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Love it or hate it, LA coffee shops are full of screenwriters

Outside Intelligentsia Coffee in Silver Lake.
Outside Intelligentsia Coffee in Silver Lake.
Scott Beale/Laughing Squid (Creative Commons)

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Thirty-five miles north of Hollywood in a roomy, modern coffee shop attached to the Real Life mega-church, award winning screenwriter Julie Sherman Wolfe remembers the time a different local establishment tried to almost literally freeze her out.

"They would basically, when too many writers would show up, the ambient air temp would drop 20 degrees," says Wolfe. "So instead of leaving I would bring scarves and sweaters ... it would become a battle of wills."

Julie is a truly nice person, but frankly, she's part of the problem: Screenwriters in coffee shops. If you've ever gone to Starbucks, you know.

Stats are hard to come by, but let's estimate that about a billion people are working on screenplays in this town, and most of them are doing it in public. They are everywhere. And OK, fine, they aren't technically hurting anyone.

But it just feels so pretentious. Certain things you just do in private, at home. Ever see a sculptor chiseling away by the cappuccino machine? Or a ballet dancer stretching her quads by the pastry display? 

John August, the guy who wrote "Big Fish" and "Go," co-hosts the podcast Scriptnotes with fellow screenwriter Craig Mazin. They handle screenwriting-related questions and demystify the profession. August said writing in public is nothing new.

Look at Hemingway, he wrote every day in a bar in Pamplona. I think there's something appropriate about writing in public, especially if you're writing about something set out there in the world, if it's deeply internal, maybe that's your time to be off in your cabin at Walden, but if you're writing about the real world maybe it makes sense to be in the real world.

Fine, but the guy with decaf Chai tea while silently sounding out his characters ironic dialogue, he's no Hemingway, and the only thing he's absorbing is the band PHISH blaring from his earbuds. Want to know how "through the looking glass" we are? There's an app called Highland that makes your screenplay not look like a screenplay on your computer screen so you can not look like all the other coffee-shop barnacles. 

People, if you are embarrassed by what you’re doing in public, that is a sign.

I tracked down Josh Olson, who was nominated for a best screenplay Oscar for "A History of Violence" and, perhaps more importantly, wrote that article for the Village Voice called “I will not read your f’ing Script” – only he didn’t say F-ing. In the piece, he ranted about acquaintances asking him to read their screenplays, the point that there’s a difference between typing and writing most people miss. If he couldn’t share my outrage, who could?

 “I’ll cop to it,’ he told me, “there’s still a little part of me that goes, 'What a jackass…”

Sadly, I didn’t end the interview there.

I was looking at all these nitwit wannabes banging away at their poems and screenplays, and thinking they just want to be seen, and my friend goes, how do you know they don’t get work done? And I had no clue … so I got up the next day and went down and set up my laptop and what I found was there’s this degree of people looking at you … but you are aware of being judged by everyone who comes in, and for me it would feel even worse if I weren’t working, so there’s this real pressure to actually be working instead of goofing off like you’d be at home.

But, to make matters worse, studies seem to back the coffee-shop types ... or typers. Researchers have found a moderate noise level, between 50 and 70 dbs, can increase creative output. 

There's even an app called Coffitivity that lets you listen to coffee shop chatter when you're too lazy/drunk/high to put on those sweatpants and haul your Mac to the nearest caffeine dispensary. 

Coffitivity claims it is “conducive to creative cognition.”

Wow. Well, who am I, also someone who gets paid by the word, to … not want that?

If you can’t beat them, fake join them, I almost never say.

But I’ll be sure to let you know what happens, and whether or not I inexplicably just keep rewriting old "Friends" episodes.

This piece was produced for The Frame by Collin Friesen.

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