Tag Archives: script notes

Book Review: The Art of Script Editing by Karol Griffiths

This insight into the art of script editing is a must-read not just for aspiring script readers and script editors, but also for emerging screenwriters as they master the skills of rewriting and working with notes. In her hugely informative book, experienced script editor Karol Griffiths guides you through the world of script analysis and script editing.

the art of script editing

The book is that perfect blend of truth-telling and encouragement, walking you through the practical analytical skills you’ll need to determine what is and isn’t working in a script, whilst always keeping one eye on the writer who might be in receipt of your analysis.

There is a lot of information out there about script analysis and identifying weaknesses in the various script elements, from genre and story structure to theme and dialogue. While Karol’s book covers all of these, what makes it unique is her emphasis on diplomacy and delivery – essential skills for the script editor who must work with a writer to help them produce the strongest possible script.

While many people claim to know how to give script notes, too many have only ever had to write a written report and then walk away from the project and/or writer. What sets script editors (like Karol and myself) apart is having the skills and experience of delivering notes in a way that allows the writer to feel positive about the rewrite and turn in a much improved next draft. Her sections on how to prioritise notes and take a first meeting with a writer are hugely informative and give an insight into the real development process which is mostly hidden from emerging writers.

There are also fantastically helpful sections that are a valuable resource for the new script editor, including how to prepare a script for production, the reality of script editing on a fast-turnaround television show and what to do when your producer and writer don’t agree.

Whether you’re an emerging screenwriter curious about the professional script development process, or an aspiring script reader/analyst or script editor, this book is a valuable resource.

Karol Griffiths is a film and television script editor, providing script development support through her own script consultancy and at Script Angel, where she offers both a 3-Month Script Development Service and a 6-Month Screenwriter Mentoring Service.

 

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Reader-Proof Your Script – The ‘X’ Factor – by Xandria Horton

Since joining Script Angel, I felt I should take some time here to introduce myself. Only polite really, since if you buy a Script Analysis Report, you will be getting notes from me on which elements of your script are working well and suggestions for things that can be improved in your next draft.

ten out of tenThere are lots of good ‘Reader-Proof your script’ blog posts out there*, designed to ensure your script will get past the dreaded script reader, but this blog has the ‘X’ Factor. The ‘Xandria’ Factor.

Now, obviously I’m not claiming I have anything near Simon Cowell-levels of money or power to greenlight your project, or that any audience participation or buzzers are used in my script development**. But I do have experience with both juggernaut companies who produce hit TV series and films across the globe and the plucky new indies who have clout through their gumption and know-how. This has given me a brilliant insight into the ideas that get across the commissioning line and those that don’t. Outside of Script Angel and with my Script Reader hat on, I am only one of a series of gatekeepers that a writer needs to excite with their script, which includes producers, film funding agencies and TV commissioners. Scary!

Most scripts by their very nature start their lives as precious, personal and intimate stories you nurture in the dark, only bravely unveiling them once you have expended hours of sweat, tears and toil. We particularly appreciate this at Script Angel, and so here are some tips to reader-proof with the ‘X’ Factor, based on things I have personally found can help – or hinder – your story.

Give your story the best intro that you can: are you starting page 1 of your script with one of these openings?

  • The start of a protagonist’s day, from when they are asleep in bed;
  • The main character’s answerphone message or a message left for them that gives large amounts of exposition;
  • A flashback (a historical human sacrifice or ritual that curses something to lay dormant until modern day or a detailed unveiling of the protagonist’s childhood trauma);
  • A dream sequence – particularly one that is interrupted by an alarm signalling the start of the protagonist’s day;
  • An arresting opening scene that then jumps back in time 24 hours / 1 week / 3 months earlier, which can imply that the writer wants to script to start with something exciting, and knows deep down there’s not enough story in the beginning of their script.

Obviously, you may find brilliant, original and inventive ways of making any of these tropes work, but these are frequently used and can therefore be a ‘red flag’ to readers in terms of how original or fresh the ideas appear to be. Of course, we hope that we’re wrong, but first impressions are important.

