Required: a second pair of eyes

reader
It’s “should’ve”, not “should of”, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a participle that dangled this much

I’ve been doing a lot of script notes the past few weeks, and most of them haven’t been early drafts. These are long-in-development projects, and I can really see how the writers have poured heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into their efforts.

These scripts shows tremendous skill applied to the usual fronts – story, characters, plot development, etc.

But there are two categories that sometimes get overlooked:

Spelling and punctuation.

And yes, each does count.

I’m quite a stickler for both, and have had more than a few writers thank me for pointing out such items as a missing comma, or how a character has nothing to “lose”, not “loose”.

I would imagine that after having read through your own script countless times, reading fatigue can set in, and you might overlook things you might ordinarily not. It happens.

The solution: get yourself a solid proofreader. Preferably someone who knows scripts. You’d think that would be a given, but there are some writers out there who don’t take that path. Do so at your own risk.

I recently read a draft that was riddled with misspelled words and poorly-written sentences. When I pointed this out to the writer, they were surprised because they’d used a proofreader who was a writer, but not a screenwriter. I believe that to be the wrong approach on several levels. (And the fact that the spelling and punctuation were still bad after their proofing makes me seriously question their qualifications to begin with.)

After you’ve read a lot of scripts and written more than a few of your own, you develop an eye for it. But your own skills can only take you so far, hence the potential need for a proofreader.

Some might claim “My writing’s fine. I don’t need a proofreader!” I’m not saying everybody does, but what’s the harm? I read scripts from writers of very high quality, but they’re still human and sometimes they make mistakes too.

Wouldn’t you feel better about your script if somebody whose skills you trusted took a look at it? It’s very possible they might spot something you missed.

“But where/how do I find such a generous person willing to give up their precious time in order to help me out?” Once again, let’s refer to that all-powerful word: networking.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with paying for a proofreading service. Some people swear by it. But you also can’t go wrong in asking someone within your circle of trusted colleagues; preferably someone who knows what they’re talking about.

So whenever you think your script is ready, put together a list of writers of skill within your own personal network. Five is a good number. Politely ask each one if, time permitting, they’d be willing to take a look at your script. And definitely make sure to offer to return the favor. If they say yes, great. If they turn you down, thank them, say “maybe next time” and seek out another name.

While all the elements of storytelling play a vital role in writing a script, never underestimate the importance of making sure a word is spelled correctly or a sentence is properly written. Because people will notice when they aren’t.

Scriptshadow Success Stories – part 1

As far as I know, Mr. Reeves does not know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. I , however, do.
As far as I know, Mr. Reeves does not know what evil lurks in the hearts of men. I, however, do.

As one of the multitude of screenwriters working on establishing a career doing exactly that, I’m always  exploring different potential avenues to get that first break.

In recent years, the website Scriptshadow (and its moderator Carson Reeves) has offered writers the chance to submit their script for review and feedback. While most are sent back to their keyboards with suggestions of potential fixes for the next draft, once in a while a script garners approval, hopefully leading to continuing success for the writer.

Today’s spotlight is an interview with two of four writers who fall into the latter category: Joe Marino and Alex Carl, whose scripts were voted 1st and 3rd, respectively, in the site’s recent Top 10 Amateur Scripts EVER.

Part 2 will post tomorrow.

1. What’s the title and logline of your script?

Joe Marino (JM): A Rose in the DarknessA secluded boy’s way of life is threatened when he befriends Rose – the girl who his parents have imprisoned in the family attic.

Alex Carl (AC): Fascination 127A group of men are hired by a mysterious client to remove Jim Morrison’s casket, give it to him for 24 hours and then return the casket into the ground before it is publicly exhumed to be moved to the United States.

2. What did Carson think of it?

JM: Thankfully, Carson loved it. I got the email from him the week of 2012’s Thanksgiving (a few days before the review came out), where he told me he was ecstatic about it. I ended up getting an “Impressive” rating (a score that, at the time, was only shared with “The Disciple Program” in non-pro scripts). It was surreal, to say the least. All writers dream of the day where their work is publicly appreciated – and I never thought I’d be among the lucky ones to have it happen to me.

