Ask an Out-of-this-world Script Consultant!

Brian O'Malley

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 Brian O’Malley of Screenplay Readers.

Brian O’Malley (Not an actual astronaut. Yet.) has written, produced, and directed five feature films and countless shorts and music videos, and is a founding partner of Sundance favorite, Brooklyn Reptyle Films and The Double Aught Brewing Concern Film Company. He started his film career reading and covering scripts for legendary B-movie maverick Roger Corman (Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000, Rock and Roll High School), and in 1999 assembled a team of script development experts to launch SCREENPLAY READERS.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

Well-written: Whiplash, Birdman, Raiders of the Lost Ark. Incredibly well-written: Red Harvest by Dashiell Hammett, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, and the In-N-Out Burger menu. All three of these are simple, yet emotionally engaging and easy to understand.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I interned for Media Artists Group in 1994 and answered phones and provided script coverage, and in 1997 started doing script coverage for Roger Corman (Little Shop of Horrors, Death Race 2000) and Frances Doel at Concord-New Horizons.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Recognizing good writing: easy to learn. Good writing: years of hard work and self-immolation.

4. What are the components of a good script?

A “good” script pushes the art of screenwriting forward, allows me to revel in a unique voice, and surprises me, categorically. A “good enough” script is one that you can read without throwing it or your laptop across the room.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

-Quitting.

-Not writing enough.

-Comparing yourself to the other horses in the race.

-Joining nearly any Satanic coven.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

I don’t get tired of tropes. Spaying and neutering them is what I do for a living.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

Every line on every page of your screenplay must emotionally move or engage human beings enough to fork over their hard-earned money for a ticket.

There’s no 2 or 3.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

No rating I’ve ever given, good or bad, and no script I’ve ever written, and no film I’ve ever made, has ever come without doubts. That being said, here’s a logline: “A doctor crashes on a desert island and has to operate on himself. With coconuts.”

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

I used to feel contests were okay, but I’ve done a ton of research on a slew of script contests, and have interviewed scores of contest owners and contestants and producers. My takeaway now is that nearly all script contests are just massive money pits for aspiring screenwriters.
Nicholl, Page, Austin — these three might prick up a producer’s ears a little, but most producers and filmmakers I’ve surveyed on this subject said the same thing over and over:
1) Don’t spend money on script contests unless it’s Nicholl, Page, or Austin, and 2) Don’t list any other contests (or how you placed in them) on your resume because producers don’t care about any contests except maybe those three, and know how scammy most script contests are.

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

Screenplayreaders.com

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

Every second spent eating pie is a second that could be spent writing screenplays.

Time for a much-needed distraction or two

I was originally going to write about getting notes from a writer (whose bio & accomplishments remain unknown) who made quite an effort to point out everything that’s wrong with my work.

No doubt what they’re saying is exactly what I need to hear, so if I want to make it in this business, I should heed every priceless word of advice they offer.

You get the idea.

But they’re not worth worrying about, and I don’t feel like dealing with this kind of idiotic nonsense right now.

So here’s some much better idiotic nonsense.

Like this.

This.

This.

This.

And this.

-for those dying to know, my time for the half-marathon this past Sunday was 1:58:21, for a pace of 9:03/mile. Not too bad. Next one is March 22nd. Taking this weekend off, then back at it.

Ask an International Multi-Hyphenate Script Consultant!

Danny Stack

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 writer-director-editor-analyst-contest organizer Danny Stack of Scriptwriting in the UK.

Danny is a screenwriter whose TV writing credits include the revamped Thunderbirds Are Go! and the BBC’s flagship soap EastEnders, amongst others. He also writes and directs, and is currently in post-production on his live-action children’s feature film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? Danny has many years experience as a story analyst for a number of film companies, such as Working Title, Pathe Films, Miramax (Harvey Weinstein era) and the UK Film Council, to name but a few. He was development script editor for the British film The Man Inside, and he script edited the Irish-language feature film Kings.

1.What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

The Knick by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. It’s a TV period drama about The Knickerbocker hospital around the turn of the 20th century. The drama is very character-driven but extremely engaging. Steven Soderbergh’s direction is also very distinctive and interesting, adding to the immersive milieu of the show.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I was a commissioning assistant in the Channel 4 comedy department. A large part of my job was logging all the spec sitcom scripts. I farmed them out to a handful of readers but started reading and writing my own reports, too, and really enjoyed it. Once I left Channel 4, I approached film companies asking to read scripts for them. I did a few sample reports, and went from there!

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Learning to recognize good writing should sharpen your existing storytelling instincts. For example, I didn’t know anything about inciting incidents or three-act structure when I was green and keen, but when I read my first screenwriting book, those terms made complete sense to my natural instincts about story in the first place.

4. What are the components of a good script?

An original idea, interesting characters, good dialogue, unpredictable plot, a solid structure, humour.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

Long set-ups or unnecessary introductions of characters, or indulging in backstory. Over-written scene description. Plain or over-familiar dialogue. Similarly plain or over-familiar characterization. Female characters being treated or written poorly.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Advanced aliens who are unaware of, or can’t comprehend, human emotion. ‘One last job’ crime set-ups. The straight-talking, overweight female friend often seen in comedies.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

These aren’t rules, more things writers should be aware of:

-The first ten pages of your script are vital in making a good impression.

-It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get your first script made.

-Structure is your friend, not something to be railed against.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

I think I’ve only given around half a dozen RECOMMENDS (out of literally thousands of scripts!). One of those RECOMMENDS had this logline:

“An adulterous husband’s life falls apart when his job comes under threat while his wife gets involved with a pyramid money making scheme to alleviate her boredom and frustrations.” This might not sound MUST READ but the writing was sharp, funny and inventive, and deftly managed an ensemble cast. After I recommended it, the exec read it, liked it, invited the writers in, and helped them find an agent.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

I actually help organize a screenwriting contest in the UK. It’s called the Red Planet Prize which is a scheme to find new TV writers. It’s about helping and mentoring writers rather than just announcing a winner and then nothing. Plus, it’s free to enter. I’m very proud of setting it all up, and it’s helped kickstart a few careers, most notably with Robert Thorogood and his BBC series Death in Paradise. So yes, screenwriting contests are worth it, but don’t be sucked in by every single one; weigh up the pros and cons (is there a entry fee? Do I get feedback? Is the prize any good? etc.), and roll the dice!

10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

On my website http://dannystack.com/reading

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

I have an annual Pie Night with my friends where we cook 5-6 varieties, and then choose a favourite. Last year’s special was a traditional steak & ale pie, delicious! I’m quite partial to a hearty fish pie, too. And lemon meringue pie for dessert. You’re not going to make me choose one, are you? NO FAIR.