Bechdel Revisited: this is all about ‘intros’ in description. Whilst bad characterisation is by no means limited by gender, one virtually unique problem to female characters is an introduction along these lines: “JANE (20s), attractive, walks in”. Whilst contradictions, conflicts and desires virtually ooze out of the best comedy and drama characters, if the first and/or only thing the script has told us about your character is that she’s pretty, all this tells us is “THIS CHARACTER EXISTS TO BE A LOVE / LUST INTEREST”. As the brilliant former Vogue editor Diana Vreeland says, “Prettiness is not a rent [women] pay for occupying a space marked ‘female’.” What else do we need to know about your female character? Do they need to be attractive?

Tell me where I am, when I am and who I should be following: a script opens with several people talking around the dinner table. How do we know who is your main character? And, more broadly, how do we know when and where we are? Of course, there’s getting the world established and there’s getting the story going, but the more you write, the easier it will be to find a balance.

Keep me oriented in the script: one skill that can really make a script a joy to read is a writer who keeps the reader oriented in their story – even giving each scene a clear opening image. Think visually, without prescribing the camera angles unless it’s needed to follow the story. This will make action setpieces (car chases, fights etc) a real pleasure to read, and the best are usually simply written.

Don’t write the story you think I want to read: and by this I don’t literally mean me, I mean that you’re writing a script based on a recent success (Breaking Bad, Happy Valley, Peaky Blinders) rather than the story you are actually interested in. This is part of developing your own voice, which takes a lot of work. However, you’ll only ever write your best spec script once you’ve developed a style that is truthful to you. Obviously, many writers will want to write on established series or soaps, in which case you will aim to keep an element of your own voice but ensure that your writing fits into a pre-existing tone and structure.

Remember that I want your script to be good: I think it bears repeating; whether it’s developing a script through Script Angel or even being a dastardly reader, I want your script to be good. I will be willing it on from page 1; I will ignore that typo on page 4 if there aren’t three more by page 12***; I will look for the trail of story breadcrumbs you’ve left and try to make sense of any small plot or character questions I have, in quiet confidence that your story has me in safe hands and all will be answered to my satisfaction. And I’m no different to any other reader. We rejoice when we find a character who feels truthful and interesting and we can invest in their journey; and we want to go to our producer friends and bosses to tell them that we’ve found a script they’ll want to make.

So next time you’re thinking about submitting a script, ask yourself the age-old question: does it have the ‘X’ Factor..?

*If you’re looking for a couple of those other good articles, here they are:

http://www.writersstore.com/bulletproof-your-script-against-reader-rejection/ http://www.bang2write.com/2012/09/7-things-readers-can-tell-about-your-script-on-page-1.html

**Currently. Of course, that could be the Next Big Thing, who knows.

*** Which implies that you’ve not taken the time to read it over before sending it out, which can be frustrating. However, if you’re doing a last-minute rewrite on a shooting script, unless it changes the meaning, we will be more forgiving!

Xandria Horton is a Script Analyst for Script Angel. You can find out more about Xandria’s script feedback services here.

The Script Angel Journey So Far…

kindnessIt’s been a little while since I announced that Script Angel was expanding. After years as a solo business I took the step of inviting the brilliant Xandria Horton to join me. So I thought it was time to share with you how I got here and what might be next for Script Angel.

How Script Angel came about. Being really honest with you, the sole reason I established Script Angel in 2009 was to enable me to carry on script editing (as I had been for nearly ten years by then) without having to work away from home. It really was that simple. I love script editing; I love working with writers, helping them make their script the very best it can be. I also love variety; I love working on a thriller one day, a crime series the next and a comedy the day after that. As a result I would take jobs because they interested me and that often meant living away from my family Monday-Friday which isn’t much fun however much you love your job.

What’s the Script Angel ethos? I knew what I wanted Script Angel to deliver for me and, importantly, I also had a very strong sense of the kind of script editor I was by then. I can be tough when I have to be but I don’t get a kick out of making others feel crap. When I give script notes I do it with honesty and a desire to ask the questions that will inspire my writer to find for themselves the most interesting solutions to the problems in the script. Script Angel’s nurturing ethos is a reflection of my values and how I work.

An overnight success? The reality was that even with nearly ten years of professional script editing credits to my name it took a while before there was enough work coming in that Script Angel was a full-time job. Even then my rates were so low compared to the hours I would spend on the notes that I was earning well below minimum wage. But I stuck with it and kept plugging away.  It took more than three years before the demand reached a point where my rates could reflect my experience.

