4 SCREENWRITING SECRETS (This is a Must Read… #3 & #4 Are Super Great)
by Dov S-S Simens on March 1, 2016
PAGE-1: GRAB THE READER
They say about Hollywood, “Those whores only read 10 pages”.
Hey, “Easy. Easy. I was one of those whores”.
Permit me to explain why: Everyone believes that a “Reader” (aka: Those Whores) can tell if your script stinks within 10 pages… is a bloody-bloody-lie…
Answer: I used to be a “Reader” and did “Coverage” (2-page Book/Script Evaluations) during my first 3 years in Hollywood, while chasing-the-deal, and have read over 2,000 scripts (paid $25-$25 in 1981-1984) and the phrase that “You can tell if a script stinks by reading 10 pages” is bullsh*t for you, if an accomplished “Reader”, can tell if a script stinks by only READING 1-PAGE.
I didn’t need 10-Pages.
I could tell if your script sucks by Page-1.
Got it “ONE-PAGE”!
You gotta “Grab-da-Reader” (a whore like me), almost instantly, on Page-1.
Cut this crap with spending 7-10 pages establishing characters, settings and atmospheres.
And, yes, most readers toss your script after 1-page… So you better make your first page unbelievably great.
In 1980, when I first came to Hollywood, after 4 almost useless, night-school, UCLA Extension courses on Screenwriting, Financing, Deal-making & Line Producing, I became very tight for money.
I had a small studio apartment in the Farmers Market/Fairfax district of Los Angeles and looked for any part-time movie related job(s), besides being a PA (production assistant), to handle rent of $495/month.
The best job I found was as an “Independent Reader” for small production companies, who could not afford to hire a day-in day-out on-staff reader (aka: Development Exec), a Masters Degree in Literature graduate from Harvard, Yale or Oxford, paid $100,000-$200,000/year, to read scripts and do what is called “Coverage”.
WHAT IS SCRIPT COVERAGE & WHAT DOES INDEPENDENT COVERAGE COST?
Getting “Coverage” is the phrase used when a script is submitted to a production company, but the owner, who has other things to do, has an assistant (titled “Development Executive”) read and condense it into a 2-page synopsis (aka: analysis) with the first page being the synopsis, a 1-page condensing, of the story and a 1-page opinion on (A) story, (B) characters, (C) plot, (D) dialogue & (E) marketability.
From 1981-1985 I covered (aka: read) 2-3 scripts per nite and 4-5 per weekend.
$25 for less than 90-pages.
$30 for 90-120 pages.
$35 for more than 120-pages.
$40 for books less than 250 pages & $45 for books more than 250 pages.
Phew. Lot of reading. Not much money. Lot of typing… and after 4 years kicking in an attitude of I really don’t want to see another script… but I gotta pay rent and my car is starting to over heat.
Bottom-line; over 4 years I read and covered 700-1,000 scripts/year and made just enough money to pay rent, keep my car full of gas and every now-and-then go to a movie.
This pencils-out to reading and being asked for opinions on 2,000-3,000 scripts over 4 years.
4 GREAT SCREENWRITER TRICKS
Here is what I learned….which is important because when you want to get your script to the big name actor, director or producer you have to get not a good coverage report from a person like me, but a GREAT COVERAGE REPORT, before he/she (the owner, the celebrity actor) will read it.
FIRST: Type it (aka: format) properly. If you don’t have the proper format (likely Final Draft software or an app or celtx.com) it is “binned” instantly.
SECOND: Don’t design exotic covers, with expensive graphics & condensed posters, that you think you’re going to grab a reader into thinking “Wow”. KISS (Keep It Simple Stupid). Simple two-hole punch cardboard with the Title centered.
THIRD: “GRAB-THE-READER”… within 6 lines of Page-1
FOURTH: “GRAB-THE-READER”… again… on the very last line of Page-1.
CUT-TO-THE-CHASE: GRAB THE READER
You’ve spent a year-or-two writing your script. You are sure it’s great.
You are already practicing your Oscar acceptance speech.
But, you must first have your script read by someone like me, an A-Hole, still naïve, still a little arrogant and thinking he/she’s really a producer, but (alas poor Yurick) he/she is temporarily out of money, and to pay rent is reading scripts at $25-$45 a pop for lazy producers who I’m sure he/she believes he/she is better than.
Point is you are going to send your script to a person who (A) is not excited about reading another script, (B) is paid very little money and (C) really thinks he/she is a producer-in-training… and has a very negative attitude.
Thus, you better GRAB THE READER instantly.
Also, the average TV viewer, with a remote in his/her hand, and a universe of 100 channels to view has an attention span of only 15-seconds.
And if 1-Page of script, formatted (typed) properly is approximately 1-minute of running time…. And if there are about 24 lines/page….then 15-seconds in should be approximately Line 6.
You better make your LINE-6 of PAGE-1 a great line that hooks the reader…. Grab-the Reader.
Actually you need 2 GRABBERS!
As stated, grab him/her on page-1 of your script by LINE-6 (Grab #1).
I repeat: If an average page of screenwriting, in the correct format, has 20-24 lines…then you better grab the reader (aka: a Grabber) by LINE-6 on PAGE-1.
