Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Become a script reader for just $500!

As those who follow me on Twitter probably saw, last week I sort of mocked the idea of paying $500 to take a correspondence course in script reading so that YOU TOO can live the glamorous life of working at home as a script reader. I feel like I probably owe you all a longer explanation of my position.

First, as I said back when I attacked the idea of paying someone $75 a shot to evaluate a logline or a query letter, your money is your money. Spend it how you wish. Hopefully most of my readers are smart enough not to be taken in by such schemes. Now, there might be some who take exception to my calling a reader correspondence course a "scheme" so let me unpack that a bit.

I ask you, student in reader correspondence course - after you get your "degree" in script reading, what are you going to do with it?

Oh! You're going to hold yourself up as an expert and charge other newbies for your "insider" insights. Here's the problem with that, bub, you're not an insider.

There are plenty of people out there who work freelance as script readers and many of them have credentials that qualify them to offer advice as to not only what makes a good script, but what is received by agents, producers and studios.

Take Amanda the Aspiring Writer for example. She offers services that are fairly priced, but more importantly, she worked for a couple of years as an agency assistant. She's been on the inside. She knows that low budget character dramas aren't hot specs, she's seen the subtle reasons why some period pieces become hot specs and others are relegated to the PASS bin on sight. She knows the difference between the kind of material that gets talent excited and the stuff that may have little more than an interesting premise.

More than that, she's been exposed to professional level writing. There is a vast difference between the best scripts on Triggerstreet and the most average writing you'll see come from most agencies. If you've worked in this business professionally, you'll have a better idea of how high the bar is set. You'll know what "average" competence looks like and that's something you can't learn long distance via e-mail.

And to charge customers for your advice on how to clear that bar when you probably haven't even gotten close enough to describe that bar is utterly, utterly deceitful. If your resume does not include at least one production company, agency or management company, you're not a real reader. You have no more business telling people how to write than my dentist's receptionist has drilling my teeth.

I'm willing to grant exceptions for people like Carson Reeves, who has read so many scripts in the course of his blog that he's more or less made his bones. Plus, if you read Carson's reviews and find him to be knowledgeable and insightful, I certainly wouldn't blame you for wanting to pay for his insight. There's also the fact that most of his reviews do include some element of analyzing why the spec might have been well-received in the industry. As far as I understand, Carson's a complete outsider, but he's certainly got a large enough portfolio for one to make their own judgements as to his skill. Paying Joe Nobody with no experience and little more than the training of another reader is quite a different story, though.

I would pay Amanda the Aspiring TV Writer twice as much to read my script as I would someone who merely learned the ropes by proxy and has never set foot into a development executives office, who never had to go through a large slush pile and find the few gems in a pile of garbage.

This is why you'll find the most reputable coverage services insist that their readers have read professionally for actual businesses in the industry. The ones to shy away from have zero standards for their readers beyond completing their own training. If this was just about being a writing teacher maybe that would be okay. But when someone pays for coverage on their screenplay, which they are trying to sell, there's an expectation that the person giving the advice has some authority on how to make it palpable to industry eyes.

So in my eyes, that's why this sort of reader instruction course is worthless. I wouldn't give a dime to any reader who's only experience was one of these courses. $500 buys a lot of coverage from Amanda, or Carson, or the Screenplay Mechanic, or ScriptShark. And if I offered such a service, you'd certainly be able to get a lot of coverage from me for that price too. That's all I'm saying.


  1. After winning a script contest last year, I had the opportunity to work with a few upscale analysts/coverage experts who provided notes on my script. In addition to the points you made, I think the real difference between a professional worthy of giving criticism and some goofball with an opinion is that a professional knows the science of the craft and provides feedback according to the elements that make a good script: structure, character development, how the words on the page communicate or miscommunicate the actions of the scene.

    The goofball, I've found, tends to provide feedback on the most superficial elements of your script, usually the surface content. And most of the time it's rooted in their own personal tastes for films made in only the last ten years. They give notes on how your Western should be set in space, your single female protagonist needs a wacky gay sidekick, and that your ending should set up a series of sequels. (Hollywood LOVES sequels exclamation point exclamation point)

    In any case, you should probably take that $500 dollars and go to Space Camp. These days you have a better chance of becoming an astronaut than you do of selling a script.

  2. Thanks for mentioning Amanda the Aspiring Writer. It's nice to see intelligent analysis from a woman in a line of work so thoroughly and inexplicably dominated by men. Now she's in my bookmark bar right next to you. I need all the help I can get.

  3. I agree, Bitter.

    And to be honest, I wouldn't pay Carson either. He gives way too many "worth the reads" to predictable B movie fare like "Priority Run" and "Layover." I just don't find him hard enough on the material he reads.

    And Trigger Street -- Jesus, that's a cesspool of amateurism. The blind leading the blind.

  4. I totally agree with this post. I know the $500 course you're talking about and never understood the need for it. Head scratching. I do love Carson's site and find the exposure to the scripts of movies currently in production invaluable.

  5. I agree with Bitter.

    Having worked in both film and publishing, one of the greatest teaching tools I had was reading the slush pile of a lit manager's office vs. the A-list scripts submitted to the production company I worked for.

    I don't think you can understand what makes a great script until you can contrast it with writing that's truly terrible, and working in those places gave me that opportunity day after day. It was an incredible education.

  6. Re: Carson, I still owe him an email of thanks for the coverage I recently purchased from him. All I can say is that, whatever concerns I had about his "tastes" and what kind of analysis he would provide, were quickly allayed. I didn't agree with everything he said, but there was alot of good stuff in there that I hadn't heard from other consultants. And his professionalism and level of and attention to detail blew me away, given the impression I had formed of him from his blog. Worth the money.

    Also worth the money -- and I hate to say this "out loud" because I consider her a "secret weapon" -- but Pilar Alessandra is phenomenal and excellently priced.

  7. I think I took that $500 course...interning for big New York agencies for free while having to pay for Metrocards, office coffees out of my own pocket, and goddamn motherfucking NYC parking tickets.

  8. No call from Austin today. So sad. Did anybody hear?