Happy 2022! Sure, I’ll Read Your Script
I’m a pre-WGA writer looking to break in—like so many of the folks probably coming here from my tweeted invitation.
I’ve made a crazy indie, a sci-fi short (as writer/director) that got some good play, and had a pilot development deal (with a cowriter) that got me repped, for a time.
I’ve also run my own business (a magazine and CD label for film score fans) for decades, so I’m generally savvy about being an entrepreneur.
I’d like to peddle my own material, of course—but this is not a quid pro quo. I would like to meet other writers and see if reads and relationships can happen organically.
Here’s what I can promise. I’ll read your script…to a point.
Maybe that point is page 8. Not a joke.
I once went on the reddit/screenwriting group (reddit...very dangerous—you go first) and offered to read anything people asked. Within 20 minutes, it seemed, I had two dozen scripts submitted. And they were…not good.
I tried to give everybody at least some feedback, and most people were gracious about my bailing—but there was simply no way I could read everything.
It was a bad experience, and I felt really bad.
That reddit group tends to attract a lot of first-timers, and this offer is probably not going to be useful for people who are brand new.
This is better served for people who, like me, have written lots of scripts, can consistently get 6s and 7s at the Black List website, and reach the QFs and SFs in contests.
And chances are you are, like me, wondering—why isn’t this happening for me? When will it happen? Why are managers ignoring my queries, and then passing (if not ghosting) on the scripts?
Having been at this a while—and browsed hundreds of loglines online—I think I know what they’re reacting to, and what they’re looking for. And I won’t tell you to do anything with your own work that I’m not doing with my own.
I’ve recently seen some people offer to give free reads on Twitter—and they end up with dozens if not hundreds of scripts. There’s no way I can read hundreds of scripts!
What I’d rather do is offer a little bit of advice on a lot of scripts—rather than a lot of advice on a very few scripts.
Why should you take advice from me when I’m not doing any better than you? (And possibly worse?) Well, if you don’t want to—don’t!
I’m optimistic about my current work (then again, I’m always optimistic)…and I think we all find it easier to point out flaws in other people’s work than our own, right?
If you’re interested in having me read something, send me an email: Lukas@filmscoremonthly.com. I’ll do my best to let you know what I think of the logline, first of all.
And by that, I mean, the concept. There can be exquisitely written loglines to boring concepts. And clunky, crappy loglines to totally awesome concepts. I’m interested in the latter.
Some concepts are just not going to be my thing—I’m not the right guy for broad comedies, faith-based films, or animation, to name a few.
Horror, sci-fi, drama—more indie comedies—I can help with those.
If I think I can offer something useful, I’ll ask for the script. And I’ll definitely read the opening. If it’s good/great, I’ll read the whole thing.
And I’ll just tell you what I think…nothing more, nothing less.
IF YOU DON’T FEEL COMFORTABLE SHARING A CONCEPT/SCRIPT WITH ME—then don’t, please!
From experience—and I’ve read a lot of pre-WGA scripts—usually the opening alone is enough to tell that the script is not viable.
Either one of two things happens:
By pg. 10 (usually pg. 5, to be honest), there are a ton of amateur “tells”: overwritten prose, lame dialogue, clichés, phony human behavior. It’s just…not interesting.
Or if it is interesting—by page 20, there’s something structurally amiss: unclear protagonist, or the “promise of the premise” is being botched.
Which is to say—the concept had something intriguing, but all the air is being let out due to the wrong subplots, boring other characters, stuff happening too fast, or stuff happening too slow.
Why am I so sure of this? Because I’ve made these mistakes over and over again, for years!
Just when I think, okay, I’m smart enough never to make that mistake again—I make it. It’s really embarrassing. Just happened last month, in fact!
But the only thing to do is go, okay, oops, and start again—either on a new version of the same thing (page one rewrite) or something else.
I’m in this to win (said Hillary Clinton). This is not a hobby. I want to get movies/TV made. I don’t care about contests or online validation (except to the extent they aid in getting something made).
And I don’t want to make a single cent off of fellow writers. As much as I follow and like lots of those folks on Twitter (consultants, coaches, etc.), and I’m sure they have a lot to offer…I just don’t want to do it. Ever.
So you can trust me—this isn’t about building a side-hustle (all due respect to side-hustlers).
But my feedback probably isn’t for everyone. I am contrarian in several major ways…
Screenwriters in the same boat as I am make one fundamental mistake: they think the problem is not having access to decision makers. It’s not.
It’s that your scripts aren’t good enough!
Unless your scripts are undeniable, all the access in the world isn’t going to matter.
