“Please Don’t Tell Me THAT!” The Importance of Script Notes and The First Ten Page Read

thCA9919BLRecently, I reviewed a screenwriter’s screenplay after she had heard about The Script Mentor’s ongoing offer to review the first-ten pages of anyone’s script for FREE. She was delighted at the opportunity and we were honored to have been entrusted with this review, an honor, by the way, that we do not take lightly.

Overall, the first ten pages or so were not bad; excellent genre (supernatural/horror), great title, great start on a solid logline, and strong unique concept. Unfortunately, as it often happens with many newer spec scriptwriters, there were multiple negatives, as well; issues that can very well keep the writer out of the game longer if they were to continue. These issues involved not having proper screenplay formatting, including passive action words( “-ing” endings), large blocks of descriptive and action texts, camera directions, on-the-nose dialogue and exposition. It just didn’t LOOK professionally written. When explored deeper, there were structural issues as well; late-arriving inciting incident, lack of individual “voices”, not clear indication of genre, more “telling” than “showing”, and lack of “cinematic” language in the dialogue.

As we chatted, we told the writer that, while these problems DO exist, they are all fixable. Many of these “rules” were never known to the screenwriter. Her screenwriting education came from the books of Syd Field and Robert McKee, and from reading dozens of produced screenplays.

After receiving the review notes, she was very thankful for being told many things she had never known before, and, more importantly, things she had never even HEARD before. She realized that, not only was this screenplay missing these things, but her previous eight screenplays all had similar, if not worse, mistakes.

It was at this point when the writer dropped the bomb on me. She decided that she was giving up screenwriting, once and for all. Apparently, after nine years of writing screenplays, submitting them to Ink Tip, only to be glossed over time and time again, and never getting a sniff at an option or development deal, or even an inquiry or request from a producer, agent or manager, she had had enough. She was quitting, cold-turkey.

I was stunned. Speechless, actually, and if you know me, that is virtually impossible.

It was time to talk her off the ledge…

One must understand that you cannot know what you don’t know. I have been through dozens and dozens of screenwriting classes, courses, programs, seminars, webinars, and caviars and no one EVER talked about proper formatting. We’re not talking about indentations and margin size and such, but how to write a proper slug line, how dialogue should look and sound on the page, the proper amount of “black vs. white” on the page, the importance of an excellent title and character names and how to develop great ones. Few people even discuss how a spec screenplay is different from other screenplays, and why these “rules” are important when writing a spec screenplay. Most aren’t even aware that the number one mistake new writers make is trying to market their script when it’s not even done yet, and how that act alone can set you back for years.

Well, after much back and forth, not only did I talk this writer off of that ledge, but she is now working closely with The Script Mentor program and her assigned mentor as a new member. Together, we’ll get this and her previously completed scripts, to the level they need to be where she can feel good about entering a few contests, and placing it out on Ink Tip once again. This time, we expect to get beyond a cursory logline read and get some script requests.

When she’s ready…

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