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Fun Joel's Screenwriting Blog


-- On Screenwriting and Related Topics

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Location: Los Angeles, CA

I moved from NYC to LA in October, 2003. And though I still think NYC is the greatest city in the world, I'm truly loving life here in the City of Angels. I'm a writer, reader, and occasional picture-taker.

Friday, October 07, 2005

On Script Reading, Part II (What I've Learned)

In the comments to my recent post, "On Script Reading," Mark asked:

How has being a reader helped your own writing?

A particularly apt question, particularly after I mentioned how script reading is an excellent training ground for anyone who wants to do anything in the film biz. So let me spend a few minutes discussing what script reading has taught me, and how it has made me a better screenwriter overall.

First off, there is a relatively prevalent myth that I'd like to debunk. We're always hearing (oddly, even from those who should know better) of a script reader throwing away a script after reading a mere 5-10 pages. While I'm sure this can and does happen at many agencies, or smaller production companies, it simply cannot at the bulk of studios and larger ProdCos. As I mentioned, one of the major components of any coverage I do is the synopsis. Note, that is a synopsis of the entire screenplay, not just the first 10 pages. So without reading the whole script, I can't write it! A summary of the first 10 pages, followed by "the rest was trash, and that's where it ended up" simply won't fly. So I pretty much have to read the whole thing, no matter how bad it is.

That being said, I must take a moment to say this does not mean you don't need to pay attention to such "unimportant" things as formatting or other presentation and technical issues. While I can't take a garbage script and simply toss it away, as much as I'd like to, I will still be pretty perturbed by them. And if I have to push my way through the entire thing, you can bet you're going to get a pretty poor review. And in fact, that bad coverage could have an even more negative impact on your reputation than if your crappy script ends up residing in the circular file.

Anyway, that being said, the fact that I have to also write up 1-2 pages of comments on each script, I need to do more than just say if something is good or bad. Though I admittedly do occasionally stretch my comments a bit, it is still to make "it sucks" last for a page or more. So I really need to pick a script apart, and discuss all the different things that work or don't work, as well as what is a fixable problem, and what is a more significant issue.

Some of the things I consider, in no particular order, include concept (both in terms of its originality, and its commercial promise); plot structure; character development, originality, and believability; tonal continuity; cleverness, economy, uniqueness, genuineness, and freshness of dialogue; commercial viability (primarily the balance of likely market draw versus budget); and whether the film is right for the company for whom I'm reading it (based on subject matter, genre, and overall budget).

So while I was certainly conscious of all of these things before, once I started reading professionally, I honed and developed my awareness of all of these issues. And it helped me develop the awareness of weaknesses on all these fronts in my own writing. Essentially, I learned to see my own scripts as a reader would see it, allowing me to fix the problems in advance. This is truly the greatest thing I've gained from my work as a reader.

In fact, it is just such things that I'll be discussing in greater detail at my seminar, "Writing to be Read," at next month's Screenwriting Expo. While all 500 tips you might find in Jennifer Lerch's book are actually very solid things to remember, I believe they focus more on how not to piss a reader off (excuse my language). I want you to learn more about what a reader thinks about while he reads your script, or what things she considers. By keeping these things in mind as you write, you will have a better chance of making your script the type that a script reader will actually... you guessed it... like!

That is the main benefit to working as a script reader. But there is one more, that you simply can't even get from my seminar, or from any book or magazine article. Since I've been a professional script reader for so many companies over so many years, I've built up a great network of contacts who know me personally. And these are the people that you want to have access to if you're a developing script writer. When the time is right, I can submit scripts to them. I can also actually read the studio coverage they will get (a luxury, painful as it can be, that most writers don't get), and even if these companies don't want to buy my scripts, the executives will hopefully like my writing enough to give me an intro to some agents or managers. And most importantly, since I know the types of scripts each of the companies that I work for is looking for, I know which companies are better for which of my scripts.

So yeah, there are some serious benefits to becoming a script reader. Some of them are things you might be able to develop and learn on your own (with some work), while others can only come with building a professional relationship.

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Blogger American Knight said...

Comparing notes, idea, etc. would be great. Hit me with an email and we'll set something up. Hope the writing is going well.

7:57 PM  
Anonymous CJ said...

Awesome post!! Totally agree with you on Lerch's book.


7:56 AM  

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