I do freelance work for a company that provides coverage on screenplays. I read a lot of film scripts. Ninety-percent of the screenplays I read are flat-out bad. Nine percent are decent and have an interesting premise. One percent are actually strong, exciting scripts. None are perfect. So, yes, one of my main freelance gigs involves shattering people’s dreams. I don’t like to make people feel bad, so even after reading the worst scripts imaginable, I try to add a few encouraging comments. I actually enjoy reading truly horrendous scripts; through these bad scripts, I learn what not to do. When I come upon a good script, my only goal is to offer a bit of constructive criticism to help turn that decent script into something great. But mostly I just break people’s hearts. It’s hard to tell the writer of a script about a guy with a penis growing from his face that maybe, just maybe, Hollywood might not be interested in his idea.
I understand the desire to send a script to a company for evaluation. You’ve just written a screenplay, and you think it’s brilliant. Your friends and family say you’re going to have a long career in Hollywood, like William Goldman; other friends say you’re going to be famous (infamous) like Troy Duffy. But deep down in your heart something is telling you not to trust your friends and family’s biased opinions. Something is telling you that everyone you know is a filthy liar; and when your script coverage comes back with a big fat PASS, your suspicions are confirmed. You look at your script, about a Leprechaun detective trying to find a modern-day King Midas who’s turning prostitutes into gold, and think, “What now?”
Without further ado, let me offer the Aspiring Screenwriters out there some useful advice about screenwriting and success in Hollywood.
1) The Idea: Make sure it’s something that’s filmable. Penises hanging from faces for ninety-minutes is simply not something most people would want to see, unless you’re making a porno (or maybe a Troma film). Even well-written scripts get passed-over if the idea is not strong enough. The idea is (almost) everything. Bad scripts are sold every day in Hollywood, because a bad script based on a good idea can be fixed.
2) The Script: Always remember what a script is meant to be: a basic outline of a film. The script is the blueprint from which the director, cast and crew build their movie. Keep descriptions simple, and remember that an audience can’t read a character’s mind. A bad way to introduce a character looks something like this: “TOMMY FIGG, much smarter than his 18 years on Earth would indicate, dresses like he thinks people want him to dress, had a hard childhood but overcame his urges to molest his sister’s underpants, thinks all white people can’t dance, blue eyes.” Everything written in the description should be something the audience can see onscreen. How would a director visually interpret “thinks all white people can’t dance”? Remember, films have actors, wardrobe supervisors, set designers, directors, soundtrack coordinators, etc., so all the writer need do is give these talented people just enough to work with. Most of what you write will probably be changed anyway, so don’t sweat it.
3) Selling: Screenplays are stacked miles high in agents, producers, stars, and studios’ offices. The people with power don’t want to read your script. They really don’t. They might want to hear your pitch or read your logline, but that’s about it. Yet, scripts sell and movies are made. How is this monumental feat accomplished? I would suggest that you be related to Jerry Bruckheimer or Joel Silver, or McG, or even Mr. C from “Happy Days”, but I suppose we can’t choose our relatives without a time machine and some Spanish Fly. One possible solution is getting a low-paying job in Hollywood. Get someone’s coffee, sort the mail, mop the floors. You might just get to know someone who can help you. Also, you should enter your script into as many screenwriting competitions as you can afford. You don’t always have to win to get noticed. Having a script that was a finalist or semi-finalist in a major script competition will make it much easier to get an agent or catch the eye of a producer; they still won’t want to read your script, but if you get their attention, they may force their assistant to read it. Writing the greatest screenplay ever written would also increase your chances of success.
4) Write Another One: Don’t sit back and relax after that script is written. Damn it, write another one! Waiting is torture, but the pain can be severely minimized by keeping busy with a new project. Besides, if you do sell a script, the first thing they’re going to ask is, “What else you got?”