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-reader-consultant Brad Johnson of ReadWriteWatch.com.
Brad is an experienced screenwriter, producer and script consultant who, in addition to operating his own script consultancy, has also read for the Nashville Film Festival and been a judge for the NYC Midnight Screenwriting Challenge. His scripts have reached the semi-finals in Final Draft’s Big Break Screenwriting Contest, and a second place finish for the Walt Disney Screenwriting Fellowship. Additionally, Brad has worked as a producer on the short film Tesla versus Cthulhu, and a production assistant on My Boring Zombie Apocalypse. Brad is also a regular contributor to Script Magazine where his Specs and the City column discusses methods for beginners and pros alike to improve their writing. You can learn more about Brad, his script services, and the 52 Script Challenge on his website, ReadWatchWrite.com. He can also be found on Facebook and on Twitter @RWWFilm.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
Nightcrawler was a fantastic character study, and I recently rewatched the FX mini-series Fargo. That writing room did such an amazing job of telling a compelling story with interesting characters, and capturing a specific tone and voice while doing so; perfectly capturing the feel of the Coen Brothers movie. As for reading, I just finished Body Heat (again) and continue to be blown away by it. Lawrence Kasdan makes you feel the humidity in his words in that script. The heat becomes its own character. It’s palpable. Go read it right now if you haven’t had the chance yet.
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
On a personal level, I started reading scripts as part of a challenge I set for myself – to read one produced script a week for an entire year. It worked so well that I’ve continued the tradition (you can find the 2015 list of scripts I’ll be reading, along with downloadable PDFs for each screenplay on my website).
For my clients, I decided to start consulting after several people read the column I write for Script Magazine and contacted me, asking if I’d be willing to look over their screenplays. As I started doing more of that, I discovered I have a genuine love for helping other writers learn to tell their stories in the best way possible. There’s nothing more satisfying than helping a writer break their story, or realize how they can tell it more effectively. At its best, consulting is a truly rewarding experience for both sides.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
It’s definitely a learned skill. Sure, you can be taught the basic structure and formatting of screenwriting, but what makes a good script is something you learn by reading lots and lots of screenplays. The more you read, the better you’ll get at realizing what works – and what doesn’t.
4. What are the components of a good script?
Showing rather than telling – it’s a cliché for a reason. Remember that you aren’t writing a story, you’re writing a story that is going to be watched on a screen, so be visual. Don’t tell us that someone is disappointed by a piece of news – tell us their shoulders slump and the smile fades from the lips; paint the picture of what we will be seeing should your script be made into a film.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Not knowing the story you want to tell – or a lack of narrative focus. I see scripts all the time where so much time is spent jumping back and forth between two different stories (which, to be fair, could each be worthy of their own film), that neither is ever developed enough to be truly compelling. Whose story you’re telling, and why it needs to be told, are the two things you should never start writing without knowing. If you keep that firmly in mind, it becomes easier during rewriting to identify and cut the things that aren’t serving that story.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
Pretty much anything from the last 15 years worth of romantic comedies. There are outliers (Love, Actually, Crazy, Stupid, Love, and Bridget Jones’s Diary leap to mind), but the Hollywood romcom formula has gotten to point of being so generic and overused that it’s actually insulting to audiences.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-Read, Watch, and Write. It’s my mantra and it’s invaluable advice. If you want to be a professional screenwriter you have to get better than good – you have to get great – and the way you’re going to do that is by Reading scripts, Watching movies, and Writing pages.
-Live your life. You need to be out in the world doing things, meeting people, taking in experiences to fuel your next story.
-Less is more. Your goal with your script should be to tell as little of your story as possible, while still keeping it engaging and narratively cohesive. After you write your first draft, go back and start cutting the fat away until what’s left is the leanest most effective and impactful version of your story.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
I haven’t, but to be fair, that’s like asking if I’ve ever found a four leaf clover. They’re real and they’re out there, I just haven’t seen one in person yet.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
Like anything else related to screenwriting, it’s not exactly a question that has a black and white answer. A lot of it depends on what makes it worthwhile for you. If you’re looking to feel better about your writing and have bragging rights, you can submit to basically any contest out there. But if you’re looking for contests that can actually impact your life and help your career, it’s few and far between. The Nicholl, Austin Film Festival, the Sundance Screenwriting Lab (though technically not a contest per se), Big Break, and Scriptapalooza are all solid contests. Recently, the Tracking Board has also launched contests for both feature scripts and televisions scripts, and the word on that contest is great as well.
10. How can people get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?
I don’t do consulting anymore, but am happy to talk about screenwriting on Twitter – @RWWFilm.
11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?
That’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. To eat, I don’t think it gets better than a slide of hot homemade apple pie. But I enjoy baking and, not to brag, but make a mean key lime pie. Everything from scratch. Hand squeezed lime juice, graham cracker crust, fresh-made whipped cream. The works.