Wednesday, 2 September 2009

Script Reading on the Blog - One year on!

Has it really been a year? Goodness me. Script Reading on the Blog was set up to redress what I saw as an imbalance in the industry for writers, particularly newer writers, to get much needed feedback on their work. With a few notable exceptions, the only services available were very expensive. Now, as I've said before, people have a right to charge whatever they wish, and will no doubt state they provide value for money. Fair enough. Good luck to them. But whether it's value for money or not is a bit irrelevant if writers can't afford it in the first place.

So the plan was to set up an affordable service, that would mimic the sort of script reports readers write for production company execs, but that writers never usually get to see. This was going to be a way to show writers how these readers (me being one of them) think and assess their work. And then as the scripts started to come in, that all flew out the window. Partly responding to feedback from clients, partly off my own back, the service changed a little bit. But significantly, what was meant to be a 2-3 page basic report, evolved into 3-4 pages of more intensive development notes. No one forced me to do this - I just can't help myself! Because you know what, I actually enjoy doing this. I like connecting with other writers, reading scripts, and seeing if I can help the writer develop their work.

(It has become apparent though that it's a little more time consuming than was initially planned, and as a response to that the two main script reading services have gone up by just a fiver. I still think this is a pretty good price for the report received and everything is always turned around within a week. I don't think anyone does it faster than that.)

But anyway, more importantly, what have I learnt from the first year of Script Reading on the Blog? Well, firstly, the standard is really high. Higher than I expected actually. Most of the scripts that come through the blog are by unproduced, un-agented writers. This is not the case with scripts I read for companies. But I can tell you right now that there is no qualitative difference from the best ones I read privately, to the ones I read for companies. I absolutely love to find a fantastic script that has come to me through the blog from an unknown writer. I would be unbelievably proud to have helped develop a script that goes on to be produced. I'm simply not in a position at the moment to help anyone else in that respect, working as I am to get my own work produced! But if the day ever comes when I am in that position, there are already 2-3 writers and projects that I have 'found' that I would certainly chase up on.

Of the scripts that I get that aren't quite there yet, the standard and enthusiasm is still very high. I know there is this conceit that readers tell people what they want to hear and don't tell people they are just bad writers. Well, I can only speak for myself in that the first statement is false and the second one is absolutely true. Because there is no way to judge from one script whether a writer can cut it or not. And who the hell am I, being just one bloke and one opinion, to tell anyone this is not for them? But more than that, during the course of the year I have had perhaps two scripts that I was at a bit of a loss with! And again, that may just be my take. Of the others, I don't call them bad. Something that is bad suggests to me an intrinsic problem that cannot be resolved. But I have had plenty of flawed scripts. But a flaw can be worked on and corrected. A massive pleasure for me has been to see the same script a few times, improving with every single draft.

Not everyone will make it as a screenwriter. Sorry. There are just too many writers for too few gigs. Especially at the moment. And there are probably people who are just not very good at this thing of ours, something that can only be judged over a number of scripts (and probably a number of drafts - as for example a set of first draft scripts are probably all gonna be rubbish!) But most writers who go to the considerable effort of finishing script after script and draft after draft usually don't fall into this category. You get a feeling, an instinct, and you improve over time as it is.

But it's extremely hard to do that in isolation. Feedback isn't a luxury. It's an absolute necessity. The best way to get this regularly is to form a workshop group with other committed writers. If that is not possible, for whatever reason, use a script reader. If you want to get better, you need at least one other set of eyes looking at your work, asking the tough questions, pointing out the flaws, and even suggesting solutions. (Some readers don't do this. Some writers think readers can't do this. I think that is a nonsense.)

So to conclude, I just want to take this opportunity to thank everyone who has allowed me to read their scripts, something that is often personal and hard to share, over the past year. I hope I have helped every single time. I have certainly learnt a few things too. And I hope that I have become a better reader for it... and a better writer too.

Thanks again and if you keep sending em, I'll keep reading em.


Shane Knight said...

Happy Birthday mate.

Jez Freedman said...


Anonymous said...

As someone who has benefited from your reading skills may I say sir when it comes to script analysis you are like Yoda and Gandalf rolled into one -- Yodalf!

Jez Freedman said...

that's probably the nicest thing anyone has ever said about me