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Monday, September 15, 2008

Rating the Project

Happy Monday, Wavers! Here is an excerpt from the ongoing Reader E-Course that I am offering. The more I think about it, the more I think that taking this course would be GREAT for aspiring writers who have absolutely no plans for becoming a reader. Why? Because you are going to learn all the inside tips, tricks and tenets of covering a script. So you'll have a good sense of what is going to happen to your script when it's covered. You'll learn about the standards to which your script will be held. So without further adieu, for your edu-tainment:

Rating the Project

It’s a well-known axiom in Hollywood that readers are the gatekeepers. Our “pass” recommendation on a project means that at that particular company, the script is done. Finito. Kaput. It’s a big responsibility. Readers are pulled in a lot of directions; we are usually writers ourselves and we feel for the writer of the script we are reading. Because we get it. We get how hard they worked on the script. Other times, the fact that we are writers ourselves makes our judgment harsher – gimme a break! HOW did this script get to this level of consideration?! Add to that the feeling of being a bit unsure if this script is really a pass – like – maybe it could be better, right? And if we “pass” and the script gets picked up at another company, will we get in trouble? Did we blow it? What if we give a script a “consider” and the executive who then has to read it disagrees with us? Will we get fired?

The fact is that being a reader means you must take your job seriously; you are considered an expert. The production company is paying for your judgment. If you say the script is a “pass”, it’s a “pass”. The production company is relying on you. The key is to make absolutely sure that you back up your “pass” or “consider” with well-reasoned perspective and an understanding of the market and of the tenets of good storytelling. The greener you are as a reader, the harder it is, initially, to know whether a script really is that original. Once you’ve read a few hundred, you’ll start noticing the trends and patterns and yes, you become a bit jaded.

Err on the side of being tough on scripts. It is a thousand times more likely you will get called on the carpet by an exec for giving a “consider” that wasn’t really a “consider” than giving something a pass. Here’s why: if you give a script a “pass” the executive will still briefly review your coverage. He or she will skim the logline, the grid and your brief summary (a mini-condensed paragraph summarizing your decision that you cull from the coverage itself and put on the first page of your report). Now the executive is going to make their own decision and decide that the logline or your notes are interesting enough to warrant a look at the script. Or not. But if you give a script a “consider”, the exec is going to read your coverage quite carefully and if your coverage sounds really enthusiastic and wonderful, the exec just got homework for that weekend. They are going to take that script home for the weekend and read it themselves. And an exec who has taken time away from a party, from relaxing, from his or her family only to read a script that is in fact NOT a “consider” is not a happy exec. Err on the side of being tough.

A script you give a “consider” to has to be absolutely PERFECT in your view. So perfect it could be cast and produced right now. That great. A “recommend” means that times a thousand. It means that the executive should immediately cancel all plans and read the script. Right now. One production company I read for, with a first look at Sony had the executive’s cell phone number on the coverage template. If a script got a “recommend” you were to immediately call the exec.

So that’s a pretty big responsibility. Are you prepared to tell the exec, at 10pm or while they were lunching at the Ivy, that this is a script they should reschedule their entire day for? Can you back it up? What if they don’t agree with you? You better be damn sure before you give a recommend.

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Kirkland said...

Here's something to consider for all you potential studio readers:

From time to time I dabble in writing stuff for TV--it's beneath me, but a guy has got to have some fun in this town, y'know?

I recently took a meeting with some execs at XXX Studio (okay, it was ABC Family). I had heard that they were (awwwwe hell, here's an inside tip: they're always looking for Winter Holiday--for PC reasons it's now "officially" Winter Holiday and not Christmas, even if it centers around that day--and Valentine's day stuff) looking for something from the female perspective...

Anyway, I rip out my spec script from many moons ago (and here's another tip: keep fucking writing--something you write today might come into play a dozen years from now. You never know.), gave it a quick shakedown and update, called my connection at the studio and WHAMO! I was in--well, for the meeting anyway.

So, I take the meeting with the first line of execs (another tip: you'll always meet with the low level guys first, then if you they what you have is what their boss wants, it's up the ladder you go)
and we talk about my script.

Of course, it's not what they want, or, correctly, not what they think (focus on that for a moment), but hey, we like your idea could you write this (and they tell me what they think, again focus on those two words). I say, "Of course, I'll give it a shot."

So, off I go to my little write hole and bang out the script they think they want. During this I come up for a really good script idea, but continue to write their pitch.

Long story short, in the meeting with the boss, it's discover that, of course, what the first line execs thought heir boss wanted was not what she wanted at all. so, I end up pitching my idea and she loves it.

The Lesson? Sometimes what "they" think they want isn't what they want at all. Sometimes what they want has to be told to them.

Get it?

Anonymous said...


It might not be clear to your readers that there is something between "pass" and "consider", the infamous "consider with reservations."

There are still 4 levels of evaluation:
1.) No
2.) Maybe
3.) Yes
4.) OMFG

The labels just change based on fashion, just like everything else in Hollywood.

Last I looked, the mapping is:

1.) Pass
2.) Consider with reservations
3.) Consider
4.) Recommend

Chris said...

great post, julie.

one thing i've wondered about regarding the "consider" v. "pass"

when i first got to LA, intending to maybe do some reading work to support myself, i cold called the production companies in HCD. one of them (an established company w/ a studio deal) bit, and asked me to do the customary free read.

i did the read and actually gave the script (an autobiographical political thriller) a "consider" based mainly on the weight of the truth of the story -- what you learned about the subject matter was enough to chill your blood. on the other hand, it was long and not perfect.

reading your post, i'm thinking i probably shouldn't have given it the "consider" to the extent it still needed another pass. on the other hand, i also know it had already been bought by another company at the time they had me do the read. would i have hurt my credibility giving a "pass" to a script that is then set up somewhere else?

(fwiw, they told me they liked the coverage but were cutting back on their slate and doing their reads in-house going forward. hollywood-speak for letting me down easy?)