Ask a Multi-Award-Winning Script Consultant!

Erik Bork

 

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 Erik Bork, who also runs the website Flying Wrestler.

Erik Bork is best known for his work as a writer-producer on the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers and From the Earth to the Moon – for which he won two Emmy and two Golden Globe Awards. He’s also worked on the writing staff of two primetime dramas, sold multiple original series pitches, and written pilots and features for such companies as Universal, Sony, NBC, Fox, Imagine, Original Film and The Playtone Company. He teaches screenwriting for UCLA Extension and National University’s MFA Program, and has been called one of the Top 10 Most Influential Screenwriting Bloggers.

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

I’m continually impressed with how DOWNTON ABBEY tells interesting, emotional, heartfelt stories that are grounded in the realities of its setting, for the various kinds of people who populate it. I’ve been re-watching the first three seasons lately – and think it’s great model for what makes characters and stories compelling, and easy to invest in.

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

I’d been a professional screenwriter for about a decade and was being asked to speak to writers groups, teach classes, and give feedback on scripts.

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

Absolutely!

4. What are the components of a good script?

An intriguing and original concept about a compelling and high stakes problem for a character most people can relate to (either the character, and/or the problem) – which focuses on that character as they actively try to solve it, which is complicated and difficult for them, and entertaining for us to watch. I think working with the ten genres in the SAVE THE CAT books are a great tool for working on achieving this.

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

Writers jump to script too quickly, without really developing a concept that has the ingredients necessary to have a chance at success. Stories often don’t have a main character that readers understand and have reason to care enough about, and sometimes it’s not told subjectively through that one person’s point-of-view. The main story problem is often not high stakes enough to the main character’s external life situation (as opposed to their internal life of thoughts, emotions and attitudes). It might not be an active enough challenge where they are pushing the story forward, or a problem that is big enough and hard enough, with enough twists and turns to it. Ultimately, it comes down to achieving the audience’s strong caring, and holding onto that – which is not easy to do.

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

I get tired of violent adventure stories with life-and-death stakes and a simplistic good vs. evil approach. It’s easiest to grab an audience with that, but it tends to leave me cold – especially when it’s just about visual spectacle, as opposed to realistic characters going through something relatable.

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

-Basic story concept is the most important thing, and hardest to get right.

-The audience must emotionally become one with your main character, which isn’t easy to achieve.

-It’s hard and rare to write something that REALLY works, even for professionals – so stay open to feedback, lots of rewriting, and a long-term process that requires a lot of persistence and ongoing belief.

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

I don’t really provide coverage-style “recommend”/”consider”/”pass” ratings, and don’t exactly think in those terms. I’m more about helping the writer better their craft and project(s), and never look for or expect a script that comes to me to be something they could instantly do something with in the marketplace.

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

They’re in no way a panacea or golden ticket, and most of them probably won’t do much to advance one’s career – unless you finish really highly in one of the top contests. But it can be a good way to see how you’re doing, and get quality feedback, if you find the price reasonable.

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

You’ll find my script consulting and rates pages on my “Flying Wrestler” blog. You can also e-mail me directly at erik@flyingwrestler.com.

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

Cherry, hands down.

 

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.

Ask a Fount-of-Knowledge Script Consultant!

Matt Lazarus

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 Matt Lazarus of The Story Coach.

Matt Lazarus has worked in the industry since 2003. He started in development with jobs at Untitled Entertainment, CAA, and Platinum Studios (Cowboys and Aliens). He joined the WGA in 2007 by selling a horror script to RKO, and he sold a movie to Cartoon Network in 2011. Matt’s story coaching was designed to be affordable, regular, and useful, and he excels at breaking advanced concepts into simpler processes and exercises.

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

Short Term 12, a thoughtful, sad drama about a foster home for displaced youth and the human condition. I saw the trailer and it hooked me. The world, performances and characters are all on point. It’s a great example of a drama, and of wringing the most entertainment and potential out of a simple concept.

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

I moved to Los Angeles in 2003, and I got my first assistant job after working really hard at an unpaid internship. I wanted to be a writer, and I talked about it way too much. Anyway, I got good at reading scripts and it always provided me an entry to meeting lit agents and executives who wanted to ask follow up questions on material. I’ve been a freelance reader for some studios for years, and there was a time I was even unironically working on a book on how to cover (most of it made it onto my blog). I’ve been a sporadically working WGA writer since 2007, but the financial security of coverage has always given me something to fall back on.

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

Good writing is hard to define. You want it to be accessible: a mediocre scifi appeals to scifi fans, a great one appeals to everyone. You want it to be engaging: no one goes to the movies to not be affected. You want it to help your career. It’s great to sell a script, but if a script doesn’t sell but gets me in a room with someone who can hire me for my next job, I’ll take it.

