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Wednesday, September 10, 2008

StoryLink Ezine

So I have recently begun writing a monthly column in the StoryLink Ezine under the "Insider's Corner". That's the category not my pen name. Although a pen name, something like Liberty Van Readsalot is something I have toyed with.

I thought I'd reprint the article which just came out today, here on the Rouge Wave, even thought this is stuff we've talked about many a time:

Question:
"I'm considering having my screenplay read by a script consultant, but I'm not sure how the rating system works. How will I know if my script is good enough to get passed along to agents and production companies?"


Production company script coverages use a fairly standard ratings grid with about four main categories: storyline, characterization, dialogue, and premise. Storyline refers to the execution and style of your narrative. In other words: Is your structure in good shape? Is the pacing brisk and compelling? etc. Characterization refers to whether your characters are unique, organic, and believable. The Dialogue category rates original, organic, and effective dialogue writing. Premise rates whether the central idea itself is fresh, unique, and compelling. Each category is given a rating, either “excellent”, “good”, “fair,” or “poor.” There are other categories the reader will also be looking for, such as theme, logic, world, tone, etc., but those are examined within the coverage rather than on the grid and only on a need-to basis.

Some private script consultants use variations of the standard grid. Other consultants may not use a grid at all, favoring giving notes by category in a looser, more free-form way. At The Script Department we not only use a grid, we have two additional categories: “Professional appearance” and “Readiness for market.” The grid is for the writer’s use and we want to provide a bit more detail than a production company grid, since we work for the writer not the production company.

Most production companies will rarely, rarely give an “excellent” or “poor” rating to any category since extremes are avoided in either direction. But a “fair” rating is the new “poor” in the sense that it’s not a rating you want to get. Most private script consultants also avoid those extremes since “excellent” cannot guarantee your success with the script and nobody wants to get an irate, confused client who doesn’t understand why an “excellent” rating did not translate to a sale or option. The truth is, because this is Hollywood and nobody knows anything, an “excellent” may not make things happen for you anyway. But it’s a pretty good jumping off point and indicator. At The Script Department, we use “rethink” instead of “poor”; it’s just a little nicer on the ol’ ego. A spoonful of sugar and all that.

It’s tricky to know, when using a private consultant, where you really stand. If you receive low ratings on your grid, and copious notes pointing out what is not working, you can pretty much rest assured that you and your script are not quite there yet. By there yet, I mean truly on a competitive level with scripts out there being given serious consideration. If, on the other hand, you receive high ratings and an enthusiastic response from your consultant about the originality of your script, about your unique voice and compelling premise, you can be pretty sure you’ve got something good on your hands because consultants have seen it all.

A consultant has zero to gain by being disingenuous about your script. Most consultants, myself included, tread the fine line between being encouraging but realistic. But when we love a script – we just about fly out of our seats with joy. So gauge the enthusiasm of your response as well as the marks on your grid knowing that nobody would like you to succeed more than that consultant. Why? Because if your script really does rock and you make a sale, win a competition or otherwise gain accolades with the script, the consultant will wear that success like a badge of honor. If the consultant loves your script and thinks it’s ready for agents, managers, or producers, you’ll not only know it quickly, you’ve probably just found yourself a mentor, cheerleader, and enthusiastic coach in the process. Consultants and competitive writers have a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship, in other words.

If your consultant does not go nuts over your script, take that as your clue that they do not feel you are quite ready for prime time. Some consultants will bluntly tell you what they think, others will be far more flattering than the script deserves as a way of making the writer happy. Most consultants, even when they have bad news, couch it in subtext and/or tread lightly on the fact that the script is not so hot. It is a coping mechanism; not only is it quite unpleasant to have to tell a writer their script is not good, there are writers out there who fly off the handle in a huge way when they do not like what they hear. It’s an unpleasant reality of being a script consultant, as awful as it is rare. So seasoned consultants make sure their notes are professional, honest and plainly stated.

If you choose to use a script consultant, caveat emptor – buyer beware. Make sure your consultant has great testimonials and experience. Ask if you can talk to a couple past clients. Good word of mouth is crucial. Make sure the costs are what you can reasonably afford. And be certain you are ready to hear the truth about your script.

Being a script consultant is a business. But being a great script consultant is an art — a great consultant is a teacher, a cheerleader, and an honest big brother or sister. You want someone who will tell you the truth in a way that you can digest. A good consultant will be honest with you because to allow you to labor under an illusion is irresponsible. But there are ways to be honest that are more genteel than others. If your consultant is complete sunshine and roses about your script, ask them to put their money where their mouth is – do they know someone who might be interested in reading your script? If your consultant is bluntly rude in the name of “that’s what it’s really like out there in Hollywood” - you’re working with the wrong consultant.

No, Hollywood is not really a place where people will tell you that you stink to your face. The loudest condemnation is an unreturned phone call. So do not fall for a consultant who claims he or she will tell you the “brutal truth” for your own good, when in fact this is a person who is probably burnt out and not enamored with writers anymore. Again, you will get no more good out of a consultant who is Mary Sunshine and who overstates where you and your script are. Go for someone right in the middle; honest but kind. Consultants are always on the look out for writers who just might be another feather in the cap. The most important element here is: Are YOU ready to hear the truth about your script?


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6 comments:

Anthony Peterson said...

The Truth sets us free. Everything else is a waste of time.

Luzid said...

So... when your well-respected consultant (whose clients' successes include huge spec deals literally in the millions) tells you your script only needs a small rewrite of part of Act 1 and a little polish to be ready - that's a good sign, right?

:D

Anonymous said...

Julie,

How do we know the consultants are right or wrong with their coverage etc.

Agents are saying there are tons of great script that get bad coverage or/and notes.

Jealously is a sin.

Some consultants get jealous. It's natural.

Jealous is in all of us.

It's a dirty game out there.

Some consultants will tear up your script because they are jealous or because they have not made it yet.

Some consultants don't have a house or condo or 200,000 dollars in the bank.

Thus failure breeds jealously.

It's a sad world out there.

Be careful.

We are all human.

And we all have a hungry heart and get jealous. We all so desperately want to make it and in our journey we hurt others.

Bad coverages, divorce, illnesses, addiction, its the same thing.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous: get bad notes lately? I think jealousy goes both ways. What is your option really? Stop writing/rewriting because some jealous readers are going to cut you down anyway? Do you honestly think it's them, the readers, not your script?

Julie Gray said...

Yeah, I left that jealousy one alone, Anonymous - it speaks for itself, does it not? Oh sigh.

Anonymous said...

Julie and Mr. or Mrs or Miss Anonymous...

You guys missed the point. All scripts get good, bad and ugly coverage. Its a matter of taste.

When you turn 65 years old and you havn't sold any scripts, how will you treat the 18 year old writer who sold for $$$500,000.00 but got a bad coverage from you.

Either you accept it gracefully (which is hard to do since our eyes tell the truth) or you become an bitter/jealous old man or woman.

I am very surprised that you guys can't understand human nature.

Professional writers and Hollywood stars are often jealous of each other.

For heaven sake, look at competitive sports, festivals, Cannes etc.

Did you not see "Amadeus"...?

Admit it we all have our hidden agenda and we are all trying to push our own stubborn vision...