Then, on the bottom of page-1, the last line (Grab #2) you better have another Grabber that makes the reader (a bored negative person who is being paid $25 bucks) want to turn-the-page, get into a positive attitude and continue reading.
YOUR SCREENWRITING HOMEWORK
Now, go back and read your script that I’m sure you think is great.
(I hope you enjoy any of my 3 affordable film school programs… Happy Filmmaking. They’re all based on street-reality rather than film school theory)
More than likely you have spent 7-15 pages trying to establish characters, settings, writing well crafted exposition filled with adjectives and adverbs.
Stop it. Stop it. What you have just accomplished is bored a Reader and he/she has just mentally thrown it away.
Grab a “reader” on Page-1 by LINE-6 (Grab #1).
Then Grab the “reader” again on the LAST LINE of Page-1 (Grab #2)…
Now, you got us wanting to turn the page.
Now, we’ll read 10-PAGES.
If the 10-pages are great; we’ll read the entire script.
If the entire script is Great… Voilla!
Grab somebody like me, I was a Reader & I guarantee you I didn’t want to read another script, from someone I don’t know, who isn’t famous, and I’m only being paid $25-$45.
Do your homework. Read your script. Did you Grab-The-Reader twice on Page-1?
If not do a small re-write of Page-1.
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28 comments on “4 SCREENWRITING SECRETS (This is a Must Read… #3 & #4 Are Super Great)”
what grabs the script reader
what would NOT grab them
what would totally UNgrab them and turn them off ?
Five paragraphs of description detailing the main character, the main character’s lover, the shabby apartment, what their oatmeal and melon breakfast tasted like…
Yikes! My other comment was about what NOT to do.
This info is exactly what i was looking for,you’re a great writer,very gifted Dov.i’ve got the advice from your online course about ‘grab the reader’ and ‘outlining’,but what’s your favorite book about basic screenwriting craft(just your personal favorite if you can).tons of books make no sense for me,Robert Mccay’s is too much blah blah blah(I’ve watched a lot of movies and his book more about taste,it can’t be learned,imo.Don’t need ideas for inspiration and Aristotel stuff,Interested about what the industry rules are (basic),like what you would tell your 15y.o self.pardon my mistakes in english,hope you can understand what i wrote:)
Very interesting location, looked fairly challenging to get good shots. I wanted to know, if you had been using you 40D or a camera which had a pop up flash built in, would you have used it to help illaninutiom?
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please comment on time magazine article this week about how the duplass brothers made it semibig using shorts. “… duplass brothers are known as the guys who rewrote the rules on how to make small films in a town that craves blockbusters.” “perfected low budget success”
they kept their budgets small by using cheap digital technology and courting artistically starved actors with the roles that nobody else would offer them.
the struggled in theatres but flourished on streaming services.
hopefully that could trigger more than one future blog.
Took Doc’s classes many years ago. Great stuff for where I was at the time. Still applicable today. No frills or fluffed meant to pad the time it noisy his ego. Dov gets down to it. I still have his notes.
And yes if you don’t grab the reader in page1 there won’t be a page two. Every ten minutes have an “oh sh!t” moment keeps the flow going.
Happy writing ????????????
Took Dov’s classes many years ago. Great stuff for where I was at the time. Still applicable today. No frills or fluffed meant to pad the time it noisy his ego. Dov gets down to it. I still have his notes.
And yes if you don’t grab the reader in page1 there won’t be a page two. Every ten minutes have an “oh sh!t” moment keeps the flow going.
Happy writing ????????????
The priorities, needs, human sources accessible, the work sstate of affairs, prife range allocation, and know-how available
alll play an important role in planning.
Very awesome advice, keep it coming.
When I initially left a comment I appear to have clicked on the -Notify
me when new comments are added- checkbox and now
each time a comment is added I get 4 emails with the exact same comment.
Perhaps there is a means you can remove me from that service?
This is great insider info …thanks a million times over for your blog..
I hope to take your streaming class in 2017
i want to be a reader
tell me how i can write coverage
but only have to read one page of the script
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Quality articles or reviews is the crucial to attract the visitors to
go to see the web site, that’s what this web site is providing.
This explains precisely why Hollywood films are getting worse and worse. The single most important part of the process – writing – is being filtered by immature, overworked, disinterested “readers”. The only part I agree with is that, truly, you CAN tell if the script is going to be any good by the first page. But you don’t have to “grab” the reader by sixth line (or whatever line it is, because a page does not have 24 lines, but 55, so it would line 14 rather than 6), you have to show that you know how to write. I have read many screenplays by both great pros and absolute amateurs and amateurs, even winners of Nicholl fellowship suck so badly I wanted to vomit. Pros are great even if the story is not my cup of tea (e.g. Titanic – brilliant writing, I have to admit!)
Let me give a few examples here that would never pass this test of “grab them on the first page” (as much as it worked splendidly in some films, it cannot work on ALL films – it is only well suited to action, adventure and horror):
– Titanic (the highest grossing film ever, or at least was for a while)
– Back To The Future
– My Cousin Vinnie
– Pretty Woman (original script or the way it was filmed – the first “page” would not pass this test)
– Star Wars (no wonder it was rejected by every studio – twice)
and the list goes on.
I would even venture an unsupported guess that the number of great films which do not have a “grab you” first page far outnumbers those that do.
There, prove me wrong and I will gladly pay your drink or two.
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