SCREENWRITING: You Only Have 1 Shot (Rate Your Script)
by Dov S-S Simens on April 26, 2019
SCREENPLAYS: THERE ARE ONLY TWO TYPES:
Your script is the key to opening the doors for yourself to become a part of the Movie Industry as either a writer, producer or director.
And, as a first-time screenwriter only GREAT will do… Always remember, “Hollywood can get away with mediocrity but first-timers, like yourself, can not (Yes, life is not fair) and for you “good is not good enough and only GREAT will do””.
Never except the phrase, from someone who has read your screenplay, such as “I really like it” or “love your idea”, or “your script is very good” or “congratulations, a solid story”. For those responses “are not” (I repeat “are not”) what you call positive feedback and are simply mere politeness.
Because there are only two types of scripts and “very good” or “definitely like it” or “solid writing” or “great idea”, which is the second type, is not what you want to hear.
The first type, which is what you want to hear, is… “It’s Great, I Couldn’t Put It Down” and has whoever just read it wanting to either (A) buy it, (B) fund it, (C) develop it or (D) option it and money (did you read that M-O-N-E-Y) comes your way.
Now if you don’t receive any cash from the person who has just read it… then your script is the second type which is “It S*cks.”
Now, no one will every say “It S*cks”, for they’re being polite and respond with things like… “a good read”, or “definitely like the idea”, or “solid writing”…
…and then proceed with “Act II is a little weak” (Hollywoodese for It S*cks) and “some of your characters need a little more fleshing out” and, after a pause, he/she ends the meeting with “Very excited to see your next draft”…
However, he/she will never return another phone call from you.
You got one shot… better make it great.
SCREENWRITERS HAVE ONLY 1 SHOT
Upon writing, registering (WGA.org) and copywriting (LOC.gov) your script it is time to sell it and you will only have 1 shot with each person you send it to, for if it isn’t great, then forget about ever having that person ever read another script from you… Thus, what you send…better be great.
Therefore, before you send your script to be read, to be sold, or to get an agent or try to get it financed take the SCREENPLAY TEST (see below) to see if it is GREAT.
But always realize that your script, especially if it is only your first-draft (likely re-typed & tweaked six times) is probably something you’ve fallen in love with. It is your first child, your first born and you are sure it is perfect.
Be careful. Every parent believes their child is perfect but to others this kid might be just another “poop machine” so before you send it out, Please “Step Back”, take this test, and “unemotionally, it allows you “to see the Forest From the Trees”.
The 2-minute script test.
- Answer 7 simple Questions.
- Score each Question with a 1-3 for “Very Poor”… 4-6 for “Adequate”… 7-8 for “Good”… 9 for “Very Good”… and 10 for “Excellent”
ONE: “THE EYE TEST”:
White Space – White Space – White Space.
When reading your script do your eyes flow down the page, instead of movie left to right, line-by-line? If they go left-to-right, while reading, then you, the reader, are bored.
Please do not have to much exposition in your script. This is not a novel. Stop overly describing every scene.
Readers, Agents & Development Execs will always tell you “We want to see a lot of white space”.
SCORE (1-10) _______________
TWO: “THE GRABBER #1 TEST”
Grab-The-Reader or Grab-The-Viewer.
You must hook readers/viewers in the first 15-20 seconds. Grab the tv viewer, who, with a choice of 100 channels at his finger tips, stops him/her from flickin’ the channel. You have 15-20 seconds at the most for-the-grab.
And, if 1 Page of script, typed/formatted properly, is 1-minute of running time then, if there are 22-24 lines/page, 15-20 seconds is either line 6, 7 or 8.
Script Readers, Agents & Development Execs are people that have read 500-1,000 scripts and have no desire to read yours. Thus, you better grab him or her super quick…. Line 6-8!
Does something shocking happen in your script between Lines 6-8 of page-1 to grab the reader? Or are you taking 5-7 boring pages to “establish” your characters and settings.
Do you have a Grabber around Line 6-8 of Page 1?