With success comes new questions. Last year was a huge turning point for me and for Script Angel. I was consistently booked up three months in advance but I’d hit a brick wall. I couldn’t help any more writers because there was no more of me to go around. I was turning down extraordinary full-time script editing offers on some amazing shows because of the detrimental affect it would have on Script Angel. So I was kind of making a choice, without realising it, that Script Angel was no longer just a way to script edit while my children were little, it wasn’t a way to put my career on hold, it WAS my career.

What was the solution? I knew the demand was sufficient that I could put my rates up further but that would make me unaffordable to many aspiring writers and I don’t want my help to be available only to the wealthiest. Running the Script Angel-LSF Screenwriting Competition is another way I overcome this issue. The alternative was to expand. It sounds so simple and a no-brainer but in truth it was something I had mulled over without taking the leap for nearly a year.

What was stopping me expanding? My biggest fear was of turning into the type of script editing service I dislike – big, impersonal, corporate. It might suit some people but I knew it wasn’t the kind of script editing business I wanted to be part of, let alone create! So how could I keep the nurturing reputation Script Angel had if it was no longer just me providing script notes?

Finding the right people. I realised that I needed to find someone who naturally worked with writers the way I did. If I could find the right person maybe expanding Script Angel would mean being able to do more of what I was already known for?

Why Xandria Horton? I’d first met Xandria when she was Development Assistant at Eleventh Hour Films (Foyle’s War) and I was looking for a production company to take a client’s project to. We chatted about screenwriting, about writers and it was immediately apparent that she was really bright, knew her stuff and knew how to work with writers. I asked Xandria to send me sample script reports (with confidential information redacted, of course!) and I was really impressed. She was as articulate in the notes as she had been in person. Xandria’s notes are insightful and her style of delivering those notes is, like mine, designed to ensure that writers feel positive about moving forward with their project.

Making Script Angel more affordable. The other reason for bringing Xandria on-board was that I wanted to make Script Angel available again to those writers who had used me in the early days when my rates were low but who I’d lost as I’d become busier and more expensive.

So how’s it working out? Well, the great news is that Xandria’s Script Analysis Reports have been really well received. You can read testimonials of her work here. I also read Xandria’s notes before sending them out and we talk about anything that might need clarifying.  I feel very lucky to have a talented young Script Editor working for me at the early stage of her career.

What have I learnt? You can expand without losing your core values. It’s not easy; it’s taking as much effort to grow Xandria’s workload as it took to grow Script Angel in its early days. But I am thrilled to be able to offer Xandria’s script analysis talents to the Script Angel writers.

What next? My aim is to get Xandria as busy and in-demand as I am. I want to keep growing Script Angel but without ever losing the very personal relationship we have with our writers, and finding Xandria has proved to me that it’s not only possible but hugely exciting and rewarding.

Surviving Script Development

Congratulations! After all that hard work and self-doubt you’ve finally had your spec script optioned / been commissioned to write a treatment or script.  It feels like you’ve won the lottery.  The euphoria is amazing, you feel like you’ve finally made it in the industry and your tv show/feature film is going to be made! Being commissioned/optioned is a fantastic endorsement of you as a writer and marks a huge step forward in the industry. What many writers come to realise is that it is the beginning of a very different process and one that requires just as much skill to navigate as breaking in did.

The development process in the film and television industry can feel like its own special kind of hell and the often interminable months and often years spent ‘in development’ can be utterly demoralising.  That euphoria of having ‘made it’ begins to fade and gives way to despondency and a sense of hopelessness as your fantastic film/tv show looks further away from getting made than it did before you even typed ‘fade in’.

At this year’s London Screenwriters’ Festival I had the great pleasure of being on a panel with Jason Taylor (Bad Hat Harry Productions), Rob Sprackling (Gnomeo & Juliet) and Jed Mercurio (Line of Duty), discussing what happens AFTER your script’s been optioned.  What was clear was how different writers approached this process depending upon what they wanted to get out of it. For Jed, having significant creative control over his projects was of paramount importance and so collaborating with the right production company was essential for him.  While Rob had ‘passion projects’ that he tries to protect through the development process, he was sometimes happy to take the pay cheque knowing that in doing so the chances of retaining creative control might diminish.

