Back in September, I spoke about the ‘note to reader’ where a script reader’s attention on the script at hand would suddenly be distracted by a line directly aimed at him: “keep an open mind reader, this is unconventional but it works”. This has the opposite effect on readers. Instead of them focusing on your script with an open mind, they’re thinking ‘what a load of presumptuous rubbish’ as they go through page after page.
Writers aren’t the only offenders. No, sir. Producers have a lazy knack of stamping their enthusiastic opinion on their intro letter to the script before you’ve even had a chance to pick it up. This is understandable. The producer has to believe in the project, and wants to pitch it well, and to be fair, the note only appears on the cover letter, not on the script itself.
However, the passionate assertions need to be chosen wisely. Far too often the producer’s opinion of the script will read like false quotes on a movie poster: “One of the most exciting and original scripts I’ve ever read”. “An amazing story, powerful and emotional”. “This has Oscar written all over it.” “We have approached a number of high profile actors for the lead role”. So, just like writers and producers who shouldn’t slip in a discreet ‘note to reader’, here’s a small bit of advice for you: don’t be outlandish in your opinion of the script.
In my script reading spree this month, I read two scripts that, according to the (separate) producers, were the most exciting and original scripts ever written. In reality, one script was well-written but only got a ‘consider’ for the writer (who turned out to be a graduate of some Disney programme, possibly the Nicholl). The other one made me laugh so much (unfortunately, it wasn’t a comedy), it still makes me titter when I think about it now because of its ridiculous premise and story line (written by a D-list actor).
The bottom line is this: any exaggerated comments from a producer’s covering letter is going to affect the reader’s approach to the script. A sense of dread and concern will seize the brain at the tentative start of page one. And when the script turns out NOT to be the most original and exciting story ever written, it only reflects badly on the producer trying to pitch the project.
Of course, script readers aren’t meant to receive the covering letters but it makes no difference really. They’d still think the script was rubbish but if they’re told it’s brilliant beforehand, then they’re just going to think it’s god-damn-awful. And receiving the full pitching package (letter, treatment, script, visuals) is becoming more of a regular occurrence.
I have noticed that the exuberant claims of brilliance usually come from new or recent producers. They may be making the first step from the world of shorts to features, or have a well-received low-budget flick to their name, or think they have a ‘good relationship’ with the exec they’re approaching, so they slip into casual but excited mode.
More experienced producers will not make such outlandish declarations about their script. They’ll simply say: “here’s the script, Actor X has just signed on, see what you think”. Or might go as far to say: “here’s something I think you’ll like”, which is a generic cliché really, so isn’t strictly necessary.
This advice applies to writers who are approaching producers/execs themselves. In your covering letter, you may be tempted to state what you believe the script is like, and why it’s so great (I have done this myself), but it’s not a good tactic. Give them your intro paragraph (‘we recently emailed/talked on the phone etc’), then give them the logline of your script, don’t say anything else except maybe ‘I look forward to hearing from you in due course’.
So writers and producers, no more misleading or misguided comments about your script, to anyone, anymore. Let the script do all the talking.