Tag Archives: script reading

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.

I’ve written a script, what next? Part One – Theatre

That’s the question I’m most often asked by writers just starting out.  Here are my top tips:

1) Put it away.  Let it gather dust for a few weeks, then take it out, brush it off and get your red pen ready.  Do that several times until you can’t make it any better yourself (or you’re going barmy, whichever comes first).

2) Ask an expert.  Get the opinion of someone else, family and friends don’t count, unless they’re experienced writers, directors, producers or script editors.  If you don’t know anyone in the industry, then have a look online at some of the experienced industry professionals offering script feedback (Script Angel and others).  Don’t be lured in by the one with the jazziest website or the lowest rates, but do your homework.

Who will actually read your script, what’s their name?  Look them up on IMDB to check they’ve got the credits they claim to have. What length of report will you get for your money?  Some may claim to give you a 4 page report but what you actually get are a couple of pages of synopsis (you already know what’s in your script so that’s a waste of money) and only a page or so of useful feedback.  Beware of lazy ‘reader’ reports which are generic, littering their reports with phrases like ‘naturalistic dialogue’ (or lack of), characters needing better delineation.  That’s fine if it is followed by tangible examples of what you could do to change it.  You could ask to see a sample report from several and compare them.

Ideally your script editor should be keen to keep working with you, helping you to develop as a writer.  Drop them a line and ask for a chat to see if you actually get on with them. Most good editors are approachable and helpful and don’t hide behind anonymity.

3) Rewrite. The feedback should be constructive, giving you ideas on how to make your script better (not just telling you what doesn’t work) but it will also be critical and that’s hard to take.  Develop a thick skin, remember the criticism is of the work and not you.  Take heart from the fact that the very best writers at the very top of their game still get notes. Now take your precious script, and your feedback, and rewrite your script to the very best of your ability.

4) Get it out there.  Many people think that the next step is to get an agent – after all, you can’t get your work produced until you’ve got an agent can you? Well, actually, for most writers it’s the other way around. As you’ll see from Michelle Lipton’s Q&A with agents, most of them are interested in writers who are already getting their work out there, not writers who have just written one spec script.

So, you want to get it noticed, but how?  There are three main ways that spring to mind – theatre, screenwriting competitions and production companies accepting unsolicited scripts.  I’m going to concentrate in this blog on the first of those, theatre.

Most of the successful applicants for the BBC Writers’ Academy are already writing for theatre and radio, so ignore these media at your peril.  Writing for theatre is a fantastic way to develop as a writer, and there are many theatre production companies dedicated to putting on the work of new writers.  They get exciting new talent, you get your work professionally produced – it’s a win-win situation.

Here is a list of theatres and theatre production companies specialising in new writing.

Paines Plough, London

Bush Theatre, London

Hampstead Theatre, London

Royal Court Theatre, London

Theatre Royal Stratford East, London

Soho Theatre, London

Finborough Theatre, London

Theatre503, London

Zeitgeist Theatre, London*

Tamasha Theatre Company, London (specialising in new British Asian writing)*

Talawa Theatre Company, London (specialising in Black British writing)

Kali Theatre, London (specialising in new writing from South Asian women)

Out of Joint (touring theatre company for new writing)

Sphinx Theatre Company (touring new writing, specialising in strong roles for women)

Clean Break (new writing commissions on women whose lives have been affected by the criminal justice system)

New Venture Theatre, Brighton

The Nuffield Theatre, Southampton*

Warehouse Theatre, Croydon

Queen’s Theatre, Hornchurch

Watford Palace Theatre

Bristol Old Vic

Show of Strength Theatre Company, Bristol

Barbican Theatre, Plymouth

Northcott Theatre, Exeter

New Wolsey Theatre, Ipswich

Birmingham Repertory Theatre

Belgrade Theatre, Coventry

Loft Theatre, Leamington Spa

Sherman Theatre, Cardiff (joining forces with Sgript Cymru to create a new organisation ‘Contemporary Theatre & New Writing Company)*

Everyman Theatre, Liverpool

Royal Exchange, Manchester

Rocket Theatre, Manchester

Contact Theatre, Manchester*

Northern Gap, Derbyshire

New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme

Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough

Red Ladder Theatre Company, Leeds*

Theatre in the Mill, Bradford*

West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Hull Truck Theatre

Live Theatre, Newcastle*

Druid, Galway*

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

That’s just the ones I know of.  If you know of any others, please let me know via my Script Angel website and I’ll update this list.  Those marked with * have been added since the list was originally published on 30th July 2009.

In later posts I’ll look at screenwriting competitions, where to send your unsolicited script and how to get an agent.

Screenwriting: from the outside looking in.

Having set up Script Angel, my own script consultancy business, I recently decided to join The Word Cloud – a forum for experienced and aspiring writers. What struck me was how hungry for ‘insider’ knowledge the writers are. There may be information out there for aspiring writers but how do they know where to look?

Over the past ten years I’ve been lucky enough to earn my living as a professional script editor on a variety of UK television dramas. Now, taking a break from the hectic pace of script editing on dramas in production, I’ve set up my own script consultancy business. What’s struck me is how cosy it is inside the world of television professionals and how hard it is for writers on the outside to even understand how it works, let alone to break into it.

I’ve been very fortunate to work with hugely talented editorial teams and, most importantly, exceptionally talented writers. They, and I, earn our living from writing/editing drama that millions of people will watch – and it’s only now stepping outside it (albeit with my foot firmly lodged in the door to stop it closing) that I appreciate how impenetrable the whole industry must appear. The writers I work with, without exception, have earned their position as a professional writer by combining sheer creative talent with hard work and determination. But what we take for granted is the knowledge, gained after years in the industry, of what to do to turn an idea into something that will ultimately get made.

Through my blog and Script Angel I’d like to help writers find the information they need and understand how the industry works. I want to help them get their scripts into the best possible shape so that when they do decide to send it to someone in the industry (agent, production company, etc) their work is the best it can possibly be. Over the weeks I’ll blog not only on my experiences as a script editor but I’ll also try to pull together as much information as I can about what to do to become a professional screenwriter.

As well as checking out Script Angel, it’s other worth checking out Michelle Lipton’s Blog – a talented writer just starting to get her first commissions and helping others to understand the process as she goes through it.