When I made a short, my casting director—she’s awesome, by the way—said, “I’ll tell you what I’ve always told people: I could have woken up next to Kevin Costner this morning. Doesn’t mean he’ll do your movie!”
I actually know some really heavy hitters. I can’t ask them to read a script, because they’ll say no, ghost me, say yes and never do it, think I’m a dick...or all of the above!
So you need that all-important third-party validation: from a contest, the Black List site, a trusted professional friend who actually will read your script—and like it.
And for a real pro to like a script, it has to be undeniable.
Making it undeniable means intensive, seemingly endless rewrites. It means stress-testing it against people who are not newbies, or your mom, or your friends. There are so many paid services now, but god are most of them rip-offs with entry-level readers (more on that below).
People tend not to want to drastically rework their scripts because they’re trying to take what’s already there—the decisions they made from the outset, that are baked into the execution, and probably came from some emotional place—and polish them. Sort of take them sideways, at most.
Real rewriting is about throwing out bad decisions and replacing them with better ones—and then rewriting as much as is necessary to execute the new version…even if it means basically starting from scratch.
And yeah, it’s a shit-ton of work.
Most readers probably can’t or won’t give you the feedback you actually need to get better.
You can use the Black List, WeScreenplay, or super-expensive script consultants, if you want. But—
1. The people writing coverage, for the most part, don’t actually know how to make something great—or else they’d be paid, working writers!
2. Your script probably sucks so hard that all the coverage can do is politely try to explain why it sucks, without significantly improving it. And most importantly—
3. These are for-profit businesses whose readers are incentivized to be encouraging to suckers, I mean customers, I mean writers, in order to garner repeat business.
So they kind of keep you on a treadmill of sucking—maybe making marginal improvement, but they’re not going to tell you the truth: if you have a lame concept (and you probably do), you could write it 90 times, and it won’t do you one bit of good (except for the fact that you always get better from practice, even if a little bit).
And yet—you need feedback! I know I do.
The only thing that has fundamentally helped me grow is when professionals (actual working writers or managers) have torn my script to shreds. (And believe me, they have!)
This is one of the reasons I quit submitting to contests. I don’t grow by shelving the script for four months to wait for contest results!
I grow by stress-testing the script against actual, human readers, as often as possible.
Getting my scripts eviscerated really sucks. But I don’t get mad…I get even!
The truth is your script probably does suck—and I (or anybody) can diagnose why without even looking at it. Reasons like—
Not having a good concept. Not having an active protagonist. Not having realistic, relatable human behavior. Not having forward momentum. Not having the movie clearly and absolutely teach the reader in the first ten (if not five) pages what the movie is about.
It’s true, your script might actually be pretty good…
And I do come across amateur scripts all the time where the actual writing of it is really good. (By that, I mean the prose/action descriptions.) I start off thinking, wow, this person has a really assured, cinematic style.
But I can’t tell you the number of times where the story has fallen apart, usually by the top of act two. Certainly by the midpoint.
The probably is in the concept, execution of that concept, and structure. For example…
You chose the wrong person to be the protagonist. You chose the wrong tone for the concept. You assumed that human beings would have one set of emotional reactions—when really, the opposite reactions would be more truthful and also more interesting.
These things all mean—page-one rewrite.
Which nobody wants to hear. To me, when people ask for my honest opinion, and I give it—and may be wrong, but usually I’m at least partially right—they’re like, “Gee, that’s interesting, thanks—bye.”
Now, it’s true, there’s no accounting for taste, and it’s just somebody’s opinion…but this is the development process.
For what it’s worth, I have rewritten my own scripts wholesale (page one rewrites) sometimes two, three or four times. It is, sadly, the only way to really make progress.
You CAN have a career off of one great script—that was rewritten 17 times.
You can’t really do anything with the first drafts of 17 different scripts.
I am not warm and fuzzy. I try hard to be professional and decent, so if I fail and become an asshole, please punch me in the face.
I never use a coach. I don’t even know what I’d do with one. I really like Lee Jessup’s columns but I’ve never logged a page count, made a list of goals—it’s totally alien to me.
So much of what I see on “screenwriting Twitter” is about encouragement and moral support.
And…that’s just not me.
For some reason Dutch’s line from The Wild Bunch just came to mind (when the Bunch are torn about what to do about their dead comrade, and start to get sentimental):
“I’d like to say a few words for dear, dead departed. And maybe a few hymns’d be in order. Followed by a church supper. With a choir!”
It sounded great when Ernest Borgnine said it.
So I can’t help you feel good.
But I can help you with development.
So if you want to see what I think about something, write me with the logline, and we’ll see how this goes…