So a friend of mine who just happens to be a reader for a big agency as well as screenwriter trying to break in, sent me an email today… I thought this communication would make an outstanding followup to the last post.
Turns out that when my buddy was hired on to become a reader, he was sat down and given some basic instructions on HOW to get through screenplays rather quickly…
Your latest post cracked me up. We even talked about it here at work during lunch the day of. You really nailed it. Some of us are English Majors but most of us are trying to either become screenwriters in our own right or producers with a smattering of us trying to become writer/director/producers.
What I think your readers might find interesting is that we all abide by many of the same under the table rules. Of course some readers have their own pet peeves as you mentioned you also do, but that can and does work both ways. Sometimes it’s the pet peeve that makes us go ahead and read the rest of the damn thing and sure enough, 99.99999999% of the time, the script is so bad, we’ll all sit down and laugh about it.
If I am learning anything as a screenwriter, I’m really learning what NOT to do in my own screenplays. I’m sure a lot of your readers are aware that a lot of successful screenwriters were readers before becoming successful. That shouldn’t come as a surprise, that should serve more as a well-placed wake up call more than anything else.
So just to hand off to your readers in case some of them argue these finer points, I thought I would share with you, our “under the table guidelines” we’re given prior to reading our first screenplay.
You’ll notice there is no mention of weak action verbs as you illustrated in your post but this one is so obvious that it is assumed we know that already.
I hope it is entertaining.
Name Withheld by Request
Read it and weep…
If the writer isn’t willing to take the time and effort to learn basic screenplay formatting, why should we take the time to read it when we get paid by the script? This includes incorrect fonts, incorrect slugs, centering the characters and dialogue, right-justified text, and character’s intro not capped.
Directing the script:
No camera angles. No songs. No soundtracks. No actors.
Screenplay too long:
Screenplays should be no longer than 130 pages and that is REALLY pushing it for a spec.
Screenplays too short:
When a screenplay is less than 110 pages, we immediately begin to worry if there’s going to be enough story in it to entertain and 99.99999999% of the time, there isn’t.
Notes to the Reader:
My own personal pet peeve. I hate them. I don’t think they’re cute. I don’t think they’re funny. When I read them, I either pass right away or dig in with both feet to find a reason to pass. Don’t tell me what I should know after having just read the scene. I should be able to figure it out from reading your action and description. Don’t tell me what a character is thinking. Don’t explain things to me that you should be explaining with your action, description, and dialogue.
We tend to keep skipping these scripts. Sometimes, if the screenwriter is a friend of a friend and we have to read it no matter what, we’ll go ahead and put a regular white cardstock or agency cover on it but most of the time, screenplays with bright colorful covers are rejected immediately. I should also mention the use of graphics or binding material other than brass brads. Don’t use them.
*NOTE: More and more we’re now accepting screenplays sent via email which are then printed out and bound with either the agency cover or white cardstock and two brass brads.
Boring first 10 pages:
This is actually one of the first things that gets drummed into us. The inciting incident is nice during the first 10 pages but if for some reason, you don’t have your inciting incident within the first 10 pages, those first 10 pages better be phenomenal and provide conflict, action, tension, and/or suspense. If not?
You’d be surprised at how many scripts we have to read that have no discernable structure. That means setting up the Protagonist. Inciting Incident. A crisis. Setting up the Antagonist. Subplots. Several twists, a climax, and resolution. If you fail on structure?
Action and description that cannot be shot:
You can’t shoot a character that’s thinking or dreaming of something that’s happened to them in their past unless you’ve written that past in some action and description. Let me mention notes to the Reader again.
Dialogue shouldn’t be flat or on the nose. Good dialogue uses subtext. Bad dialogue explains the plot. Bad dialogue tells us what happened instead of letting us see it happen. Talking heads and specifically, pages of talking heads. It’s not somebody else’s job to figure out what your characters should be doing while they carry on their conversations. It’s the writer’s job. There’s nothing worse than two characters standing together yapping for an entire page (or more) without something else also happening. Show don’t tell.
Every reader I know has his and her pet peeves and though there’s no way to know who will end up reading your script, it’s best to cover as many bases as possible. Some of us readers for our agency also provide freelance reading for studios and producers so all the above still applies.
So there you go. Defy the basics at your own peril… It’s cool. Your story will shine through, right?