AC: Carson’s reaction was great. I believe he tweeted out late at night after he’d finished it, saying some very encouraging things. I wasn’t on Twitter at the time and so didn’t see anything until his posted review in the morning with a grade of [XX] Worth the Read.

3. How about the reader comments? Did you find any of them useful?

JM: The SS comment board was extremely helpful in making suggestions to better develop the draft. They’re a smart and observant crew, and it was an honor to have them focus that attention on my work. “A Rose in the Darkness” definitely came out of that experience a better script.

AC: The readers were fantastic with input and constructive critiques. I used many of the notes in the comments section during rewrites.

4. What’s happened with the script since it appeared on Scriptshadow?

JM: The script had a healthy thrum of interest. In the end, though, interested parties either went with other projects they liked more or decided to wait until further notice.

AC: Since the review, the script’s been optioned, placed in the top 25 of The Tracking Board 2013 LaunchPad contest and placed in the top 15% in the 2013 Nicholl. It got close to a sale twice when it was under option and received several reads based off SS, but ultimately I believe the story may be “a little too out there” to ever get made. It’s “too big a budget to take a chance on” is what I’ve been told repeatedly.

5. What’s going on with your writing career now?

JM: I’ve been focusing a lot on TV pilots this past year. Been trying to remain as prolific as possible.

AC: I’ve written two other specs currently under option, and am co-writing a pilot.

6. How can somebody get in touch with you to inquire about this or other scripts of yours?

JM: Manager Brooklyn Weaver brought me in as an Energy Entertainment client, which has been a huge boon in helping me find a voice and develop scripts that have the best chance of getting sold.

AC: Email me at hagpok@hotmail.com

7. Is submitting a script to Scriptshadow something you would recommend?

JM: Absolutely. I wouldn’t be in the position I’m in or have the opportunities I have without Carson. If you believe in your script with unbiased eyes, I’d highly recommend it. My biggest suggestion: don’t submit your script unless you’re 100% certain it fully conveys your vision. Don’t send if there’s even a moment in your script where you just went “it’s good enough.” Being satisfied with “good enough” will kill this wonderful opportunity for you. Reach for the stars and don’t allow yourself to be satisfied with inferiority.

AC: Most definitely. Some incredibly talented writers on there who will give insanely constructive notes, not to mention Carson’s insightful review.

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

JM: It’s a tie between peanut butter chocolate and strawberry rhubarb (particularly Amish-made).

AC: Oh, that’s easy. Key Lime. I lived in the FL Keys for a bit, and Key Westers are as protective of their claim to the best Key Lime Pie on the planet the same way Buffalonians will defend their crown of ‘best chicken wings’.

Ask a Smilin’ Networking Machine Script Consultant!

Joey Tuccio

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 Joey Tuccio of Roadmap Writers.

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

I was going to try to be fancy and say NIGHTCRAWLER or GONE GIRL but I really, really like the series BROAD CITY. Though I’m sure some of it is improvised, I get really inspired by writers that create their own content, which is exactly what these two girls did. And now they have their own show.

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

I used to read for a ton of production companies to get my foot in the door. Suggestion to all aspiring writers: INTERN!

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

You can be taught for sure.

4. What are the components of a good script?

Good question. There are so many variables, but it really comes down to characterization. Without that, the script has no heart and no connecting tissue. It all comes back to the character, which doesn’t necessarily mean the protagonist has to be the most complex character in the world. It just means the protagonist should be relatable, even if it connects with us in a dark way.

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

Writers who think they’re ready before they are and jump in way too early. I’m an Italian New Yorker so I understand impatience, but you’ll spend more time trying to get traction if you rush. Take the craft seriously. An executive once said to me that most writers write as a hobby whether they know it or not. Don’t be that writer. An executive can smell it a mile away.

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

Female characters that are just used as visual trophies. When a dad character calls his son “son”. When a writer clearly gets bored halfway through their script and starts to incorporate bizarre twists to make it seem more engaging.

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

-Keep it simple. Have a throughline and stay on that track.

