Monday, November 9, 2009

The worst query submission I ever had to read

Over the years, I've read thousands of scripts and I can tell you where most of them have ended up - in the circular file. However, every now and then I get a script so hilariously, unbelievably bad that I have to save it for posterity. There's one such script that I have held onto for well over five years at this point. To be honest, I'm not sure how it made its way into the company I was working for at the time. It has all the earmarks of a "slush pile" script, and yet, somehow it got to an assistant who didn't take this sort of thing.

My theory has always been that she requested the script so she could use it to torture me.

It's hard to know where to begin with this abomination, so I'll just describe it the way a professional reader would see it. The first thing you'd notice is that the script is significantly thicker than most other screenplays. A quick flip to the back page will confirm that it is just shy of 160 pages in length - about 40 pages and 33% longer than the accepted norm!

You would also notice that the first fifteen or so pages bound in the script are not actually part of the script. Beneath the cover page is a Table of Contents, that helpfully explains that there is an Introduction, an Overview, and a section on "marketing considerations." These marketing considerations include "observations" on the particular cultural subset depicted in the film, as well as the "Author's Commitment to Marketing."

I'll say this now - as the screenwriter, it's not your job to tell the producers and marketing department how to market their film. Yes, you need to give them something marketable, but then shut up and let them do their jobs.

Oh, and the writer also included several pages of reviews from their last book. (Self-published, of course.)

The page and a half cover letter helpfully informs the executive that the film was inspired by a true story, and then leads into a long uninteresting anecdote about a conversation the writer had which inspired the film. The second paragraph details how this screenplay was first written as a novel and then adapted by the author. The author suggests that "This is a perfect vehicle for Halle Berry, and we already know what she looks like in tight, black latex... though there are others who work as well." In case you don't know this, NEVER offer casting suggestions in a cover letter. Let the casting people do their job.

The next paragraph says that though the script is a little long, that's mostly because of the long descriptions of the settings and actions, and the writer estimates that the film will be more than two hours and fifteen minutes. This is also the point where the writer casually mentions that several scenes are a direct riff on an existing and well-known novel - to the point that several characters assume the identities of the other author's characters.

Oh, and as we get to page two of the cover letter, the author says that all her friends have responded well to the script and again she mentions the research on marketing that they themselves gathered.

But the author still hasn't shut up - there's yet another page! An addendum to the cover letter. It starts with "I forgot to mention how much research went into this script," and then spends three paragraphs singling out specific scenes and essentially saying little more than, "Someone told me this stuff in an interview."

So finally, after I've stopped laughing so hard that my throat is sore, I peel back the real cover page. I'm not greeted with "FADE IN" as I should be. No, I still have to get past a one-page list suggesting possible cast members for the eight lead roles.

Seriously, days like that don't just make me hate my job. They make me hate writers.

Now I'm going to tell you the first two words in the first two paragraphs of the script:


Never, ever, EVER, NEVER direct in the screenplay! At this point I pretty much know all I should need to know. It's utter amateur hour. Not only can I be assured that the writer has no clue what they're doing, I can already tell from the pitch that this is not something that my bosses would ever go for. Unfortunately, this was not one of those times when I had the luxury of simply going back to my bosses and telling them what I told you. It had been made clear to me that I had to read the whole thing.

This script was wretched. There was excessive voice-over narration throughout, insanely overly detailed description, including a healthy serving of "unfilmables." (For those not in the know, "unfilmables" are what we call information in the description that cannot possibly be shown visually. For instance, if the description tells us that Bobby has been emotionally crippled ever since his mom died in his arms when he was 8, that's bad writing. If we need to know that, it should come out through dialogue or action. Putting it in the description means that the only people who will know this are those reading the script.)

There were also a number of graphic sex scenes that, if filmed as described, would have earned the movie an NC-17 easily.

This thing is utter garbage. It's not the most offensive spec script I've ever read, but it's definitely in my Top 5 Worst, if not THE worst. I keep it as a reminder to never make the mistakes that writer did. Plus, every now and then it's good for a laugh.


  1. Since I many, MANY years ago sent along a tape with mood-music to the reader, I too get at once that this script was written by an absolutely amateur. I was too at the time.

    Now I am produced.

    But it's not because of the mood music! It's because I finally learned to listen to those who knows how to do and not to do things.

    I hope this writer did as well.

  2. Biter Script Reader, thanks for sharing your horror tales.

    Sounds like this writer was having a fabriced pitch question-and-answer session BEFORE their script.

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

  3. I used to read submissions for Zoetrope: All-Story, the fiction mag. I read for 6 years, thousands of short stories. Mostly bad. I have a small file that I pull out once in awhile. It contains two of the worst short stories I have ever read in my life (the short story version of what you describe) and then two of the best, the sort that make you cry they're so good.

  4. " two of the cover letter."

    I actually did laugh out loud there.

  5. It's really sad that this writer did so much work for the screenplay and spent all that time researching, when she should have been researching the business she was wanting to become a part of. She probably could have saved herself and you the pain of the screenplay. Hopefully she did finally learn about the craft of screenwriting and go on to produce something.

  6. I confess that now and then I google the author in an effort to see if they have ever advanced in their career. Thus far, I haven't come across anything.

  7. Desiree, I actually laughed out loud when I read you sent mood music. That is freakin awesome!

    So how do we get our hands on a copy of this script? I am dying to see what was so bad you kept it for this long.

    BTW-Has anyone ever written a script or story about a bitter script reader who hunts down the author of a 200 page script with a 12 page cover letter? Sounds like an awesome movie to me!

  8. How dare you bad-mouth my script!! I put my life into that. All the pain, all the horror I felt as a child growing up is all in that script. Can't you see it? Of course, I did fictionalize some of it. My mother died in my arms when I was 9, not 8. But I took creative license! And you mock me!!

    Are you saying Halle Berry doesn't look good in black latex? I mean, it's her or Michelle Pfeiffer. Which would you rather see at this point?

    ...aren't you afraid you're going to get that email some day? :)

  9. Not really - only because a writer pitching Halle Berry as their lead actress is hardly unique (and was even more upiquitous at the time of the submission.) I also went to some lengths not to reveal the premise of the script or any other significantly revealing details of the concept.

    Granted I mocked the hell out of HOW they submitted it, but if they stumble across this blog somehow, I'm probably doing them a favor. They'll know that their pitch has backfired and thus, will be able to better submit it. (Yeah, I called it "utter trash" too, but given that I didn't expose the premise, no one other than the script writer himself needs to know I'm taking a shot at them.)

    Yeah, I'm splitting that hair pretty finely.

    oh, and attatt, as much as I'd LOVE to share this with all of you, doing so would probably get me in trouble with too many entities. I will say this, as weak as the screenplay is, it's nowhere near as awesomely bad as the cover letter.

    For awesomely bad, track down the Project Greenlight draft of FEAST. I really can't believe that movie got made. Plus it's only about 80 some pages so you'll spend half the time you would reading the other one.