Back in May late one night, I stumbled into a Twitter conversation with @amandapendo [Amanda Pendolino], @BittrScrptReadr [The Bitter Script Reader], and @nate_winslow [Nate Winslow]. These three all have different things going on in their lives, but one bit of business they have in common: they read scripts, covering them for Hollywood industry insiders (production companies, agencies, etc]. In other words, they are professional script readers and as such serve as the first line of defense in the Hollywood script acquisition and development system.
Our conversation that night evolved into a spontaneous Q&A about the experience and perspective of professional script readers about screenwriting. You can read a transcript of that conversation in these GITS posts:
The response to the conversation was excellent, and I received lots of email and tweets asking for it to happen again so others could join in with their questions.
So on Monday, June 25th between 7:30-9:00PM Pacific, we held a second conversation with the same trio. I will be posting an edited transcript of the conversation every day this week, essentially picking up from the first chat.
BSR [Bitter Script Reader]
NW [Nate Winslow]
AP [Amanda Pendolino]
Here is Part 10 of GITS: The Twitter Conversations — Script Readers:
GITS: Adem H: Movies that start with a ‘flash-forward’ scene. (As in The Hangover, Seven Pounds…) How do you feel about those?
NW: Same as the “hilarious script” Q: can’t really answer that. All depends on the script.
AP: don’t really mind either way, but DO try to start with something exciting!
BSR: I think it’s a tired trick at this point. Some guys use it well, but don’t let it be a crutch http://t.co/GertLxDI
GITS: Per @meinnyc130 question: Is it true script readers HATE scene description, PREFER dialogue bec latter easier to read?
BSR: if I hate your description, it probably means it sucks and is lifeless. Be efficent. You’re not a novelist
NW: I don’t hate scene desc on principle. I hate bad scene desc that isn’t visual/purposeful/necc/good.
BSR: Being economical AND evocative is a necessary skill for writers
AP: I prefer dialogue to BAD scene description. Use your prose to show off your talent & voice.
NW: Important. Shows a good grasp on the craft if you’re keeping your pgs lean w/o sacrificing story/clarity.
Janesfolly1: What is it in a writer’s voice that gives it the “X” factor? Pacing, vocab, confidence? Can you define what the “X” factor is?
AP: mood, atmosphere, dialogue, character, subverted expectations, etc. read pro scripts and you’ll start to understand
ShortofStories: Do you believe in “single-use twists”? As Sixth Sense, every movie with that kind of twist afterwards felt expected
BSR: I think if it’s executed well, you can do it. Though I hear you on that (and on “I AM YOU FATHER” twists)
NW: Justify your twist. Don’t have it be in there just to “have a twist.” Negatively affects everything before it.
BillieJeanVK: “What are some things you absolutely DON’T care about when reading a script?”
BSR: I don’t care about the writer’s background, I don’t care where they are from. Unless it impacts the read (i.e. ESL)
GITS: Ramona Robinson: What is your take on rom coms in the current market? [Their spec sales appear to be a bit slow just now]
BSR: THey’ll come back. Rom-coms never go totally out of vogue. Write a good one and it’ll sell
NW: They’re always just about to start selling big again. I still read a ton. They eventually start selling.
BSR: I feel like there’s opportunity there. Just don’t be derivative. Be a first-rate YOU, not a 2nd rate Kristin Wiig.
NW: A minor glut, post-Bridesmaids, yeah. Still reading a ton, though, so that wave has yet to break. Write a great 1.
AP: I feel like romcoms are doing OK. people seem most concerned with high concepts and attachments
AP: saw a lot post-bridesmaids. my advice there is: don’t write an R-rated movie just for the sake of being R-rated.
MasonAnimation: Is it possible to query from outside of LA?
BSR: sure. Why not?
NW: Email makes that incredibly possible.
GITS: Yes. Get email addresses of managers, come up with a great logline, insert, send, boom! Can be that easy.
BSR: Managers are more responsive to queries than agents. Never query a studio
BrandiLGulledge: Should a writer try to write multiple genres, or should they try to stick to just one & be awesome in it?
BSR: I’m told you should do the latter, but I’m guilty of doing the former, I admit
GITS: Hwood tends to pigeonhole writers. Easier to sell, easier to remember. But find stories you LOVE to write.
Shortofstory: Overall, do you consider comedy the most difficult genre? #GITSChat
NW: Hard to do sci-fi excellently as well. There’s a pattern here, I think. Writing, in general? Really hard.
BSR: god, yes. Sci-fi is hard. Especially futuristic, World-building Sci-Fi
AP: I agree that it’s sci-fi. I constantly read scripts with confusing rules, undefined worlds, unanswered questions
doctornurseman: read any spec scripts that made you cry? if so, did any of those get made? what were they about?
NW: I have, actually. One of them was greenlit very recently, so I hope it gets made. Real emotion affects.
jannogummo: When you are reading a script what types of things grab your attention the most?
BSR: violence, hard-core nudity, defecation gags, gross-out humor, and wild sex
BSR: no, I’m sorry. I meant, strong pacing, compelling characters, unique concept, and voice.
AP: my favorite is when I LOL, say “I’ve never thought of that” or say “I’ve never seen that before”
NW: If I look up and see “Pg 60” in the top right-hand corner without even realizing it.
Once again, the conversation covered a lot of territory. But let me zero in on one line, the very last one: When asked what grabs a reader’s attention about a script, Nate said, “If I look up and see ‘Pg 60’ in the top right-hand corner without even realizing it.”
That is what you want. That is your goal. Every time a script reader cracks open a new script to cover, they desperately want to read a great script when they first crack it open, but they also fear it’s going to be yet another formulaic story with thin characters and no emotional resonance. If you can lure them into your story universe, make them connect with your characters, and so lose themselves in your story that they don’t even realize they’ve read 60 pages until they glance up at the page number, then you have a great chance of getting a “Consider” with strong positive comments.
Thanks again to Amanda, Bitter, and Nate for two terrific and insightful Twitter conversations!
For Part 6 of the script reader conversation, go here.
For Part 7, go here.
For Part 8, go here.
For Part 9, go here.
Some background info:
The Bitter Script Reader has spent many years – “perhaps too many,” he says – working in development and as a reader at production companies and agencies. For over three years, he’s blogged regularly about the missteps he’s seen writers both young and professional make, and implored his audience to avoid those same writing pitfalls. You can find him at his blog and check out his videos on his newly-launched YouTube Channel.
After working for a motion picture literary agent at a major talent agency, Amanda Pendolino went on to become a professional script reader for a few different production companies. She is also developing some feature comedies, in addition to an original sitcom.
Nate Winslow moved to Los Angeles last year and spent the majority of his time reading scripts and writing coverage for a production company and an A-list director. He’s currently working for Franklin Leonard at The Black List, Scott Myers at this blog you’re reading, and two production companies.