This marks the first of what we hope will be many articles written for you, our readers, by you, our readers. As “How to Be a Script Reader and Give Great Coverage” continues to be one of our most popular posts (according to Google, anyway), we’ve invited a script reader living deep in the studio trenches to give us a peek into the inner workings of The Gatekeeper.
Many aspiring screenwriters probably look upon script readers as the enemy: that bitter, soulless person whose only job is to say “no” and crush the dreams of young writers. But that’s not entirely true. A good reader can be your best friend and your most valuable advocate – if you’re a good writer.
Contrary to popular belief, we don’t read scripts solely to find problems with them; we’re desperate to discover something entertaining and enjoyable. Unfortunately, we are often are deluged with submissions from writers who have yet to learn the fundamentals of screenwriting. If you saw a script through my eyes, you’d understand. That is why I now present a “live feed” of my impressions of a recent script submission, Twitter-style at 140 characters or fewer at a time.
BittrScrptReadr: Title and author name at the top of pg. 1. Bad sign. Mark of an amateur.
BittrScrptReadr: Side margins are too wide. The work of a newbie.
BittrScrptReadr: The writer is already suggesting Nirvana songs for the soundtrack… on pg. 2. Pass the booze; this is gonna be a long 1.
BittrScrptReadr: Okay, now we’re in the year 2109 and the previous scene was apparently 378 years after that. This could be confusing.
BittrScrptReadr: No page #’s! Back in five min after I’ve written them in myself. Goodwill fading….
BittrScrptReadr: This’ll hurt. I’m headed to Canter’s Deli to finish the script there.
BittrScrptReadr: I offer you a glimpse of my hell: “CAPTAIN JONES, ealry thrities.” This must have been written on a version of Word without spell check.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 5-7. Long chunks of unbroken dialog. Another bad sign.
BittrScrptReadr: So a colony of 200 people have headed to another planet because of overpop on Earth. Now we’re 178 years from 2109. I hate math.
BittrScrptReadr: Don’t know what’s worse: expository dialog about love or expository dialog about tech.
BittrScrptReadr: I’m 15 pages in & the story is all talk, no on-screen action. if I could, I’d pass on this now and my boss would call it “justifiable.”
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 16 – Exposition recapping the exposition we just learned in the previous scene! Are you kidding me?
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 16 – “Rack focus.” Hey buddy, if you can’t even WRITE, who are you to tell the director how to direct?
BittrScrptReadr: “It’s clear that the colonists think that Knox is the murderer.” Is it? Is that why you’re telling us this IN DESCRIPTION?
BittrScrptReadr: For my own sanity, I’m going to ignore the SMASH CUTS, INSERTS and ZOOM orders from now on.
BittrScrptReadr: I’ll give him that he has an Act 2 turning point right around pg. 30… but it’s not an interesting one.
BittrScrptReadr: Spores from plants currently in bloom are possibly driving colonists to murder. In itself, not a horrible idea. It’s just its so poorly executed that the script suffers.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 37 – Apparently the killings have increased and 17 are dead. OFFSCREEN. We’re stuck watching Doc Exposition talk to his computer.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 39 – Redundancy… the description tells us what the dialog is about to.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 44 – And again, the colony is running amok. But we haven’t seen ANY of it!
BittrScrptReadr: Cruel, cruel fate. @IMKristenBell just walked in and instead of having MY spec – which is perfect for her – I’m stuck with this drek!
BittrScrptReadr: It seems as if the computers do everything in this script. Including advancing the plot.
BittrScrptReadr: Tried to “casually” ask Kristen Bell about sending her agent a spec. Tongue didn’t work. Awkwardness ensues. I’ll go home.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 65 – Another potentially cool idea: no one on Earth remembers the U.S. Seems like a refugee colony.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 66 – Math seems to be off… 178 yr round trip times two = 356, not 378. Did I miss something?
BittrScrptReadr: Knox says, “There’s been a terrible plague, and we need to find a cure.” But it’s 178 yrs later, isn’t the colony dead?
BittrScrptReadr: Oh, right. The wife needs the cure too. How did I forget that? Kinda cold she’s the only person they saved.
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 71 – Horovitz is brilliant but can’t work out that “thinking machines” is a euphemism for “computer”??? Starting to doubt his genius.
BittrScrptReadr: Can we just skip to the part where Lord Carlos is evil? Don’t make me wait until Act Three. It’s inevitable.
BittrScrptReadr: Here’s the problem: they open the ship, the virus infects Earth. Potentially compelling, but….
BittrScrptReadr: I’m no expert on airborne viruses, but would they really live for 178 yrs on the ship, esp considering life support was off for most of it?
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 90 – I know I should be crying but Horovitz’s wife’s death is so overwrought. Never write “NOOOOOOOOOO!”
BittrScrptReadr: Chair dance break: Join me, won’t you? http://bit.ly/97wiSS
BittrScrptReadr: pg. 92 – As if I couldn’t dislike Horovitz more… Here’s a tip: try not to make your protagonist’s motives exclusively selfish.
BittrScrptReadr: Forgot to mention – virus is now loose on Earth. Good plot turn. It’s what we call the “Bursting Dam.”
BittrScrptReadr: Ten pgs left. Skimming so I can come up with one sentence to sum up the resolution for the coverage.
BittrScrptReadr: They gotta blow up the ship to stop the spread of the virus but it’ll also kill innocents. Much talky hand-wringing.
BittrScrptReadr: So Horovitz stops the destruction of the ship thereby dooming 29 billion lives and THAT’S how it ends? To protect a few innocents, our hero has doomed everyone on Earth. Nice job guys.
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Bleak? Yes. Accurate? Absolutely. But take heart, new scribes. Readers may often hold the keys to the kingdom but if you get your basics nailed and allow your audience to focus on your story, we’ll all be a whole lot happier for it. Need more? The Dangerous Screenwriter offers “Proper Spec Format for New Writers” and our friends down under at The Story Department have this to say: “Writings of a Reader”.
To contribute your own articles on writing, the business, and the writing life: Submission Guidelines for THE STORY SPOT