. Bad books, movies and comics happen when writers (or artists, or actors) phone it in. So, there's another question to ask yourself. COULD you give this your best effort, or would your disagreement with the politics of the movie negatively impact your ability to write the script to your normal standards?

Max Boyce

So moving it up a notch- Say a right-wing, racial, white supremacist has piles of cash, a nasty and wicked script that MAY incite people to violent action, has signed some minor-major stars (who lean to the extreme right) and offers you $300k, a bonus to match and a percentage of gross. This producer has a previous high-grossing movie that you know of, but it was produced under his (or her) pseudonym. You must use your real name. Do you do it? BTW- I only write fiction prose. I'm researching a novel with this line of inquiry.

Mark Ratering

yes there is always a way to get a fair and balanced way to get your point across. Have to out think problem.

Devin Walker

Money, and you can always just write more of your views when you get more credit and say in the movie making process.

Max Boyce

In thinking about the actors in the anti-Muslims movie recently made, I wondered if they were being disingenuous, after world events exposed a supposed duplicity, and in reality money was the primary motivation for actors and crew. I feel the producer of the anti-Muslims movie is dastardly and deserves to be punished (does he?) and I wondered if this extended to the cast, crew and all associated part in the distribution chain? A good editor and voice-over narration can completely change raw footage to swing in many different directions. When innocent people are killed by a film maker's (or group of film makers) actions (product) should they be held responsible? The Arab world certainly thinks they should. What is in this producer's soul that dives him to such extremes? Would a reasonably intelligent actor not realize a producer's intentions? Or are they all cattle, as Hitchcock supposedly said they were? In a lesser way, a film maker making hard core porn or extreme physical violence or extreme political propaganda is exploiting the extreme realms of human desires and vices for material gain. Is it made without pangs of conscience or karmic reverberations for that person? Are men and women like this even aware of damage done to fellow humans, or do they even care? My interest in these subject are the motivations within the minds of rabid personalities who exploit, seemingly without realizing consequences. I am rolling along the lines of Paul Scrader type storytelling where consequences become very real.

Scott C. Brown

Max, the first thing I thought was, take the money and run, but I reread your posting, then read some of the replies and that gave me a better grasp of what I think you are truly asking... So, tell me if I have it wrong here. As a professional writer, you find yourself stuck on a project that you can not truly commit too, not because it is a mass audience piece that you feel degrades your writing and you are just doing it for the paycheck, rather it goes against your moral beliefs or values. Is that correct? The respectful thing to do would be to tell the person that after learning more about the project and though you would truly like to work with them, that this project you do not feel would be in THEIR best interest to have you write, due to your personal views and your desire to be completely honest with them. Then, recommend a couple of other writers that you believe would be willing to do the project, that are good writers and thank the person for the opportunity. Just make sure you haven't already taken the money. Then you are under legal obligation and that just gets nasty. If this is about the anti-muslim piece, then you simply run away as fast as you can and never mention that you were even considered for it.

James Holzrichter

Love this line. If I was a writer, I would probably not take the job. UNLESS it was some sort of documentary or historical, of course if it was like Blazing Saddles I would probably do it. :)

Heidi Angell

Yeah, I can't get a publisher because I'm not willing to change the name of my main character. (It has a deeper meaning. It is a significant part of the story of who she is, it is not as insignificant as it might seem.) So, yeah, writing a story that I don't believe in. Nah.

Mark Ratering

It's like being a lawyer and even if your client is guily you have to defend them.

Heidi Angell

Ah but Mark, that only applies if you are a defense attorney ;)

Mark Ratering

hink of me as a defense writer,,,, ciuld be a TV show. I could be inksides instead of ironsides

Daniel Dore

I write part time for now until I can get enough money to do it full time. I work customer service in a small company on a daily basis. Eevn though my deepest desire is to become a full time writer, I would keep that small job for the rest of my life if it meant having to go against what I believe in. Money might be important, but being able to live with myself and being able to sleep at night is much more important.

Max Boyce

The public defender (lawyer), if taking a case he/she doesn't agree with ethically is obligated to defend to the best their abilities, as is a doctor. However, their ethical involvement is sanctioned by law, but they consciously swing decisions and actions, based on their own prejudices, hence injustice or draconian justice is imposed. A writer/film functionary must hop over the line of their conscious ethical understanding, knowing that his words or actions may influence an individual or group of individuals to pursue detrimental agendas. The famous example is the Arthur Bremer/Travis Bickel/John Hinkely...( i.e.,the 'Taxi Driver' continuum template written by Paul Scrader.) A film maker like Leni Reisehthal or a writer like Curzio Malaparte and even poet Carl Sandberg, influenced and were indirectly, and perhaps directly responsible for much suffering, violence and death. My interests are at the character level of decision/indecision that a fictional character makes to go for the big money and plastic-fantastic life, knowing full-well that by making that decision the Faustian bargain is set in motion and no return is possible. The reward for the decision is wealth and/or fame, but of course at the expense of his/her soul or a free conscious (and perhaps a whining dependence on others for support, and health and dental services). So Travis Bickel says--'You talking to me?" Then demands," Are you talking to me?" And his decision is represented in images as a metaphor of the self confronting that one decision that changes his life and the lives of others. At some point HInkley and Bremer also had to face 'that moment' of decision. To me, violence in film is justified if a strong and well developed moral/ethical component is set in juxtaposition to the violence, sex or propaganda. The extreme right and the extreme left should be explored, in my opinion, but never exploited. The artist, when faced with an ethical dilemma may work on altruistic principles, but history and social dynamics may sweep him/her away in a flood of xenophobia, a tsunami of misguided patriotism or the deceptive carrot/stick lures of free-market capitalism. So I'm working out a plot here, forgive me, but still, a discussion on these topics may help other artists. I do intrinsically think most of us want to do good in our hearts... but that guy who made the anti-Arab film really got under my skin. So what can an artist do? The example I follow and try to approximate is, Guernica, a painting by Pablo Picasso.

Mark Ratering

There are two of me. The one that has his own point of view the other as an artist who is a extension of my boss. The people that work, if they except the job, do their job. In debate class in high school we were told the position we were to take and defend it. Everyone as an artist and a human being... gets a point of view, even if you don't like it, Every point of view, ask the ALCU

Andrew Gruffudd

Then again, people don't always take a view. Personally, there are things I don't take a view on, either because I couldn't be bothered to take one, or because I don't have enough information to be able to form one. Of course, there are people who take views which are highly inappropriate to their level of understanding, but whether or not they should be lauded or villified for taking such views is not something on which I'm qualified to take an opinion. What I have found is that there are two sides to every story - even the seemingly indefensible - and it can become bigotry if one holds onto one's beliefs in the teeth of overwhelming evidence against them. That said, it is often the case that those who compile this evidence know even less about the situation than you do. And many's the time that, on compiling data, people will filter what they get so that their own prejudices are confirmed. This may, or may not, be happening in science, particularly climate science.

Alex Sarris

Hey Max, this is not new territory for most writers. I guess it comes down to, do you need the cash to pay the rent, or do you want to write what you enjoy writing? Personally I would not write anything that I did not enjoy creating as it will reflect in the final product and if it is not to scratch, it will reflect on you as a writer. Much rather enjoy writing what I love. Alex

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