Reader Question: How can you make up for sending out a script that stinks?

January 12th, 2011 by

Reader questions from James Tillery:

Hey Scott I have two quick questions about your experience:

You’ve said you didn’t have any other ready to go scripts when you sold k-9. Did that put a lot of pressure on the writing you did after? Did it make it harder for you to be purely creative when there were people waiting to read what you’d come up with next?

And did you ever send out a script and later realize there was a cringe-worthy line somewhere in there that didn’t seem so bad when you sent it?

James, there’s always pressure when you write for a living.  Learning how to live with that pressure and continuing to be creative is a challenge working screenwriters and TV writers face on a daily basis. 

I don’t know about everybody else, but I like the pressure.  While my route from graduate school and a life of academics to screenwriting was a circuitous one, there is a thread that runs through everything I’ve done since I left Yale: professional musician, stand-up comic, screenwriter, all of those involve performing.  And whenever there’s an audience involved, and that includes script readers and moviegoers, there is pressure.  I guess there are two types of people: Those who don’t like to perform and those who do.  I do.  Over time, I have come to see pressure as a innate aspect of the craft and accepted it as such.

This gets into an aspect of screenwriting I’ll talk about more in a Business of Screenwriting post and that is this: Screenwriters are in essence problem-solvers.  Obviously when there’s a problem, there’s an implicit – and sometimes explicit – pressure.  Fix the problem!  As I say, more on this later.

Per your second question: Cringe-worthy line?  How about this: What if you send out a cringe-worthy script?  I discussed that in a Business of Screenwriting post: Never send out a script before it’s ready.  Unfortunately I did send out a stinker script and it took months to recuperate for the hit it did to our reputation.

So that — Never send out a script before it’s ready — is the first piece of advice for you.  The second thing is this: You are going to write a stinker.  That pertains to everyone with the possible exception of Pixar who exist in a whole other realm of storytellers.

How do I know you are going to write a stinker script?  Because of two things: (1) The more you write, the better the odds something you produce is not going to be good.  (2) I’ve read too many stinker scripts and seen too many stinker movies by too many great screenwriters to doubt this is an affliction that will strike all of us at one time or another.  In fact, after giving away almost all of my hard-copy scripts, of the few I’ve kept, some of them are by really well-known writer-directors, scripts that either never saw the light of day or did, but were rubbish.  Why did I choose to keep those stinker script?  In order to remind me that all of us, even great writers occasionally screw the literary pooch.  That enables me to cut myself some slack.

How to respond to writing a stinker?  Simple.  Make the next script a great one.  Then all sins are forgiven. 

The key is to keep writing.  And when you finish a script, make sure knowledgeable people read it to give you a sense of how good it is – or not.  Because, as I’ve said, the best way to deal with a stinker script is not to send it out.

What does the GITS community think?  Have you ever sent out a script that people hated?  Have you ever written a stinker script?  How have you responded?  What did you do?  How do you make sure your script is good enough to send out?

4 thoughts on “Reader Question: How can you make up for sending out a script that stinks?

  1. Amos says:

    You need someone–friends, family, colleagues–who are willing to give you strong, often difficult feedback, and whose feedback you trust, right? I think that's important for many reasons, but it's also probably your best safeguard against sending out a clunker. Which will probably happen anyway, because writing is a difficult art and an inexact science.

  2. Scott says:

    That's right, Amos. First impressions are critical in Hollywood, so do everything you can to make sure your script is a professional quality caliber screenplay.

  3. ggglaral says:

    Hi Scott — This is fantastically off topic, but the part about you giving away all your hard copy scripts caught my eye. I kinda groan when people ask such arcane logistical questions, but — does this mean that when you read & mark up good scripts for your own erudition, they're on your computer?

    I'm a hoarder and so I have to avoid accumulating stuff the way an alcoholic has to avoid booze, but I haven't found a way to mark up scripts digitally that makes my notes at-a-glance accessible the way they are with hard copies. Have you worked out a method you could share? Footnotes? The "comment" function in Word?

    Thanks!

  4. Scott says:

    @ggglaral: I'm afraid I'm quite analog on this front. I have dozens and dozens of scene-by-scene breakdowns of scripts I created back in the late 80s when I was deeply immersing myself in the world of screenplay, desperately playing catch up considering I was a working screenwriter with no formal training in the craft. I also have hundreds of pages of notes I've accumulated on scripts I've read over the years, all Word files in an external hard drive for whenever I need to reference them.

    Then I started this blog. So I use that as my means of storing notes, whenever I break down / analyze a script or movie, I post them here, and they're saved.

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