Monday, December 14, 2009

Secret Origins and knowing how to read

The Rookie Script Reader asks:

How about an origin story? As someone on the very very outskirts of the industry I'd be really interested to know how you actually broke in and managed to start making a living as a reader.

I covered this a while back, but it was before I had many readers, so I can understand people missing this post.

Also, I'm ashamed to say that I recognise a criticism of many readers from Things That Can F Themselves in myself, and that is finding it difficult to be able to recognise the good along with the bad in scripts. I recently read Aaron Sorkin's The Social Network as well as Fran Walsh/Philippa Boyens/Peter Jackson's The Lovely Bones, and of course whilst being able to see some positive points, overall they felt like pretty flawed pieces of work to me, yet I can't help second guessing myself and assuming that (from the filmmaker's past work) they're likely to actually be pretty decent films after all. Is the key to this just gaining in experience, and one day hoping to see more easily what will in fact work when it's up on the screen?

Full disclosure: I haven't read either script yet, so both of them could very well be flawed.

It's essential for a reader to have an imagination. After all, they are going to be creating the whole movie in their head as they read, so you'd hope they'd imagine the best possible version to result from the script. A lot of this comes with experience. The more you read, the better you are at it and the more you're able to see how what's on the page reflects what shows up on screen.

For me, my education was helped immensely by having one of my early jobs in a production company, so I not only got to read the scripts, but I could see early cuts of the movie and on rare occasions, even see dailies. In some cases, it showed me where my imagination was lacking and in others, it was cool to see how I more or less had pinpointed the way the scene would flow.

It's very easy to let a script read "flat" on the page. Sometimes that's the fault of the writer, but always make sure you're giving the material a chance.

Conversely, sometimes you end up giving writers too much benefit of the doubt. This usually happens when you get a script from a writer you're excited about and you WANT it to be cool. In those cases, even if your instincts are telling you that the script needs work, you might be inclined to ignore them because, after all, these guys know a lot more about writing than you do, right? Big name always equals great script, even if it's a little long, slightly unfocused and a bit too clever in its own sentimentality, right?

And that's how I ended up giving Elizabethtown a strong consider.

Once I saw the movie, I wanted to take that back. (The coverage was moot - we ended up not getting involved with the project.) I don't think I was totally blind to the flaws in Crowe's script, but I'm pretty sure that I had faith that he'd be able to make it work on screen and in the editing room. I'm also pretty sure that a newbie writer wouldn't have gotten the same benefit of the doubt from me at the time. Would I give that newbie writer a chance today? Couldn't tell you.

The bottom line is that nobody's perfect at reading. The key is probably not only in mastering your own biases, but in evaluating the flaws in a script and determining if they are easily fixable, or deeply embedded in the structure.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Bitter Script Reader. Thanks for giving us a little insight into how your world works.

    - E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA