There’s an adage in Los Angeles that everyone has a script. If you’ve ever been out during the middle of the day – when people should be working, but yet the coffee house is packed – you get the creeping feeling that this is true. And a major bummer for any screenwriter trying to break into the film industry. If there are millions of scripts floating around out there, why would anyone bother with yours?
Have hope. I have read a lot of these ‘floating around’ scripts. Many of these scripts are first drafts, or something quite close to that. Let me assure you, they’re terrible. Terrible comes in a variety of shapes and sizes: no character introductions, contrived story, tired concept, convoluted plotting, bizarre or offensive subject matter, no passion, no heart.
I have been reading scripts and writing coverage for nine years now – for independent producers, production companies, other writers, directors, screenwriting competitions – and, despite all the material available to help screenwriters improve the quality of their writing, the material is still pretty dull.
Perhaps in trying to check all of the right boxes we’ve somehow lost track of the basics. Basic quality storytelling and how to do it in a way that’s fresh, with a voice, and with emotional resonance.
I’ll tell you honestly – at this point, the only scripts that get a resounding “consider” or “recommend” from me are either projects that make me laugh and/or make me cry (i.e., a deeply emotionally moving character journey told in a fantastic way), or have such an incredible concept that just leaps off the page and screams “commercial” – that the concept alone is so uniquely interesting that the project might go on concept alone.
I know it’s really hard, but after you’ve written a script, try to step away from it for a minute (or a few months) and think critically: is this screenplay really something that a reader will pick up and get excited about? Will my characters make the reader laugh and cry? Is this script so exciting that the reader won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough? Is my concept and voice so outstanding that my reader will leap up and start dancing around the room? This is what you should be aiming for with your writing.
My intention with this blog is to help other screenwriters understand what a script reader is looking for and not only cover the basics but to move beyond the basics and inspire you to start writing material that will get you noticed. Sure, everyone knows that typos and formatting errors will get your work sent straight to the recycling bin – but what is that magic formula that elevates your work to “wow” status? There isn’t that much “wow” work out there. But, why not? Because writing is hard, it takes time and energy to learn the craft, and most people are sending out work that isn’t ready.
There are dozens of screenwriting books on the market and yet screenwriters still make the same mistakes again and again. As a reader exhausted of reading mediocre scripts, I’ve decided to explore the writing from my perspective as a reader – which elements work and which don’t, the problems I run across again and again – in the hopes of giving you, my fellow writers, more tools with which to craft.
I’d also like to note that there are many “industry” blogs out there hosted by teachers, producers or, in some cases, people somehow very peripherally related to entertainment – i.e., not writers. It’s been my experience that any human who can put pen to paper fancies himself a “writer.” You know, just because I have a hand and can hold a paintbrush, I would not fancy myself a painter. Writing is a craft and it takes years to learn and master craft. As a writer, in the trenches working every day, I offer a unique perspective on screenwriting, because I’m actually writing and applying all of these lessons to my own work – not just theorizing about it.
So, the story begins here. Screenwriter to screenwriter.