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 Pilar Alessandra of On The Page.
Pilar Alessandra is the director of the writing program On the Page®, host of the popular On the Page Podcast and author of “The Coffee Break Screenwriter.” She started her career as Senior Story Analyst at DreamWorks SKG and, in 2001, opened the On the Page Writers’ Studio in Los Angeles. Her students and clients have written for The Walking Dead, Lost, House of Lies, Nip/Tuck and Family Guy. They’ve sold features and pitches to Warner Bros, DreamWorks, Disney and Sony and have won the prestigious Nicholl Fellowship and Austin Screenwriting Competition. As a teacher, Pilar has traveled the world teaching in the UK, Vietnam, Poland and across the United States. In Los Angeles, she’s trained writers at ABC/Disney, CBS, Nickelodeon, UCLA and The Los Angeles Film School. Pilar was named “The Script Whisperer” by Script Magazine and was one of LA Weekly’s top 100 people. For more on Pilar go to www.onthepage.tv
1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?
Keep an eye out for a script called “Bullies,” written by Mike Grebb, one of the writers in my writing groups. It’s dark, honest and incredibly well written. I also just read a student’s script inspired by the classic “Shane,” that takes place in the world of Mexican drug cartels. I loved how it captured the tone of an old western, while also updating the story. That one is called “Rip Current.”
2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?
I was one of those oddballs who actually loved writing term papers in college. A friend of mine knew that and asked me to read a few scripts for an independent company she was working for. When I found out this was a real job, rather than just nerdy fun, I sent in my coverage samples to Amblin Entertainment and they hired me.
3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?
Good analysts have a strong story sense to begin with, but I they also need to keep learning about how genres and writing styles change. They need to be observers of human nature to truly empathize with and understand characters.
4. What are the components of a good script?
A fresh idea. A compelling story. Descriptive but concise scene direction. Authentic dialogue.
5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?
Writing “movie” characters. Many writers actually do this well, but they’re borrowing behavior and voices from characters they’ve seen onscreen, rather than inventing new ones from their own imagination.
6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?
A man’s family is kidnapped or missing and he wracks up a high body count getting them back. Though to be honest, I wouldn’t mind seeing this with a female lead. Could be a fresh take.
7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?
-There are less “rules” in screenwriting than you think.
-Learn what those are anyway.
-Then break one of them purposefully and artfully.
8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?
“Adding insult to his already tragic life, a man is terrorized by a small bird.” The script is called “The Starling.” I know it sounds weird, but it’s beautiful. It was written by Matt Harris, a student of mine. It’s received lots of attention over the years, but has yet to be made. Cross your fingers.
9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?
Worth it because some agents and managers use the big ones to vet material. Worth it too because they’re writing contests, not selling contests, so you have a chance with a script that isn’t conventionally commercial.
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?
Pumpkin, of course! It’s sweet and spicy. What’s not to love? (This is the best question ever.)