Thursday, March 8, 2012

Are Script Readers misunderstood and unfairly maligned?

So right after I plugged Scott Myers's screenwriting roundtable on Go Into the Story, I found my profession was the subject of discussion in yesterday's post:

Scott Myers:  As a writer, did you ever want to kill a reader?” 

F. Scott Frazier: I actually think the readers are unfairly put upon, and just in my complete anecdotal experience, to me it always seems like, if the script is bad, but they’re trying to be nice. They come back with these Save the Cat, Syd Field kind of beats with what’s wrong with the script. This is what’s wrong with the script! Because you didn’t have your end act point on page 30. But if a script is great, I don’t think they care about that sort of thing. 

Chris Borrelli: I’ll tell you, building off of what Scott said. First off, short answer: yes, I have. And there is a bitterness that comes to people who read and read and read, and think that they can do a better script and they get mad when scripts sell, and they think their scripts are better than that. But that said, if you got asked in life why you don’t like something, you kept getting asked this about all these different things, at some point, you run out of things to say. Sometimes you just don’t like things. And these readers are doing at least two scripts a day and they didn’t like your script and they have to give a reason to fill out their three or four page coverage, sometimes they just go to templates or some basic things. So I don’t read too much into reasons why people pass unless I hear it over and over again. Because sometimes — and I’ve been on the other side of the desk — you have to say something, but a lot of times you just don’t connect to it. 

F. Scott Frazier: And I think not connecting to it goes right back to that emotion we were just talking about. 

True, true - ALL true! Here's the thing about readers... everyone who gets a PASS seems to have this perception that all we do is read something and try to find what's wrong with scripts - as if we get a prize for finding material falliable.

It's exactly the opposite - we want the scripts to be good. Every time we open a PDF, we're desperately, achingly, hoping that the next hour of reading and two hours of coverage-writing won't be painful and mind-numbing.

Don't you think every reader wants to be the hero who runs into their bosses office and says "This one! Make THIS one!" It's brilliant, it's exactly what you're looking for and I found it! That's right! That reflected glory belongs to me! ME! ME!"

Okay... maybe that last part is a little bit of overkill. But that's totally the mentality a reader might get when they find material they're excited about. It can work in your favor as the writer because bitter readers like me might feel that your success is their victory as well. We can be your best friend and your biggest champion. We want you to be good because it makes US look good!)

(On the other hand, any reader who boasts at a cocktail party about the great script he "discovered" is probably setting himself up for well-earned snorts of derision. I'm not saying it's always easy to spot the diamonds in the rough, but if a reader gets too cocky, he's likely to be reminded he merely read the script - he didn't WRITE it.)

And John Swetnam is very astute at pointing something else out:

"A lot of these readers, though, they work for somebody, and they’re also filtering their own opinion through the opinion of the person they’re working for. So they know their boss’s sensibility and to me, that’s really their job. To know what their boss likes. A lot of the time, they’re the first bit of the filtering process and you can’t really blame them because their boss told them to look for romantic comedies."

Too true. Having said that, I've never been afraid to slam something that's up my boss's alley if I thought it was a terrible script. (Hell, there are multiple examples of me slamming scripts that ultimately got made at the companies in question... only to tank HARD.) And when the writing is brilliant - even if it's not the most natural fit for my bosses, I certainly will give it a rave.

I have no reason to want you or your script to suck. I have no motivation to pass on a brilliant script and leave it there on the street for someone else to buy. What sense would that make?

If you want to beat the reader, write an awesome script. Greg Russo says as much:

"I’ll throw something out there to the person who asked the question, who I’m assuming is trying to break in as a screenwriter. Don’t worry so much about readers passing on your script. Be careful not to give them any easy ways to pass on your script. If they’re not going to like your concept, they’re not going to like it."

1 comment:

  1. I agree that script readers are a bit misunderstood. We're not these horrible angry people getting off on killing dreams. We're analysts. We analyze.

    I think Chris makes a good point - sometimes it's hard to fill 2 single spaced pages when something is coherent but you just don't like it. I'm often sent things that are solid and clear and well-structured... but just not compelling. Not things I'd want to pay to see. Remember that we're being paid to save our bosses time. If we're on the fence about something - if something is just OK - we're supposed to pass. It's a bell curve situation, and most scripts fall in the middle.

    A writer needs to realize that if a reader passes on his/her script, maybe the script is just not great. Don't be so arrogant that you automatically assume that it's some kind of malicious intent and misplaced jealousy on the part of the reader.

    Also, we all have to get used to getting passed on. Some people just aren't going to like your work. Keep working to find someone who does.