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 creative exec-turned-consultant Greg Rodgers of The Script Therapist.
A Southern California native, Greg Rodgers knew at an early age he wanted to work in the film industry, and he knew the best way to get there was through UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television. While completing his senior year at TFT, Rodgers was hired by award-winning director F. Gary Gray to assist him on the Paramount feature The Italian Job. Rodgers transitioned to the world of independent film, taking a job at Alcon Entertainment, working directly for co-presidents Andrew Kosove and Broderick Johnson. It was at Alcon that Rodgers discovered his passion for the development process. From there he became a Creative Executive at Mutual Film Company, where he was the Director of Development.
While at Mutual, Rodgers worked on such films as Snakes on a Plane, Jack Reacher, and the independently financed Deadfall. With the help of Rodgers, the company moved into the world of television, selling a pilot to Sony TV, and setting up miniseries at Entertainment One and HBO Asia. On the feature side, Rodgers played a major role in shaping the 2014 slate, including a contained action-thriller titled Dead Loss, an epic four-quadrant family film based on the Newberry Prize-winning novel King of the Wind, and the next entry in Paramount’s Jack Reacher series. He currently runs the popular website www.script-therapist.com, where he provides unique, in-depth script coverage for writers of all skill levels.
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
WHIPLASH. I just can’t shake it from my head. There were a lot of things that came together to make it work so well – Chazelle’s direction, the tone, the performances, etc – but none of that would have made nearly as much impact without such a great script. The writing is just so tightly focused and a testament to how important character is in a screenplay. We care deeply about Andrew and what becomes of him, not because he’s a nice guy – he’s actually quite selfish and anti-social – but because the script gives us reasons to become invested in him. Right off the bat we learn what he wants, how badly he wants it, we see his relationship with his father, we meet a girl he likes – all these things that make him feel like a real person. There’s a lot going on in that script, but when you strip it down, it’s a really simple story about this kid and his relationship with a teacher who changes his life – it’s all character, not plot, and that’s refreshing.
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
My first job was working as an assistant for a director on a big studio movie. Right off the bat I could tell that production wasn’t for me, but after the movie wrapped and we started looking for the next project, I started reading more and more and being exposed to what was out there. My next job was at a production company, where I really learned the nuts and bolts of development: what to look for, how to work with writers, etc. From there I was hooked and I knew it was not only something I wanted to keep doing, but something I had a real knack for as well.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Though there are things you can learn about screenwriting and what makes a good script – because it is such a specific medium – being able to evaluate the quality of creative writing is largely innate. When you come across good writing, sure, you could stop and dissect the technical reasons why it’s good and why it works. But if you have to stop and think about that kind of stuff when you’re reading, or if you find that you’re asking yourself those kinds of questions (is the character and his/her goal established clearly? is there an inciting incident? etc), then you’re not really “getting it.” Good writing is just good writing, and someone who can recognize it will do so right away without even thinking about it.
4. What are the components of a good script?
The #1 thing is character. You can have the most intricate, well-thought-out plot in the world, but if it doesn’t involve characters that people are going to care about, then it’s all for naught. And then does that character have an arc or clearly defined emotional journey – i.e. has the character we’re left with at the end of the script changed from the character we met in the beginning? Also, is there conflict? There needs to be some sort of clearly defined antagonistic force in the script that creates conflict.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
I feel like too many writers just starting out try and write a scrawling epic that spans decades and has three dozen speaking parts. I just can’t stress enough how much I advise writers to keep it simple. Better to tell a small story really well than to tell a big story poorly. It also seems like a lot of young writers try and write scripts in certain genres based on trends in the industry. You can tell when you read a script if it was written from a cynical place rather than being genuine, no matter how talented the writer is.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
It feels like the world-weary detective/cop with the haunted past has been popping up more than ever. I’m also pretty tired of the entire modern rom-com formula – that’s a genre that’s just exhausted and needs to be reinvented.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-“write what you know” doesn’t mean you should create a main character who is an aspiring writer and terribly misunderstood
-in every scene you should be thinking about how that scene is moving the story forward, not just in terms of plot, but the main character and his/her arc
-make sure that whatever you write is something that you yourself would want to see. i.e. don’t write what you think other people want to see.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
I’ve read quite a few over the years, some of which went on to become movies, others which didn’t for any number of reasons. If there’s one thing those loglines have in common, it’s that they describe a movie about a character(s) and not plot points. I always encourage writers to strip their logline down to what the script is really about – is it about a boy losing his innocence, a man overcoming his grief, a woman starting over? . . not just what happens in the plot.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
They can absolutely be worth it, in that it’s always a good thing to get as many eyeballs on your script as possible. I encourage writers to not just blindly submit their script to every contest under the sun, but to do a little research and determine what one or two contests might be the best fit for their script and experience level. For instance, the Nicholl is known for being friendly to historical dramas and the like, so your horror script might not be terribly well-received there.
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?
Oh man, do I have to pick just one? I’m gonna go seasonal on you: in the fall/winter, I’ll take pecan pie. In the spring, strawberry pie, and in the summer (or anytime, really), key lime. Mmmm, pie.