Obsessing About One Script Reader
Here at Industrial Scripts, we get it all the time.
You can almost hear the echoing footsteps of the query, before it arrives:
“Can I have the same script reader as before?”
It’s actually serendipitous this should be asked so frequently of late, because we’ve recently shifted to a new script handling system, which allows clients to easily request the same reader as before.
It was requested so much, we could hardly not.
But, at this end at least, it was done with a heavy heart.
Why? You say.
Surely the best way to extract the auteur writer-director’s best performance is by supporting, nurturing and generally “getting” both him and his vision for this specific project?
Well, some would say yes.
They’d say yes firmly. They’d point to a sequence of brilliant films and shows made when the writer/filmmaker was supposedly just left alone. Fed and watered and cared for sometimes, but largely just left alone to exercise their vision.
(“Supposedly” being the key word. The writer who never gets notes and is never told no is, like the overnight success, largely a myth.)
But our experience runs contrary to this and – when one has recovered from the natural gut reaction that says continuity and stability in all things is good – the cons of servicing one reader’s reaction stick out a million miles.
In the cold light of day, servicing slavishly the one script reader who “gets” he/she might just be the most underestimated screenwriter mistake.
With the pros of sticking to one reader well documented, let’s instead shed light on the cons…
Why focusing on one script reader is counter-productive
- First up, in 2018 and beyond, screenplays from non-established industry figures (is that you?) have to impress a broad range of tastemakers, execs, producers, agents, managers and other industry figures to gain traction.
This isn’t an opinion.
It’s a fact.
Twenty years ago, one to five people could go bananas over a script and it would be bought, made and sold forthwith.
Those days are polishing brass on The Titanic: they be gonnnne….
Now: some agencies and management companies won’t even sign someone without the say-so of multiple manages/agents.
One quite senior agent we know isn’t even in control of his own list – he has to run all and any signings via the boss of the agency.
What all this means is an assistant first liking your script… then a manager… then another manager… then maybe one of the company partners.
All these people have to agree it’s a great script – or the writer won’t be signed (though they may be “tracked”).
- In addition, in our experience writers can be extremely keen to control and micro-manage who reads their script, and when. And whilst this is understandable, the blunt truth is when the script “goes out”, for real, they’re going to have absolutely zero control over who reads it. Whether they read half of it on the bus and half of it two days later on the tube. Whether they read 10 pages before bed and the remainder 3 days later by the pool or in the back of an Uber.
Beyond the quality of their written word, the writer is powerless at this point to control who reads it.
Logic dictates, then, that to try and control this process from the outset is a false economy. Again, logic might dictate that rather than gathering one view on a script repeatedly, instead gathering multiple views would pay greater dividends…
Writing towards that one script reader
- This can, psychologically, spiral back to affect the writing itself. It’s easier for a writer to write for one script reader, someone already familiar with their particular voice. But often, writers reading their own work see what they imagine they wrote, rather than what is there in black and white, ink or pixel, on the page. (Hence the desire and need for external, professional eyes, such as Simon Heath, on it in the first place.) The same can become true for that one script reader.
Writing with a completely “blind” reader in mind forces discipline.
A great set-piece idea that never fully made the jump from treatment to script? That character whose motivations were revealed in a scene that was cut out? That subplot that’s not properly resolved and just fizzles out?
A fresh pair of eyes won’t remember how well something worked in the previous draft.
They won’t be able to fill in the gaps between intention and execution.
Scripts aren’t sent out with disclaimers or in multiple versions and, unless coming from an established writer, not read with any benefit of the doubt in mind.
- Then there’s the fact that every reader is different and brings their own experience to it. One might highlight something in a project or a writers’ unique writing style that another hadn’t considered.
A range of insights can only help bolster a project’s strengths.
After all, after making it through all those agents, producers, directors, and so on, any successful film or TV show, even at the lower-budgeted, independent end of the scale, has to go out and appeal to a wide enough audience to be successful.
In the end, what counts is what’s on the page.
If a writer is confident in their material and has done everything they can to make it the best it can be, obsessing over that one script reader is not going to help them progress.
It won’t prepare a writer for the harsh truths of having no input on how (or whether, or in what fractured way) their work is read once it’s sent off.
Even on a slush-pile of dozens and hundreds of scripts, even with readers who have never heard of the writer before, good work should shine through regardless.
Let go, writers. Feel confident. Gun always for the taste-proof draft…