-Make sure you relate to the characters. Don’t write something just because you think an audience will love it. YOU have to love it.

-Make sure you proofread your work and have other people do so before you show anybody. Executives will pass if there are too many typos.

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

Yes, but it’s a client’s, so I can’t say what it is, but I can say it was a low budget psychological contained horror that got him signed almost instantly.

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

There are 2 billion screenwriting contests out there. See what the prizes are and who the judges are. See who’s willing to attach their name to a contest before submitting. Too many times writers submit to contests just for the ego boost of placing, and nearly all the time it doesn’t mean anything besides just that. If you’re a writer, then you’re a business owner in your own right. Be a businessperson and be smart with the steps you take.

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

Email me at joey@roadmapwriters.com.

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

Pecan pie with vanilla ice cream!

Ask a PAGE Silver-Winning Script Consultant!

Derek Ladd

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 former consultant Derek Ladd. His script Nina NANO was a Silver Prize Winner in the 2013 Page International Screenwriting Competition.

Award-winning screenwriter Derek Ladd started telling stories as a kid and never stopped. He lives in Portland, Oregon where he spends as much time writing as he does shaking off the rain (which is pretty much all the time).

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

The last exceptional script I read belongs to Matt Tolbert, a client of mine. I can’t go into specifics but it’s an historical screenplay about the Nordic Vikings. It’s refreshing to work on a script that pulls me in on page one and doesn’t let go. All of the elements (pacing, plot, characters) came together to create an immersive reading experience. As for movies, the last one I saw that featured great writing was Dallas Buyer’s Club. This is a movie that nails the writing on all levels: the visuals, the dialogue, the subtext, all of it. Another surprisingly good movie I loved is an indie foreign film (horror comedy genre) set in Ireland called Grabbers.

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

When I started my script consulting service, one of my early clients wanted to produce a movie. I’d written a couple dozen short stories and a few novels by this time and this client had read some of my work. And since a screenplay is the first element one needs to make a movie, she recruited me to write one. The only obstacle was that I had no idea how to write a script. So I bought two books on the subject and they didn’t help: each book contradicted the other. Then I bought one of those fancy bound scripts at Barnes & Noble – Adaptation (Charlie Kaufman, based on Susan Orlean’s book). Of course, it was more of a transcript so it didn’t help much either. I finally gave in to the fact that I would need to attend a class, and in Portland, Oregon the master of screenwriting was Cynthia Whitcomb. I took both of her classes, read her books and picked it up pretty quickly. My first script was an adaptation of my novel, Without Wings. From there I started reading scripts written by my classmates so I could give them feedback. The writers I worked with were so pleased I started doing it professionally. To date, over a dozen of my clients have won or placed in a variety of screenwriting contests.

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

I would say ‘Yes’ to both questions simply because one has to know how to recognize good writing in order write good material. While writing novels I found inspiration in everyone from Heinrich Boll, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer, Kurt Vonnegut and David Sedaris to William F. Nolan, Anne Rice and Stephen King. If an aspiring screenwriter thinks Gigli or Showgirls is a great screenplay, trying to write a great script will be damn near impossible. If, however, the same screenwriter dives into work by Michael Mann, the Coen brothers, Joss Whedon, or Luc Besson (to name a few), or any brilliantly written script (JAWS, Fargo, The Matrix, Harold and Maude, Serenity, The Silence of the Lambs), that writer will strive to achieve the same level of success in their own work. Excellent writing that makes you laugh and cry and get goosebumps has more power to teach aspiring writers than any classroom instruction ever could.

