Ask an International Multi-Hyphenate Script Consultant!

Danny Stack

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-director-editor-analyst-contest organizer Danny Stack of Scriptwriting in the UK.

Danny is a screenwriter whose TV writing credits include the revamped Thunderbirds Are Go! and the BBC’s flagship soap EastEnders, amongst others. He also writes and directs, and is currently in post-production on his live-action children’s feature film Who Killed Nelson Nutmeg? Danny has many years experience as a story analyst for a number of film companies, such as Working Title, Pathe Films, Miramax (Harvey Weinstein era) and the UK Film Council, to name but a few. He was development script editor for the British film The Man Inside, and he script edited the Irish-language feature film Kings.

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

The Knick by Jack Amiel and Michael Begler. It’s a TV period drama about The Knickerbocker hospital around the turn of the 20th century. The drama is very character-driven but extremely engaging. Steven Soderbergh’s direction is also very distinctive and interesting, adding to the immersive milieu of the show.

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

I was a commissioning assistant in the Channel 4 comedy department. A large part of my job was logging all the spec sitcom scripts. I farmed them out to a handful of readers but started reading and writing my own reports, too, and really enjoyed it. Once I left Channel 4, I approached film companies asking to read scripts for them. I did a few sample reports, and went from there!

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

Learning to recognize good writing should sharpen your existing storytelling instincts. For example, I didn’t know anything about inciting incidents or three-act structure when I was green and keen, but when I read my first screenwriting book, those terms made complete sense to my natural instincts about story in the first place.

4. What are the components of a good script?

An original idea, interesting characters, good dialogue, unpredictable plot, a solid structure, humour.

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

Long set-ups or unnecessary introductions of characters, or indulging in backstory. Over-written scene description. Plain or over-familiar dialogue. Similarly plain or over-familiar characterization. Female characters being treated or written poorly.

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

Advanced aliens who are unaware of, or can’t comprehend, human emotion. ‘One last job’ crime set-ups. The straight-talking, overweight female friend often seen in comedies.

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

These aren’t rules, more things writers should be aware of:

-The first ten pages of your script are vital in making a good impression.

-It’s extremely unlikely you’ll get your first script made.

-Structure is your friend, not something to be railed against.

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

I think I’ve only given around half a dozen RECOMMENDS (out of literally thousands of scripts!). One of those RECOMMENDS had this logline:

“An adulterous husband’s life falls apart when his job comes under threat while his wife gets involved with a pyramid money making scheme to alleviate her boredom and frustrations.” This might not sound MUST READ but the writing was sharp, funny and inventive, and deftly managed an ensemble cast. After I recommended it, the exec read it, liked it, invited the writers in, and helped them find an agent.

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

I actually help organize a screenwriting contest in the UK. It’s called the Red Planet Prize which is a scheme to find new TV writers. It’s about helping and mentoring writers rather than just announcing a winner and then nothing. Plus, it’s free to enter. I’m very proud of setting it all up, and it’s helped kickstart a few careers, most notably with Robert Thorogood and his BBC series Death in Paradise. So yes, screenwriting contests are worth it, but don’t be sucked in by every single one; weigh up the pros and cons (is there a entry fee? Do I get feedback? Is the prize any good? etc.), and roll the dice!

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

On my website http://dannystack.com/reading

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

I have an annual Pie Night with my friends where we cook 5-6 varieties, and then choose a favourite. Last year’s special was a traditional steak & ale pie, delicious! I’m quite partial to a hearty fish pie, too. And lemon meringue pie for dessert. You’re not going to make me choose one, are you? NO FAIR.

A screenwriter’s 5 stages of grief (contest edition)

Five minutes later, he was fine
Any contest email that includes the word “unfortunately” is probably not good

Ah, the screenwriting contest. There are so many out there, and may be the key to breaking in and starting a career.

Once you decide to take the plunge and submit, your brain fills up with visions of your script claiming first prize and all the goodies that come with it – cash and prizes, prestige, connections.

But the sad truth really is that while many will enter, only a select few will win. The odds are already against you, so you do the best you can.

Then the announcement comes, and you’re not on that list. How do you handle it?

1. DENIAL

This can’t be right. My script should be right there. Something must be wrong. Wait. Maybe I just didn’t see it. Let me look again. Are these listed by author’s first name, last name, or by title? Why am I not seeing it? Maybe they just forgot to include me. That happens, right?

2. ANGER

Aaugh! I can’t believe I didn’t make it! All that hard work shot straight to hell! How could they not like this? I’m never entering another contest again!

3. BARGAINING

Please let this be a mistake. I promise I’ll try harder and do better next time.

4. DEPRESSION

I’m the worst writer ever. I’ve got no talent. They probably read this and laughed their heads off at how bad it was. How could I even think I had a shot at this? Why did I even bother? I should just give up now.

5. ACCEPTANCE

It’s all subjective. You never know what someone going’s to like or not like. Maybe the script wasn’t as perfect as I thought. I should probably work on it some more, maybe even shell out the bucks for some professional feedback. It’s not like this is the only contest out there, and there’s always next year.

So what now?

After a little self-comforting (maybe with your preferred substance of choice), you sit yourself down and get right back to work.

*Full disclosure – This is similar to what I recently went through after the results of the Nashville Screenwriting Contest were announced. My script didn’t make it past the first round. Naturally, I was disappointed, but feel better now and am even more committed to writing kickass material. Thanks for asking.