The sample report (available in download section) is more for an acquisition department rather than for development. I thought this only fair as it’s a film that’s enjoyed cinema release and my report doesn’t expose anything untoward about the writer or the project as a whole. Although an acquisition report is more or less the same as a development report (same format layout with a few exceptions), you could expect a reader to get meatier with his comments when you submit your spec to the development pile.
Like any good writing document, a script report has a basic structure that is convenient to adhere to. Development assistants have told me that on occasion, without the report, they wouldn’t know how to verbalise or assimilate their own critique about the script depending on whether it was really bad, tricky plot or whatever. Sometimes after reading a script, the reader can think: “crikey, what am I going to say about that?” But this is where the basic structure of a report is a valuable tool of reference.
First, talk about CONCEPT: is the idea any good? Is it commercially appealing or more intellectual and discerning? Or is it just a shameless rip off of a million genre flicks before it? Or does it bring something new to the table? Is it genre?
PLOT: Does it make sense? Is it convincing and/or original? Too predictable maybe. Jumbled?
STRUCTURE: is there a basic understanding of craft on display? Is it a join the dot three-act structure or does it contain a solid and reliable framework to tell its story? However, the reader shouldn’t get bogged down with restructuring tips because it’s not a script editing exercise.
CHARACTERS: Are the central and minor characters believable, original, compelling, inspiring, colourful, loathsome, boring etc? Decent character development or emotional journey for the protagonist? Effective use of subplot with the supporting characters?
DIALOGUE: Distinctive, realistic, off-the-wall, on-the-nose, funny, dull, plain, quirks, true to each character?
TONE: Does the writer have an original voice; is the tone of the story consistent to the genre etc?
PACE: Pace, rhythm, tempo. Scenes start too soon, too late? Cut too soon, too late? Boring segments with little dramatic impact or importance? Where does the pace flag? What’s its overall effectiveness?
SETTING: Is it important to the story - does it make a valid and visual contribution to the characters & plot? Is it noteworthy at all?
APPEAL: will the idea and story find an audience? Is it marketable? Who is the audience? Is it really cinematic?
And to quote direct advice from one particular report format (although it generally applies to all):
“The bottom line is does the piece have real potential or not? If it reminds you of any other film, feel free to compare it, that can be really useful, and if there are elements attached, particularly a director, do take note of that in your report (some reports have a separate section for ‘elements’).
If you’re convinced it’s a pass, give us something positive to say to the producer or writer either in person or in a letter as well as a good reason to pass on it - try to put yourself in our shoes and imagine you were telling someone kindly why you don’t want to pursue the project. Don’t make the mistake of being casual or dismissive however you might personally feel about the writing, as we’re looking for a professional and objective appraisal, and not flippant comments however amusing. Finally, please make it as readable as possible (readers are writers too y’know) - remember that we read tons of these reports a week.”
So there you have it; the main aspects and categories that your script will be judged, and how someone like myself might approach the report in order to get it done. Speaking of which, I've got a couple to finish off before the weekend...
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