What everyone agreed was that having your work commissioned or optioned did not guarantee it being made but that at least it was now a possibility.  Every development process is unique but here are some of the oft-encountered hurdles you might face and how you can overcome them:

Unpaid rewrites – as development budgets get smaller everyone is trying to get more for less and, unhappily, that includes getting writers to do more work for less money. How you respond to this depends upon how much you want to avoid upsetting the apple cart, how you feel about the changes you’re being asked to make, and whether you feel those asking for the changes (ie the producer) are themselves putting in work for no money. While development can be poorly paid for writers (a £1 option agreement is not uncommon), it’s often even more poorly paid for producers who have to invest huge amounts of time trying to get your project off the ground without any guarantee of any success or financial return.  If you think your producer is working hard for your project and you think the changes will make the project better, it’s probably worth the effort.  An agent, if you have one, if often great at helping make this kind of judgement call.  If you don’t have representation, ask around for advice from the writing community.

Script notes you don’t agree with – as a script editor my hope is always that all the notes I give to a writer are met with a knowing smile as it confirms problems they subconsciously knew were lurking in their script but they just hadn’t be able to identify, unpick or solve. However, the reality is that even brilliant script editors aren’t always right about every note and as a writer you’ll develop an ability to spot the notes that might change your script but aren’t necessarily making it better. Then there are the notes that are good and will transform your script but sadly transform it into precisely the kind of project you absolutely don’t want it to be. There’s a great joke in ‘Only Fools and Horses’ in which Trigger tells Del Boy he’s been looking after his granddad’s broom, he’s “maintained it these 20 years. This old broom’s had 17 new heads and 14 new handles in its time”! Once you’ve been asked to change everything you love about your project, is it really the project you love any more? This is the time to make a choice – do you take the money and write the script you’re being asked for (even if you hate it) or do you try to convince the note-giver to have faith in your vision of the project? If you try but fail to convince the note-giver then you may have to contemplate taking the project back from the producer, if that’s contractually possible. I’ve seen writers take each of these different routes and, as long as the decision is made not in haste but after serious consideration of the consequences, then it has always ended happily.

Radio silence – this is something that annoys the heck out of everyone working in development and it’s my pet hate.  For writers, who are often at the bottom of a very big chain, it can feel as if your producer (that same one that promised you the earth when convincing you to let them option your script for £1) has disappeared off the face of the earth.  It is perfectly reasonable for you to expect your producer to keep you up to date on progress but not all producers do this as often as they should. If you find yourself in this position, it doesn’t do any harm to give them a nudge. I’m not talking stalking here, just friendly, polite ‘what news?’ ‘is there anything you need me to do?’ kind of approaches.  Sometimes the radio silence is because they are just, temporarily, snowed under on something else that’s suddenly taken off. The great thing about option agreements is that they END and you can decide at the end of the option period whether you want to renew with that producer.  Don’t be afraid to ask them what they’ve actually done to make your project happen in the time they’ve had it.  If you’re unhappy with the answers then start looking elsewhere for someone who will be more passionate about your project and actively do more to get it made.

Being fired from your own project – this is not uncommon in films but is, thankfully, very rare in television. Whether or not you can be fired from your own project very much depends upon the kind of contract you’ve signed.  While you (and your agent) will want to do everything you can to avoid this outcome it isn’t the end of the world if it happens.  While it’s unheard of in authored television drama it is an all-too-frequent occurrence in both feature films and continuing drama series. If it happens to you, take heart from the fact that you’re not the first and won’t be the last to suffer this fate and it doesn’t mean that others in the industry will think any the worse of you in the future.

There are many elements within the development process, some of which require more input from you, like honing the script, and others which require your patience, like your producer raising the finance/convincing a tv network commissioner.  The key is balancing being positive and pro-active whilst waiting for things to happen without you.  While everyone involved is (hopefully!) working hard to make your project a reality, there is no guarantee your project will move into production.  My advice is to keep yourself equally busy dreaming up the next brilliant project that is going to wow the industry. Before you know it you could be so in demand with projects shooting and in development that you’ll wonder why you ever doubted your ability to do this amazing job.