This is the first in a series of post by clients who have used my script coverage service. This is a useful post written by screenwriter Adele Smaill… Take it away Adele…
Using scripts and feedback
Before you find a script consultant, get your script as good as you can on your own.
Sounds obvious but you’re paying. If you see a pitfall in your script, your script consultant will see it too. It’s more valuable to hear about the problems you didn’t know about than those you did.
Glen Gers runs a great YouTube channel (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCE-jmjAfrk-Ls95wGLluPNA),full of good advice which includes live sessions with him writing scripts…
Film Courage (https://www.youtube.com/user/filmcourage) hosts numerous interviews with screenwriters, directors, producers, script consultants and others in the U.S. based film industry. It’s a grab bag with gems in (see for example, the interviews with Shannan E. Johnson).
Script as good as you can get it? Find a script consultant who’s a fit for what you write…
I looked for a script consultant with a track record rather than an anonymous coverage service. My first script was a horror comedy pilot set in the U.K. – Matthew Cooper is a U.K. script consultant who directs horror films. It seemed a good fit and it was. I ask Mat to read my scripts first, because he gives me an experienced, straightforward take on what does and doesn’t work, good suggestions about what to try next – and excellent movie recommendations to boot. And he’s kind.
…then get to work on the next thing
I was nervous about my script being read – still get nervous– probably always will. Working on something else provides distance andturns your script into a piece of (probably imperfect) work – not a piece of you. Detachment helps with rewrites. And you need a portfolio, right?
When your notes come back, remember – you wrote it – you own it
You decide how to use notes and feedback – it’s your script. If it’s a spec script no one can make you change it. But – you asked for advice – so think about the advice you got.
When my first report came back, some things rang true immediately – I saw the comment and the scales fell from my eyes. Why yes, that character’s arrival is completely unmotivated…That action scene is underwhelming and expensive…Those notes are gold – telling you about a problem you didn’t know you had – but which you can see immediately. Fix those first.
Other comments were encouraging – it’s good to know when something works – especially if you know that it’s not flannelling.
Sometimes you’llwant to reject a comment immediately. Don’t. Put it away. Look later. Reread and think about it. Sometimes you’ll come around. Sometimes you won’t. But give it time and thought.
Apply notes to other scripts
I got a note from one reader about using action lines to mirror the energy in the scene. Tense snappy action lines in conflict – relaxed, languid, leisurely action lines in moments of repose. That was a revelation (to me!). I try to use it in all my scripts now.
Get other perspectives once the building blocks of your script are in place
Once Mat had seen a couple of versions of my thriller ‘Dust on Dirt’ and I’d more or less got it in shape, I got feedback from Paul Peditto (https://www.scriptgodsmustdie.com/), a U.S. script consultant. That was a good idea – Paul had definite ideas for changes – some I adopted – some I didn’t–but the script improved.
Anonymous competition feedback and screen coverage services can help –once your script is solid enough not to get buffeted about like a plastic bag in a storm.
I usually ask for competition feedback – and I’ve occasionally used coverage services for a quick feel about whether a set of changes work. Sometimes I’ve struck gold. Readers at both We Screenplay and The Script Lab have provided great feedback that fuelled specific improvements. But I’ve also had feedback that’s out-of-whack – which could have thrown me off earlier on.
To make the most of competition feedback and coverage, remember:
- It’s alucky dip. Write-offs can happen – don’t weigh anonymous feedback too heavily. But if the same points keep coming back, pay attention.
- Scores matter less than good notes. High scores feel nice- good notes give you a tool to improve your script (and maybe others too).
- You will get notes that directly contradict other notes.
- You get what you pay for. Cheap notes with a fast turnaround time should be based on a quick read. Otherwise it’s exploitation. The value of a quick read from a not-necessarily-very-experienced reader is that it’s similar to what you get from junior employees filtering scripts for their boss. If your reader got confused– don’t get mad. Find where they tripped up. Expository scene got skimmed? Subterranean subtext? If you find where they got stuck, you can fix it.
And remember – it’s words on a page. If you don’t like them, you can change them.
I’m a new(ish) screenwriter writing thrillers and horror. My thriller ‘Dust on Dirt’ – has made it to a few quarterfinals so far and has hit the top 10% of Coverfly projects listed. Currently based in Australia, I’ve lived and worked in the U.K., the U.S. and Aotearoa/New Zealand.