4. What are the components of a good script?

The Seduction Element: I watched a good DVD lecture featuring Michael Hauge a while back called ‘Grabbing The Reader In The First 10 Pages’. Mr. Hauge opened the lecture by explaining that part of the title is a misnomer: he said that ‘grabbing’ is too forceful a word and that what a writer should aim to do is seduce the reader. That’s at the top of my list. Seduce me with your words. Make it impossible for me to put it down: make me laugh, make me anxious and/or make me curious in the first five to ten pages. If you can evoke a strong emotion in the reader as soon as possible and keep it flowing that reader will be yours to the end. A famous writer (don’t ask me who) once said, “The first sentence should make you want to read the second. The second sentence should make you want to read the third…”

Strong characterization: A fleshed-out, intriguing character has the power to lead the reader anywhere. If a script starts out with three pages that describe the inside of a barn or a ton of details to set up what’s to come, I’ll put it down, or throw it at you if you’re close enough. The writer may have created the most awesome outpost on an alien planet anyone has ever dreamed up, or constructed the greatest plot ever conceived in the history of the written word, but without a solid character to invest in it won’t matter. For me, strong characterization is the whole shebang: a memorable introduction, sharp, believable dialogue, behavior that’s consistent with how the character would act in a given situation, etc. If the character has an arc (not required in some genres, but strongly recommended) it should be begin and end at the proper times – no rushing and no shuffling. Steady as she goes…

Originality: Is this a script I’ve read a hundred times before, or will it surprise me? I’m not saying it has to be about a group of purple, basketball-shaped alien opera singers from the planet Snergle. When I say ‘original,’ I’m referring to the unique spin a writer puts on the material. As an example, a good detective story populated with adults is okay, while a detective story populated with high school kids (like the film Brick) is original and stands out. No need to reinvent the wheel; popular genres are popular for a reason. Just find a way to spin them and surprise the reader.

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

Everyone’s guilty of typos and grammatical errors (myself included), so it’s a given that any editor/consultant will find them. Aside from that, one common technical mistake I see involves scenes that spill over into other locations without new scene headings. Drives me crazy. I also see a lot of scene headings written improperly, missing words, character name inconsistencies and factual errors (names of objects, cities, states, countries or famous people misspelled). To a lesser degree, I see action lines that are jumbled: a character enters, pulls a gun, fires. Then it’s noted that the light is flickering overhead. Oh, and the guy in plain sight by the pool table (who was never mentioned before) fires back. It’s like when someone tells a joke and stops in the middle to say, “I forgot to mention, the guy riding the donkey is a priest.” It’s distracting. Unless you’re writing a narrow-to-wide shot, set the scene: describe who’s there and what they’re doing then describe the action. Otherwise it feels clunky and awkward.

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

The expression “I get it” is everywhere now. I don’t know where it came from. Maybe it’s like the cicadas that surface every 17 years or whatever and it’ll disappear soon. Here’s an example: “Hey, getting hit in the crotch with an umbrella ticked you off. I get it.” The biggest users of “I get it” are the writers for ‘Supernatural’, ‘Criminal Minds’ and ‘Sons of Anarchy’, all great shows that would be even greater if they’d stop using “I get it” six times per episode. It’s superfluous. Think about it: if one character describes what another is feeling, is it necessary to cap it off with “I get it.”? No. It isn’t. So please stop it. A visual trope, as it were, is the weird technique where the action goes into slow motion then speeds up again. I think the movie 300 started that whole thing. Hopefully a better movie will come along to put an end to it soon.

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

The following answers are based on the assumption that the writer has developed a unique concept and story that he/she is passionate about. My answers further assume that the fundamentals of story, characterization, plot, dialogue, writer’s voice, pacing, style and overall balance (60% action, 40% dialogue) have been carefully considered throughout the writing process.

-The first 5-10 pages are life and death for a writer. As an editor/consultant, I get paid to analyze a writer’s work. Studio script readers, on the other hand, get paid to say ‘No’ to conserve a producer’s valuable time and an investor’s money. So unless you give the reader a solid reason to say ‘Yes’, your script is headed for the recycling bin. Set the hook as soon as possible and set it deep. Make that studio reader take your script into the bathroom (to read).

-Unless you’ve written a character-based indie script, structure is critical. Do your own structure analysis to see where you land: inciting incident by around page 12, plot point one by the 1/4 mark, strong midpoint by the 1/2 mark, plot point two by the 3/4 mark and the climax in the last 10-15 pages. You’re allowed a brief end-cap/denouement of 1-3 pages and then FADE OUT.

