Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Reader question - Should there be questionnaire for submitting scripts?

Christian H asked:

Why do you think HWood is not demanding a form to fill out before sending a script? It could have questions that would tell you if it's worth it. Kind of like a Coverage sheet but with things like:

Last Theory
Last Book Read
Define a transition, etc.

It would be a lot easier to determine the proficiency of the writer BEFORE AND AFTER reading the script.

A movie is a script written with care and technical proficiency. It should have character contrasts, scene transitions(auditory and visual) and above all should have bad grammar and sentence fragments in the dialog.

Frankly, I don't think the people requesting the scripts would have the patience to vette the submissions so thoroughly. I also don't really know if a questionnaire would be all that useful. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to two factors: (1) how good the writer's ideas are, and (2) how strong the quality of their screenwriting is.

The way I'd screen the submissions is have the writer send me only the first ten pages of their script once I deemed their query letter intriguing enough to follow up on. Ten pages is more than enough to weed a weak writer out from a strong one. Best of all, it only would take ten minutes of my day per script (possibly fewer if the writer was really bad.)

No one in development will care about what film classes you've taken, what books you've read or what film theories you subscribe to. There are probably some very good writers who don't have an exceptionally comprehensive film education and there are definitely some very well-educated people who couldn't write an interesting screenplay if the fate of the free world depended on it.

When I sit down to read, no documentation of the writer's educational credentials will make me think, "Wow, even though I'm yawning and re-reading the same passages multiple times, I'm not really being bored to death by this script because the writer's questionnaire shows he knows what he's talking about."

It's all about the writing.


  1. I love your last paragraph. I didn't realize a writer sends in a query letter. What makes a good query letter?

  2. Exactly. I know that you are forced to read the whole thing (I know your pain - I edited other people's rubbish books for a while) but the first page, hell, the first paragraph, is enough to tell whether the work has any value.

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  4. You can use the screening method you propose (just reading the first ten pages) even if you've received a full-length screenplay, and it doesn't have to be exactly 10 pages. If you''ve completely checked out at page 8, you'll know it. If the script goes completely off-track at page 27, you'll know that too. I guess the problem comes when you're obligated to provide script coverage, in which case, even with a lousy script, you can look at it as part of the job.

  5. Wow, thanks for answering. I was venting more than anything, but I understand the sheer number of scripts received and knowledgable readers could get through those a lot faster.

    I mean how many successful writers DON'T study religiously?