When a writer hires me to review material, it’s important to note, the writer is not paying for the read. I can read a script in an hour. Two hours if the script is too long.
(Too long means 150 pages. Um. Everybody hates you, 150 script pages people. Stop doing that.)
The point is, I’m not getting paid by the hour for the read. I’m getting paid for expertise responding to and analyzing the material. This is an important distinction.
If you just want to pay someone by the hour for the read, well, what’s minimum wage these days? About $12 per hour? Give the script to your mom and write her a check for $24. Done!
If you want an informed educated analysis of material? Well, that’s different. Anyone can read a script. Your mom or mailman or the guy in the Home Depot parking lot at 6 AM can read the script.
Not everyone can tell you how to improve the script.
This is where it counts if you are in a workshop exchanging reads with fellow writers. Sometimes in workshops, exchanging reads, workshoppers start thinking the time they put in reading material is what they are exchanging. That’s not correct. The time you are putting in reading material is not what counts. What counts is the analysis and feedback — hopefully strong and helpful analysis and feedback.
Always be aware, your job as a workshop reviewer isn’t reading the script. Anyone can read a script. Reading the script is easy. Reading the script is not the job.
The job is analysis and intelligent notes and feedback.
I was talking to my workshoppers about this recently and gave them 13 points to pay attention to, reading full length scripts. (Lucky Number 13. Yay! Okay, it’s actually a little weird that is the number I hit running through review points off the top of my head but we’re going to run with it.)
13 IMPORTANT THINGS TO LOOK FOR READING A FULL LENGTH FEATURE SCRIPT:
- Does the lead character feel like the lead? This means, is it the lead’s story, does the lead have the most active role pursuing a story goal and trying to solve a central story dilemma, is the lead’s dialogue the strongest and most compelling, is the lead character the most active facing off with the central story dilemma in the script’s climax, and would an actor or actress want to play this role?
- Does a central story issue appear in opening pages?
- Does the story launch by page 30 with the lead actively trying to address a spelled out story issue the protagonist is trying to remedy?
- Are there enough story events driving the central portion of the script and are these events escalating as the story progresses toward a story climax? It generally takes at least five big events/act sequences to lead up to a story climax, and seven is better, driving a story engine in a feature script toward story climax.
- Does the story climax match the central story dilemma? As in, when everything comes to a head at the story’s climactic finish, is the problem that launched in opening pages being addressed or has the climax kited off to solve some completely different issue that doesn’t resolve and address the central story dilemma?
- Does the story climax feel climactic? As in, like a big event everything else has been leading up to during the course of the script?
- Is pacing even? Part of pacing is dependent on the length of scene sequences. If some sequences are quite long and others very short, is that establishing rhythm or is pacing off and feeling uneven because scene length is uneven? And, is dramatic tension rising maintaining a sense of forward momentum and pacing rising to a story climax?
- Are scenes action driven or dialogue driven? If dialogue driven, is there too much exposition trying to carry story that might play better as action? And is the dialogue sharp and strong enough to maintain dramatic tension on its own without tipping into pacing problems?
- Does dialogue match genre? For example, if the feature is a comedy, is dialogue comedic and sharp enough to support story genre?
- Does dialogue support strong character differentiation, with characters sounding unique and separate from each other as individual characters? Or do all characters sound the same in their vocabularies and speaking patterns?
- Do all characters appear to have individual roles in the story or are some characters doing about the same thing as others? If so, could duplicate characters be merged into one character to remove redundant character action?
- If the story is fantasy or science fiction or horror, is that genre supported by events in the story that are fantastical or science fiction strong or contain strong horror action? It’s very common for first draft stories that are fantasy or science fiction or horror to drop into mundane action and events that do not take advantage of or live up to story genre.
- Are scenes and locations as active and dynamic as they could be or do they tend to be static in nature? Too many talking heads scenes, for example?
The above are a few important elements to be actively looking at and analyzing, writing a review for a full length feature script.
Your job isn’t the read. Your job is the feedback.
Bring it home.