-Formatting DOES matter, especially for a spec script. Know the average length for comedies, thrillers, horrors, dramas, etc. Turning in anything under 90 pages or anything over 120 is a longshot. Know that formatting varies between different genres and how to use these varied techniques to your advantage. Barb Doyon’s book, ‘Extreme Screenwriting’, has an excellent chapter on formatting and how to use it to enhance a spec script.

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 a few scripts over the past ten years I would strongly recommend, which is probably right in line with the industry percentage of one half of one percent. I don’t have loglines to share (without a client’s permission), but the clients whose scripts I would recommend include Chanrithy Him (When Broken Glass Floats), Santa Sierra (spec episode of The Good Wife), Bill Johnston (Requited), Erin McNamara (Boru), Mike McGeever (Smilers) and Dorothy St. Louis (El Cubano). Others can be found at ProofEdge.com on the Testimonials page.

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

It really depends on the contest. My advice is to do some research, comb the web and read message boards. Moviebytes has a lot of info on contests and how contestants rate them. Find a contest that’s a good fit for your work. Some contests aren’t as open to traditional Hollywood blockbuster-type scripts (Zoetrope), while others offer a range of categories to accommodate all writers (PAGE Awards). If it’s a sizeable, reputable contest (PAGE Awards, StoryPros, Nicholl, among many others) I strongly recommend using it as a measuring stick to see where you stand as a writer. A writer shouldn’t get too bummed if his/her script doesn’t make it past the first round – a script can do poorly in one contest and win another, it happens all the time. Many contests offer notes for an additional fee, which can be quite helpful if done by a professional. Keep in mind that, while winning is the goal, simply making the Finals can attract studio attention, and doing so looks good on a resume when querying agents and producers. Winning or even placing in a contest can make the difference between an exceptional, unknown writer and an exceptional, discovered writer.

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

*Editor’s note – Derek has since retired from offering script consulting services.

 

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

Apple, hands down. My mom always made the best apple pie when I was growing up. The way she makes it, the apples aren’t too sweet and they’re not overcooked and mushy. A couple of years ago I made a butter crust from a simple recipe I acquired as a sous chef. The combination of her perfect filling and my crust (which melts in your mouth) is pretty spectacular.

Getting a feel for the tactile experience

That's not ink. It's writer's blood (or at least it sure feels that way).
That’s not ink. It’s writer’s blood (or at least it sure feels that way).

The early drafts of my western spec all clocked in at 132 pages. “Way too long!” I was told.

Tips and suggestions on how to tighten things up were provided and implemented. 126 pages. “Still too long! Cut more!” they demanded.

Sleeves were rolled up. Knuckles were cracked. The pounding of computer keys continued. 122. “Keep going!” was the response.

I slaved, toiled and labored until I couldn’t take it any more. 117. “Almost there!”

Feeling rather drained, I took the most effective step of all: I printed out those 117 pages, armed myself with the almighty red pen and got to work.

For some inexplicable reason, when I edit a script on paper, it’s much more effective than working with a digital copy. Lines of text I’d always ignored would suddenly pop as something to cut, modify or move around.

I’ll scribble out an alternative line of dialogue. Try out an impromptu reorganizing of the scene. Cross something out, then change my mind and write ‘keep’ over it. Use my finger to literally block out a line to figure out if the scene still works without it.

Just the other day I cut out half the dialogue in a scene with no significant impact. Would I have been able to do that if I wasn’t working with actual pages? Hard to say, but I’m inclined to believe “probably not.”

As I worked my way through the script, I found more and more opportunities to cut or edit. Of these 117 pages, there’s at least one red mark on just about every page, which includes the plentiful use of red lines through words and/or sentences, and lots of circles and arrows (as in “move THIS to HERE”).

Exhausting as it was, the red pen portion of the process is now complete.

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to digitally apply these edits for a couple of days. The US is currently in the middle of a big holiday weekend, which means extra work shifts for me. Love the holiday overtime, but it’s also less writing time.

I’m not concerned. It’ll happen soon, and I’m looking forward to seeing what the new page total will end up being, as well as the subsequent responses.

It goes without saying that “Yes!” would be ideal.