Why all the Script Consultants?
After spending many decades lurking on the fringes of the entertainment industry, script consultants and their services are finally getting some PR (good, bad and ugly) and slowly overturning the ideology of the isolated and revered genius screenwriter which has dominated the amateur imagination.
But where there’s fresh meat there’ll be sharks, and the lure of the burgeoning script consultant industry regularly attracts snake oil salesmen, chancers and pipe-dreamers who are here today, gone tomorrow…
Where there’s fresh meat, there’ll be sharks…
It seems almost anyone’s a “script consultant” now, with only a screenwriting degree under their belt.
Script development is a particularly nebulous area, in which it’s tricky to prove conclusively who’s “better” than anyone else – but this only increases the importance of industry names and a demonstrable track record on a script consultant’s (or consultancy’s) CV.
All the nepotism and lucky breaks in the world might get a script consultant a couple of decent script reading jobs, but longevity only comes with sharp development skills.
So why the high turnover of script consultants?
And – more importantly – how can you avoid the charlatans?
1. Pay Peanuts, get Monkeys: Rock Bottom Prices
Ingredients for a script report;
- Read the script very thoroughly – 2 hours minimum
- Compose thoughts, notes and how to back views up – 30 minutes minimum
- Write the report – approx. 30 minutes per page
- Conclude, proof, deal with admin – approx. 30 minutes
On a standard 4 page report, that’s usually 4 to 5 hours work depending on the individual. So, when you see prices which don’t go much north of $50…well, who do you think is doing the reading?
To be clear, serious script readers don’t do this. Yes script consultants are providing a service in a competitive market, but they shouldn’t be requesting a fee which implies their work is menial – especially when costs, overheads and personal taxes are taken into consideration.
Would anyone of real quality work for such a paltry fee in such an intellectually draining job?
Bona fide script consultants offer a superior report and quote a fee to match. Lower prices indicate a consultant in their work experience phase, which should preferably be served inside of a respected industry company with the input of development professionals.
If the independent script consultant’s primary feature film feedback service is under the $100 mark for standard 4+ pages of script coverage, that should set your spider senses tingling.
Nobody gets into script development for the money, but low prices are typically the preserve of someone who never really got anywhere in the main industry.
2. Vague, Missing-in-Action Biography
Has the script consultant worked for “numerous film producers and film production companies”?
Are they, in addition to their numerousness, “award winning”?
The “Missing-in-Action Biography” is one of the snake oil salesman’s major weapons, but at least it’s easy to spot.
Anonymous script doctoring – the type which has seen Joss Whedon’s invisible fingerprints over many a Hollywood blockbuster – usually comes after a professional establishes themselves with the major players, and not before.
As Stephanie Palmer said: Hollywood isn’t a town built on modesty.
If it’s all a little vague, and there aren’t companies of note worth crowing about, then draw your own conclusions…
3. Yesterday’s News
Excellent credentials, extensive experience – and all of it circa The African Queen.
Age might bring wisdom but if the script consultant has been out of the game for this long, how can they realistically relate the client’s screenplay to the contemporary market?
How much sway can their view carry with today’s 30 and 40-something execs and producers if they’re recommending projects? (Check out our article on “6 Reasons why Writers Should be Sceptical of Script Hosting Sites”).
4. A House Built Out of Sand
GREEDY WOLF PRODUCTIONS and PECULIARITY PICTURES (the type with bedroom offices) might be about to let loose their projects at Cannes or Sundance, so you might choose to give the script consultant the benefit of the doubt, but don’t say you weren’t warned…
The industry is small, and there aren’t that many bona fide companies.
Chances are if you haven’t heard of the company, they don’t mean much.
And, crucially, neither does reading for them. often done free of charge as a slush-pile sieve, a process mostly divorced from critical interaction with writers.
Anyone can read, but reporting and analysis are entirely different skillsets – and newbie consultants often come undone making the leap from reader to editor. Basic rule of thumb for company relevance and prestige: work from the Hollywood studios and mini-majors, down…
5. Junior High
Their CV looks promising: a short time reading for Warner Bros…. a quick stint here at a good distributor… 2 months reading at a major company in New York… but hang on, there’s a trend developing here…
Those are internships, not paid script reading jobs! You’re an impostor! You still live at home with Mum and Dad and only have to shave once a month! Remember, the best interns will find homes having impressed their employers.
