Friday, October 27, 2006

Script Reading Tips

I’ve spoken about script reports before, and how they are laid out and what the exec would expect to read in terms of the script’s critique. Once you start reading for a few different companies, they sometimes give you their own criteria on how they like their reports, and what they expect to read. It’s all variations of the main topics, of course, but they’re usually good script reading tips nonetheless. And it’s always good to revise, and be aware, so here are some useful reminders of how your script is being assessed once it gets sent out.

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Quality of Concept: Is it an original premise? Is it a genre? Is it fulfilling its genre requirements in an interesting and engaging way? Is it a script with commercial or cultural potential, or does it have a specific target audience that would still make it worthwhile?

Story: What is the strength of the central concept and is it clearly established/dramatised in the story? What is the strength and clarity of the narrative and its development? Is the plotting overly-contrived or convenient, or does it feel organic and dramatic to the characters and story? Are the sub-plots noteworthy or indeed noticeable?

Structure: Does the script move at a good pace and utilise a fitting structure to tell its story? Are there discernable act-breaks or turning points? Does the action and story build appropriate interest and momentum to achieve these turning points? Is it too predictable or does it defy expectation?

Characterisation: Are they original characters with interesting qualities and personalities? What’s the dialogue like? Is there an emotional journey or character arc for the protagonist, and/or secondary characters?

Themes: Is there a solid coherence/integration of the theme within the body of the piece? Does it reflect social and topical issues or something more broad and universal?

Tone & Style: Is the writing consistent and skilled in its dramatic depiction? Is it too plain and drab with no real flair and voice, or does it show innovation and originality with its storytelling technique? Is there humour? What’s the atmosphere/mood like, does it change, dip, or slip into any kind of inconsistency?

Vision
: What’s the visual potential of the story? Is it really TV? Does it or could it involve any technological aspects that would make the visual story more appealing?

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These headings and questions are guidelines for the reader to think about, not for him/her to sit down and respond to each one in kind. Most of the time, readers respond on instinct and their developing insight into the whole screenwriting process so a well-written report that covers concept, structure and characters could well be more useful for the exec (and writer) than a routine checklist of every screenwriting element known to man.

5 comments:

Lucy said...

"Are the sub-plots noteworthy or indeed noticeable?"

This is an interesting point.

Lots of things that I read not only have NOTICEABLE subplots, they are overrun with them.

My question then is: do you need them?

In TV - unquestionably. But in film?

That's a tough one. I'm an advocate more of everything MIRRORING that main plot in film - so even if you go off on a subplot, it's essentially still part of the main plot. The idea of having COMPLETELY DIFFERENT sub plot/s to the main plot can, I think, all too often lead us into what I call THE KING LEAR DRAFT. Structure then gets shagged up the arse and the reader is left with loads of questions like: who is the protagonist? Why didn't Act One progress seamlessly into Act 2? etc etc.

You only have an hour and a half for film. TV (esp drama series) can have 6 hours.

Oh, and one more thing - Readers love the 90 pagers. Not the 120 pagers. My record? I got a script that was 321 pages "cos it was a drama series" apparently though there were no episodes and - you guessed it - NO subplots. Irony for you maybe.

Pillock said...

Thanks, Danny. What does a script report typically look like? Is it just a brief text, looking like a paragraph? I've never seen one, and I picture this pro-forma with blanks for premise, story, character, etc to be filled in by the reader. Something tells me that's not right.

Danny Stack said...

Hi Pillock

A standard report is 3 pages long. One page where you fill out the basic details of the script: title, page length, draft date, etc, writer, logline, brief overview, plus a grid where you mark an X on poor, fair, good or excellent for the story's key areas (concept, story, character, visual etc).

Then the 2nd page is the synopsis of the story, and the 3rd is your comments on the script.

You can get reports that are longer, and some comment sections that specify headings for concept, character etc, it all depends on what the production companies like. Those who pay £50 per report (Film Council for example) like a bit more for their buck than the standard 3 pages, which I think goes for £40-£45 nowadays.

Pillock said...

Cheers for the BAFTA-nominated advice and info, Danny.

Phillip Barron said...

321 pages? Jesus!