GITS: The Twitter Conversations — Script Readers (Part 10)

July 21st, 2012 by

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:

Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.

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]
GITS [Me]
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.

6 thoughts on “GITS: The Twitter Conversations — Script Readers (Part 10)

  1. “Movies that start with a ‘flash-forward’ scene. (As in The Hangover, Seven Pounds…) How do you feel about those?”

    Pet peeve of mine. I hate ‘em. Call them the JJ Abrams opening. I never knock a script for doing it, though.

    In general, doing this gives the script a very STRONG opening. But I find they cost the script tension, especially later. The problem is they all tend to be the same. It’s usually the Act Two Climax – minus the climax. Just enough to be really exciting. And right when we’re about to see what happens — CUT

    (I’m not knocking building tension and the CUT away to something else. That is actually a great way to create tension).

    My problem stems from the fact we have to see this opening twice. As we are watching the movie, TV show, we can kinda guess what the climax (conclusion of that scene) is going to be. And then we have to sit through this scene that we’ve already seen before — watch it play out… it feels like a poor substitute for a fresh scene we haven’t seen before.

    Openings like these generally rob the tension from the end of the screenplay — which I have to say, is probably the WORST place to steal from.

    I do like scripts that figure out a way to skip what we have already seen, without it feeling like it was skipped BECAUSE we had already seen it.

    I think this device is well used in THE HANGOVER (even though it’s exactly what I’m complaining about lol). What works is it’s short sweet, nails the joke — I lost the groom. Sets up the stakes for the whole movie.

    In general, particularly for Action, I think going the RAIDERS route is a stronger choice — Hero starts at the second act climax of a DIFFERENT story, rather than the one we’re about to watch.

    <3 these twitter reader sessions.

    1. Shaula Evans says:

      > In general, particularly for Action, I think going the RAIDERS route is a stronger choice — Hero starts at the second act climax of a DIFFERENT story, rather than the one we’re about to watch.

      Brilliant insight, James. Bonus: rather than tell me about the protagonist, you’re showing me exactly who s/he is in action from the top of page 1. I’m going to have fun thinking through how that might apply with other genres, too.

      1. Too many new screenwriters think “status quo” means they have to show the main character in normal, boring everyday life. This couldn’t be more off.

        (Ironically, a lot of those “flash forward” type openings do it too. Big flashy exciting opening SMASH CUT TO: ordinary, boring life).

        For action heroes, their status quo tends to be a little more elevated. There’s the obvious ones: Bond, Indiana Jones, any Schwarzenegger movie — but also look at John McClane in the first Die Hard…

        It may not open on massive action (or action at all), but it certainly opens on the dilemma of a story we haven’t seen at its height —

        The hero is flying to reunite with his estranged wife. There’s a story there. Presumably, they had a normal, happily married life (Status Quo), she was offered a job (Inciting Incident), in L.A., for higher pay (Complications) which came to a boiling point when John refused to leave NY (Culmination). So she left — And that’s where we pick up at the beginning of DIE HARD. All that is missing from that story is a conclusion.

        And the first step toward that conclusion is that John got on a plane to fly to LA.

        It works in all genres. KRAMER VS. KRAMER starts with the wife walking out, leaving the father stranded with a kid.

        TOOTSIE starts with an actor unable to get acting gigs.

        Note: I’m not saying all films have to do this. I love a good slow burn too. My personal taste is that you can have a big, tense opening without “cheating.”

        But in some cases, it’s unavoidable — like THE HANGOVER. I’m not sure there is a stronger possible opening than what they chose to do. And that’s really what it boils down to — what is the strongest opening for your story? (which may not be the most action-packed, again DIE HARD is a great example of this).

  2. REM / AWAKE made me cry. That end scene. Three times actually.

    I cried the first time I read it. The first time I saw the pilot. And then once again when I re-read the script after the show had been cancelled.

    That’s some power there. Craftsmanship too. I know the line that sets me off. And it’s a callback/payoff of something earlier in the script.

    Ironically, books make me cry more often than screenplays. I think that has something to do with screenwriters being told that all screenwriting is genre writing — and then not realizing that Drama is a genre that’s function is to make someone cry (like Comedy is a genre that’s function is to make someone laugh).

    No one ever seems to argue the point about Comedy. But the point about Drama is always met with apprehension and “Nuh uhs.”

    Probably why there’s way more Comedies than Dramas. Most screenwriters simply don’t know how to write one. I know, I don’t. Or at least it’s not an endless well I can go back to, like I can with Comedy or Action.

    1. Shaula Evans says:

      > …Drama is a genre that’s function is to make someone cry …Probably why there’s way more Comedies than Dramas. Most screenwriters simply don’t know how to write one. I know, I don’t. Or at least it’s not an endless well I can go back to, like I can with Comedy or Action.

      And yet, “Action” is a fairly new genre in the world of western story-telling; sure there are action segments in the Illiad and the Odyssey, just as there are comic elements, too, but they both serve a stronger mandate of drama and tragedy. In contrast, drama and, more specifically to your purposes, have such strong and documented histories as modes of storytelling and performance.

      It sounds like your plate is already full with Comedy and Action, but if you want to get a better handle on tragedy (and on making people cry), go back to the Greek tragedies (the originals, or as they were revisited by writers like Jean Anouilh, and look at Shakespeare’s tragedies as well.

      They have the keys to making audiences cry (right down to the structural considerations).

      1. Well, I was talking more specifically about the modern day consensus that movies are a “genre medium.”

        Genre writing is the ability to illicit a specific emotion/reaction from the audience. Comedy is laughter. Horror is scream/fear. Drama is tears.

        Movies can have components of many genres, but there’s usually one that is powering the film. It’s usually what the culmination of the film is. (and most major scenes will also turn on it. In sitcoms they call it a button, but all genres have their own version of the button. This is really clear in Horror, as well. It’s a lot easier to see/feel in the genres that generate a visceral reaction).

        Kyle Killien has a great sense of humor, but he really writes Drama. And writes it well.

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