Interning is not pro script reading, it’s interning.
6. Supersonic Turnaround Times
Any script consultant or script coverage company worth their salt will be booked up usually at least a week in advance.
It will require either an additional fee – or an unusually pressing client – to ensure same day, or under one week delivery.
7. The Alternative (and therefore Better) Perspective
“Here’s why our script reading service is different: we’re producers/editors/writers/financiers/grips (delete as applicable) and therefore offer a unique perspective– we’re producers! We know what our own kind is looking for!”
Would you hire a carpenter with modest-at-best plumbing experience to fix your sink?
Would you hire a vet to take a look at your baby’s temperature?
Don’t do it to yourself, hire a specialist.
There is certainly room to acquire input from other crafts – table reads with actors for instance – but a script consultant will work as part of an all round development approach which includes script specialists.
8. Extreme Social Media Activity
Good script consultants just don’t have the time to be tweeting 30 times a day, or lodged firmly on Facebook chat.
Writers do because their work is inherently stop-start and the muse comes and goes (which is when you’ll see them furiously tweeting away).
Why aren’t bona fide script consultants on there morning, noon and night? Because they’re normally drowning in piles of scripts.
A blog a week can provide some light relief and rare interaction with their peers, but if the consultant is on Twitter 24/7, again, those spider senses should start tingling…
9. Oh go on then, if I must… (The Reluctant Script Consultant)
“I’m a writer. Or at least that’s what I want to be. Or a producer, or a director, or the CEO of Disney. But go on, I’m a bit strapped for cash, these are challenging times in the biz du show, and I’ve seen some other cowboys make the odd dime or two, so why not launch my own script reading service? If they can do it so can I…”
“But really I want to write, DO NOT FORGET THAT, and I will ditch this script reading ballyhoo like a cheap suit the millisecond those new writing commission fees hit my account.”
10. The Review-less Script Consultant & Their “Testimonials”.
Screenwriting companies love to list their testimonials, often carefully edited and stitched together from their most positive client feedback.
But, to be clear, pulling together a list of “testimonials” for your coverage service isn’t exactly astro-physics.
Let’s try it together:
- make up some fictional names
- write nice things about your service
- fuse the two together and add some exclamation marks – “great coverage!!”
Now you’re all set. Your snake oil has reached the boil, and is ready to be served…
The volume of public, independent, impartial review sites grows daily, spurred by the hugely successful eBay/Airbnb models. If the script reading service or training company doesn’t have independent, impartial reviews, what does that tell you about their faith in their services, or the consistency of their work volume?
Draw your own conclusions.
11. The Consultant Who’s “Worked on” Lots of Movies
The unfortunate truth of it is that getting full Script Consultant, Script Editor, Script Doctor or any other development credit for that matter, on full movies, is really tough.
Like, really tough.
Do some digging on IMDb and you’ll realise we’re right.
So when some consultants list the movies they’ve worked on, oftentimes they’re just listing films they did coverage on. Or the films they worked on as an assistant where they spent more time on the American Airlines website booking flights than they did looking at the script.
The former is a joke, really.
By that rationale, the 10-odd script readers who assessed the script on behalf of a 3rd party, all “worked on” the film. They didn’t work on it, they just read it for a fee on behalf of somebody else and told said company or person what they thought of it! List the company you were working for, by all means, but listing the film itself?!
If we did that here at Industrial Scripts, the page would run on a long, long way. But it’s a falsehood, ultimately, and if you see script consultants trying to leverage themselves off the films they’ve done coverage on then, once more, those spider senses should begin tingling…
A long and winding road…
The road to a proper career in script development is long and winding, and usually involves a slew of internships, free reading (being phased out with more and more genuine paid internships or apprenticeships) and reader’s jobs – becoming familiar with both material and the expectations of development execs and producers higher up the chain – before joining the script consultant ranks of development teams and editors.
Check out our ‘Evolution of a Script Development Professional’ chart below for an idea of how careers in this sector unfold…
Final thought: It’s Too Important to Take Risks
Scripts can take months or even years for writers to complete – dedicating time, resources, money and opportunity costs to such weighty undertakings should be done with the best support possible.