Anything can be learned. Not everyone who studies piano will become Glen Gould, but they will get somewhat better at piano. I was pretty cineliterate when I moved to LA, and my years in the development trenches helped me marry my base of knowledge to a working understanding of how the industry works and what the powers that be tend to look for.

4. What are the components of a good script?

“Good” is a hard term to define, a semantic minefield. The components of a good script are the same as the bad ones: they both have the same main four (character names, dialogue, sluglines,descriptions), they both take up the same amount of space.

The difference is harder to measure. We see a thousand faces a day, but only a few make us stop and say wow. We hear new songs on the radio every day, few of them will become our favorite. Most would agree that a good writer can do more in the same space than a bad writer, but the ways in which they are better will always and should always be argued over.

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

The most common is writing a script without a premise. I use something called the premise test. It breaks things down to what’s simple. It’s not the only way to look at scripts, but it’s as good as any, better than most:

“An <ADJECTIVE> <ARCHETYPE> must <GOAL> or else <STAKES>. He does this by <DOING> and (optionally) learns <THEME>.

This seems simple, but the doing is the real meat of the movie. If a naive accountant must raise 100k or his daughter dies, different doings give you very different movies (for example, he could win a surf contest, kill a vampire lord, or invent a time machine and go back to 1979). If you can’t explain what’s interesting about your script in 50 words, you’re unlikely to improve things by writing out 100 boring pages.

Writing is a lot like being a chef. Both are creative forms that have structural limits and immense room for interpretation. Tastes are subjective, but a good chef can anticipate the audience and when he serves something he should have a rough sense of why the average patron might find it delicious.

Most writers write without a real sense of the audience. We’re writing to entertain, to deliver a satisfying emotional experience to the audience. If a writer isn’t writing with a sense of empathy for the audience, the end result is likely to be disappointing.

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

-Scripts about Hollywood power brokers written by people who haven’t met Hollywood power brokers.

-TV pilots that spend their entire length explaining how we got to the premise without every showing what’s fun or interesting about the premise (see #5). There won’t be a second episode. What are you saving it for?

-Comedies that aren’t funny. I recommend taking an improv class and reading the UCB Handbook.

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

The word “rules” needs to die. It always starts a fight. People have an unending appettite for hearing that they can write, but any suggestion of how one might approach writing is generally taken as a suggestion of how one ought to write, and then an unproductive argument ensues. Here are three general principals:

-Entertain. You should know exactly what feeling you want to create in your audience.

-Use unity. Once you’ve set up your script, you want everything to feel connected, organic, and like a ramification of what’s come before. Bad scripts keep inventing random stuff throughout the second act, and it leads to a script that feels arbitrary.

-Be specific. A lot of writers will write in variables, keeping things loose (my character is either an architect or a deli owner… I haven’t decided which) because they think it will prevent them from getting lost or stuck in the later stages. This never works. Imagination thrives on immediacy and specifics. It’s better to commit to an idea and follow it to its conclusion. Even if you went in a wrong direction, the specifics you generate add value to your story. If you keep things vague, you’re building on sand and it’s hard to move the story forward when things exist in a vacuum.

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

In 2003 I read a really funny script called Underdogs. I couldn’t stop reading it or quoting the dialogue. It ended up turning into DODGEBALL starring Vince Vaughan. The movie is really funny, the script is funnier.

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

It depends on the contest. When I was at big companies, execs would usually read the top Nicholl scripts out of a morbid curiosity, but other big script contests (Scriptapalooza comes to mind) would try to get executives to read their top three, and the execs were lukewarm. For instance, a lot of people are selling off the Black List right now. It’s useful now, but might not be in three years.

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

I can always be reached at thestorycoach.net.

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

Humble pie. If you’re serious about writing, you’ll be served it more times can be counted. Alternately, strawberry rhubarb. I’m from Vermont, and it reminds me of a childhood garden.

Ask an Extraordinarily Insightful Script Consultant!

Andrew Hilton

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 Andrew Hilton, aka the Screenplay Mechanic.

Andrew Hilton grew up in the U.K. and studied film in England and New York, before working in motion picture development at almost every major studio. Having read more than 7000 scripts, he is one of the most highly-regarded independent screenplay analysts in the film industry.

Andrew’s first produced credit as a screenwriter was the psychological thriller FATAL TRUST.  More recently, he rewrote and Co-Produced the indie thriller BRAKE, and served as a Co-Executive Producer on the feature documentary WHY WE RIDE.  Andrew also has several feature projects in active development, including the big-budget action picture BULLET RUN.  His latest screenplay, the Dickens-inspired action thriller THE GUNS OF CHRISTMAS PAST, is being financed and produced by Voltage Pictures and is expected to go into production early 2015.

