The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on Pilar Alessandra of On The Page.
Pilar Alessandra is the director of the instructional writing program On The Page,® host of the On the Page Podcast and a highly sought-after speaker and script consultant who’s trained writers at Disney, DreamWorks, ABC, the AFM and around the world. She is also the author of The Coffee Break Screenwriter and The Coffee Break Screenwriter Breaks the Rules. Pilar’s greatest accomplishment is the success of her students. They work on TV shows such as Little Fires Everywhere, The 100, Dear White People, Grey’s Anatomy and The Chi and have sold feature films and pitches to Netflix, Sony, Warner Bros. and other major studios. For more information about Pilar, her classes, consultations, book and podcast, go to www.onthepage.tv
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
A script called BULLIES by Mike Grebb, one of the writers in my writing groups. It’s dark, honest and incredibly well written, and was included on the 2014 Bloodlist for top horror screenplays. And a former student’s script called RIP CURRENT, inspired by the classic SHANE, that takes place in the world of Mexican drug cartels. I loved how it captured the tone of an old western, while also updating the story. It went on to get the writer representation from Jeff Portnoy of Bellevue Productions.
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
I was one of those oddballs who actually loved writing term papers in college. A friend of mine knew that and asked me to read a few scripts for an independent company she was working for. When I found out this was a real job, rather than just nerdy fun, I sent in my coverage samples to Amblin Entertainment and they hired me.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Good analysts have a strong story sense to begin with, but I they also need to keep learning about how genres and writing styles change. They need to be observers of human nature to truly empathize with and understand characters.
4. What are the components of a good script?
A fresh idea. A compelling story. Descriptive but concise scene direction. Authentic dialogue.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Writing “movie” characters. Many writers actually do this well, but they’re borrowing behavior and voices from characters they’ve seen onscreen, rather than inventing new ones from their own imagination.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
A man’s family is kidnapped or missing and he racks up a high body count getting them back. Though to be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing this with a female lead. Could be a fresh take.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-There are less “rules” in screenwriting than you think.
-Learn what those are anyway.
-Then break one of them purposefully and artfully.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
“Adding insult to his already tragic life, a man is terrorized by a small bird.” The script is called “The Starling.” I know it sounds weird, but it’s beautiful. It was written by Matt Harris, a student of mine. After receiving lots of attention over the years, it was eventually bought by Netflix for 20 million dollars!
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
Worth it because some agents and managers use the big ones to vet material. Worth it too because they’re writing contests, not selling contests, so you have a chance with a script that isn’t conventionally commercial.
10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
Pumpkin, of course! It’s sweet and spicy. What’s not to love? (This is the best question ever.)