SCORE (1-10) ___________________
THREE: “THE GRABBER #2 TEST”
Make-Reader-Want-To-Turn-The-Page: Is your script a page-turner?
Does something happen, a 2nd grabber, at the bottom of Page 1 (one minute into the film) to hold the tv viewer through the commercials or makes the reader, who really doesn’t want to read another bloody script from a nobody, want to keep reading and turns-the-page?
Do you have a 2nd Grabber on the bottom of Page-1?
SCORE (1-10) ___________________
FOUR: “THE 10-PAGE TEST”
Yes, it is correct most readers only read 10 pages… So assuming the reader get past Page-1 then you focus on 10 pages.
Let’s be positive and assume your Page-1 is great (You have 2 Grabbers) and the reader turns-the-page to Page-2, with a lot of white space and great dialogue to Page-3, with white space and great dialogue, to Page-4…
Now, do these next 9 pages, with a lot white space and great dialogue, your first ten pages leave the reader wanting more?
SCORE (1-10) __________________
FIVE: “THE PLOT TEST”
Is your story a great ride? Do you manipulate your reader, every 10-14 pages (or minutes), with expecting something, and then a sudden twist occurs that gets even worse (I call this an Uh-Oh & Oh-Shit)…but is logical?
This is accomplished by creating a Step Outline (aka: Beat Sheet) prior to your 1st Draft which traditional professorial writing instructors talk about desires, motivations, inciting moments, crisis, resolutions, etc… which I, in simple laymen terms, call the 5 Uh-Ohs, 5 Oh-Shits & 1 OMG.
Is your script loaded with these 11 roller-coaster ride scenes of emotions and plot twists?
And, around these basic 11 scenes, do you have 50-60 scenes, with a great A-Story and three Sub-Plots (B-Stories) that are all intertwined and come together for a great conclusion?
SCORE (1-10) ____________________
SIX: “THE CHARACTER TEST”
Can you sit down and outline three reasons why each character is unique?
Make sure your characters are not 1-dimensional stick figures.
Everyone is not either black (evil) or white (good). We are all some shade of grey.
Now, do each of your characters have proper back stories to give them depth?
SCORE (1-10) ___________________
SEVEN: “THE DIALOGUE TEST”
Pick any page in your script.
Put your thumb over the character’s name above a line of dialogue. Now, not knowing the character’s name, can you tell from just the dialogue which character is speaking? Can you even tell if the character is a man or a woman just by the dialogue?
In real life, remember, when we talk to each other we don’t say each other’s name, unless we’re mad, and people don’t talk in correct grammar, further one person usually never let’s the other person finish a sentence, and there’s what we’re saying, on the surface, to be polite and what we’re really saying, under the surface, to get what we want.
After story-story-story… comes dialogue-dialogue-dialogue.
SCORE (1-10) _________________
Now add up the score.
What did you get? 33? 48? 67? 68?
If your score is anything but “70”, yes perfect, your script s*cks.
50-60 is horrendous.
65-67 isn’t good.
68 is close but not there.
69 still isn’t perfect.
70 is perfect…
If it isn’t 70… then back to the drawing board for a re-write.
If it is 70…now let’s find a reader who thinks like you.
I was a reader in the ’80s. I read 1,000-1,500 scripts, for $25-$35 each, and did “Coverage” and believe me when I say “I was never excited about reading a script for 25-35 bucks, from someone I never heard of, so you must grab-the-reader instantly, from this likely negative individual, and get a “recommend”.
For when a reader, who reads scripts for his boss, who has little time, capsulizes the story into one page and then, on page two, checks either box (A) Pass, box (B) Consider or box (C) Recommend… you absolutely must get a “Recommend”.
Only perfect will do.
And, if you didn’t score a 70 then write a totally new script, and then, two-to-six months later, revisit your first script, and re-write.
Don’t get frustrated. Learn your craft. And always remember… “Nothing is written… It’s re-written”
Dov S-S Simens
Want theory? Go to a 4-year film school and spend $100-300K.
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