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

While I’m more of a feature guy, I love that NEWSROOM is back on TV. At least in terms of dialogue, there are very few screenwriters on Aaron Sorkin’s level. He has the ability to craft dialogue exchanges that are as mesmerizing as any action sequence. Some criticize the heightened reality of his rapid-fire, snappy dialogue, arguing that it’s contrived and inauthentic. Personally, I’m going to savor every episode of this final season.

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

I attended film school in the UK and New York, then finished my final year of university in Los Angeles so I could start interning at the studios. My first gig was working for a producer at Universal and I spent six months reading scripts for him. I then moved to Warner Bros. and worked in the story department of one of my favorite producers, Joel Silver (Die Hard, Lethal Weapon, etc.). After six months there, I landed my first paying job at Paramount, as a Story Editor for Mario Kassar (First Blood, Terminator, etc.). It was there I began teaching others to write coverage and really honed my story skills.

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

The ability to recognize good writing can be learned, but recognizing a good movie is a skill far fewer people possess because it’s partly instinctual. Consequently, there are many agents, producers and actors in the industry who struggle to recognize a good script. That’s one of multiple reasons why so many sub-par projects get off the ground. Often, producers and studio execs are throwing stories against the wall (or into theaters) to see what sticks. On the flipside, there are people in the industry – from readers to top producers – who consistently find that diamond in the rough. For example, Scott Rudin has an amazing eye for material.

4. What are the components of a good script?

It really all comes down to two things: Can this story entertain an audience for a couple of hours? Is that audience going to be big enough to turn a profit? It’s that Goldilocks balance of art and business, and reconciling that reality is one of the first goals every new writer should work towards. You could argue that there are good scripts which won’t be profitable at the box office, but who is that script “good” for? It might make a solid writing sample, but a genuinely good script is one that’s well-written and will make some serious coin in the marketplace once it’s produced.

So what specific components in a script will ensure the audience is entertained? An interesting protagonist is essential. We don’t necessarily have to like the hero, but it’s crucial we find them interesting. Ideally, the screenplay will also feature compelling conflict, engrossing dialogue, and a brisk pace which holds our attention. The end game is to ensure the audience leaves the cinema feeling completely satisfied. Nobody likes leaving a restaurant hungry, and nobody enjoys leaving the multiplex feeling as if they just wasted $15 on a crappy film.

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

Overwriting the narrative to the point where clarity suffers is very common. Screenwriting is somewhat unique in that one of the best traits a scribe can have is efficiency of language. Don’t use twenty words to describe something when ten will do. Don’t try and impress anyone with your vocabulary or your grasp of metaphors and similes. Just write the most compelling and vivid movie using the fewest words.

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

Anything post-apocalyptic is becoming tiresome. Mad Max was released in 1979 and the spec marketplace is still saturated with clones.

Ditto for “man on the run” stories. Whether the hero is in possession of a flash-drive, witnessed a crime, or underwent some kind of experiment, these screenplays always follow the same structure and climax. There’s often a foot chase in a subway and the protagonist almost always ends up sleeping with the love interest in a hotel. I read one or two of these most weeks.

I’m happy to read big expensive sci-fi epics, but 99.99% of the time the author needs to realize they’re writing it for themselves because it’s not going anywhere. If nobody in this town knows you and the story isn’t based on an existing IP, where’s the $200m budget going to come from?

Another common formula is the comedy about the dishonest hero. Often, these are romantic comedies which feature the protagonist misleading or lying to the love interest. The charade has to be maintained throughout Act II, at which point the love interest learns the truth and shuns the hero, leading to a climatic reconciliation (often a race to an airport).

All that said, if you have a unique conceptual twist, or craft one of these stories in a genuinely fresh and commercial way, there are still plenty of potential buyers out there. Clichés often become clichés because they work repeatedly. It’s also worth pointing out that this is where an experienced story analyst can be most useful. Some people rail against spending money on coverage, but I’ve read well over 7000 screenplays so I might be able to tell you how often I’ve seen a specific idea before and can give you suggestions on how to make your work differ from past fare.

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

Not “rules” per se, but…

-Know your audience.

-Don’t bore anyone.

-Always remember a complete stranger will eventually have to write a huge check to make your story come to life. They’ll want that money back.

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

I used to read approximately 70% of major theatrical releases when they were still at the script stage, either for production companies or foreign distributors. Hence, I’ve done coverage on everything from The Sixth Sense to The Lord Of The Rings. I’ve also helped a couple of scripts get set up or made, most notably Tim Mannion’s Brake. A script I absolutely loved which has languished in development hell for almost 20 years: Icarus by Patrick Sheane Duncan. It tells the story of a fighter pilot who’s about to be put out to pasture, so he steals a fighter jet with the intention of crashing it into the ocean. His lifelong best friend, who married the woman he always loved, takes to the skies to try and talk him down. When I read it at Paramount in the late 90s, Bruce Willis was attached but the project ground to a halt when the director’s latest movie tanked.

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

Some are worthwhile, e.g. the Nicholl, but most are akin to entering the lottery. If you’ve written a genuinely brilliant piece of work, it may still go unnoticed because most contest judges are inexperienced and all of them are underpaid. However, there are enough lightning strikes to keep the contest industry alive, and if a writer can afford it I see no harm in rolling the dice. More often than not, it’s akin to a farm program where a small-time manager or agent may discover you. If you’re considering the contest world, target the established ones which have a good reputation.

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

My website www.screenplaymechanic.com, my Mechanic Facebook page, or simply email me at screenplaymechanic@gmail.com.

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

I’m going savory on this one. Steak and Ale (with a pint, of course).

Ask a Talent-of-Colossal-Proportions Script Consultant!

Barri Evins

 

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 Barri Evins of Big Ideas.

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

A few contest scripts impress me each year. I wrote about one that swept me off my feet in my ScriptMag.com Column: Breaking & Entering – Great Writing – A Love Story. A good rewrite from a writer I was consulting with who made a huge leap between drafts. In terms of what I’ve watched, it’s TV that’s knocked my socks off of late.

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

In kindergarten. Well, practically. Grew up reading plays and studying theatre. Convinced that background would be an albatross around my neck in the film business. I was trying to get my first industry job after moving to Los Angeles, and a lit agent my brother was friends with from a fraternity connection set me up on interviews. He gave me a script that was on its way to becoming a major movie with an A-list actor and told me to do story notes on it as a sample. I did a pretty good job of it, and impressed some folks in meetings, but wound up working at the agency. It was grueling in terms of amount of work and amount of hours, but I read a ton in features and in TV, and I learned a ton. In eight months (that’s pretty fast) I moved on to a Development Associate job and then Story Editor for writer/producers Bruce Evans and Raynold Gideon where I learned a ton and read so much my distance vision deteriorated! Ironically, it was the theatre degree that helped win me the job.

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

I always believed that it could be taught, as I’ve taught coverage to literally jillions of interns, many of whom have gone on to be very successful in the industry, as well as part of a course I taught at the UCLA Graduate Producing Program. However, I had one very lovely intern who simply could not tell good writing from, well, dreck. It was like being colorblind. She got a little encouragement from me to look into other areas of the industry and became a successful publicist.

4. What are the components of a good script?

A great concept, that delivers on the promise of the premise, with strong storytelling. Yum.

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

Oy. Here’s my current bone too pick – I call it “Too Much Tinsel On Your Tree.” The overcomplicated story where the writer has crammed in so much that we simply don’t know what’s going on. Diagnosis of that syndrome can be found here in a guest blog by my dear friend, Dr. Paige Turner, who steps in and answers writers’ sticky questions in a column she likes to call, “S-E-X Tips for Screenwriters.”

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

If I never, ever, ever read another story where something happens to make the main character revisit their small hometown after 20 years absence, I would be thrilled. That said, I will probably come across a terrific one now that I’ve gone on record with this. But I somehow doubt it.

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

Outline, outline, and get an outside opinion, preferably from a professional because you’re just too close to your own work and your mom thinks everything you do is “just terrific, honey.”

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

Yup, but the execution was horrid, I mean terrible on almost every count, and my company couldn’t get our studio to buy it based on the great concept. Another studio wound up doing it, but took it in the complete wrong direction. So I’d rather not share the logline. Sorry.

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

Depends on the contest and what the writer is looking to achieve. I wrote two monthly columns for a year on screenwriting contests for MovieBytes.com – a terrific, free online source of info on contests by writers. Inside the Contest is in-depth interviews of the heads of 13 top contests – asking questions I think writers would want to ask. Contest Judge of the Month interviews a wide range of contest judges from first round to famous, all anonymously, a la the Playboy Playmate of the Month, so the questions are a bit naughty and answered with absolute honesty. So, I know a bit about contests from different angles. Why 13 in a year? Because the contests were eventually competing to get the free publicity.

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

I consult on everything from loglines to screenplays to queries, as well as offer custom packages and mentorship. My website is www.bigBIGideas.com, which includes my consulting page, where you have the  opportunity to “Pitch Me For Free” and get a thumbs up or down on a concept.

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

Key Lime, baby. I’m a Florida girl.