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 and mythology of the isolated 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, “Fauxpros” and Pied Pipers who are here today, gone tomorrow…
Every week a new service wriggles free out of the internet, covered in ectoplasm and sporting the pearly-white grin of The Confidence Man…
It seems almost anyone’s a “script consultant” now, with only a screenwriting degree under their belt – every week a new “service” wriggles free out of the internet, covered in ectoplasm and sporting a Confidence Man’s grin.
These offerings are typically run by someone with little-to-no industry credentials (or vastly inflated ones), and offer no point-of-difference in the marketplace.
Let’s be honest – script development is a particularly nebulous area, in which it’s tricky (nay, impossible) to prove conclusively who’s “better” than who.
Like anything artistic, or subjective, or creative this only increases the importance of industry reputation and a demonstrable track record on a script consultant’s (or consultancy’s) resume.
All the nepotism and crafty digital marketing hacks in the world might get a script consultant a couple of decent script reading jobs, but true longevity only comes with sharp development skills and some degree of (main) industry respectability.
So why the high turnover of script consultants? Why dey come and why dey go?
And – more importantly – as a new screenwriter. how can you sidestep and juke all the charlatans?
1. Pay Peanuts, get Monkeys: Rock Bottom Prices
Ingredients for script coverage;
- 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 $40…well, who do you think is doing the reading?
To be clear, serious script readers don’t do this.
Granted, script consultants are providing a service in a highly 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.
Consultants who work for bigger consultancies might work for less, but then they’re not worrying about all the myriad and seemingly never-ending costs and sweat equity involved in running a proper business.
They just show up (well, go back to bed), read their scripts, get paid and move on to the next…free-er than William Wallace.
But bona fide independent script consultants with their own website and established brand always quote a fee to match.
So if the independent script consultant’s primary feature film feedback service is under the $100 mark then, well, that should set your spidey senses tingling.
Nobody gets into script development just for the money, but way low prices are typically the preserve of someone who never really got anywhere in the main industry, bargain bin type coverage companies palming the work off to unpaid interns, or just good ol’ college leavers fishing for beer money.
2. The Alternative (and therefore Better) “Fauxpro” Screenwriter Perspective
“Here’s why our script reading service is different: we’re producers/editors/pro writers/financiers/grips (delete as applicable) and therefore offer a unique perspective– we’re producers! We know what our own kind is looking for! We’re pro screenwriters! Therefore we’ve been there and done it and are legit!”
These arguments are less robust than Mr Glass.
The most popular is the “pro screenwriter” argument, which positively litters the internet, yet topples and shatters when prodded with a two-year-old’s squidgy finger. In mitts.
It goes something like this: “we’re pro screenwriters, and are part of the industry. Did I mention we’re pro? It stands for professional. It means we earn our living writing screenplays for reputable producers and studios. Because we’re pro, and have SOLD screenplays we’ve done what you’re trying to do, and can out of the generosity of our heart pass the ladder back down better and more effectively. It means we’re rubber stamped and legit”.
Let’s pull this apart, systematically:
Would you hire a carpenter with modest-at-best plumbing experience to fix your sink?
Would you hire a vet to take your baby’s temperature?
Would you hire a brilliant but irascible and intolerant author to help your grandmother for the day with her magnum opus novel?
See: there’s this gigantic fence or a wall. Can you picture it?
And on side stands the screenwriter, and on the other stands the script consultant. They are not the same person.
Was every legendary sportsman a great coach, too?
Was every average player also an average coach? Sport and indeed life is riddled with examples of the direct opposite – great writers do not auto-qualify as great consultants. Great consultants do not auto-qualify as great writers. The skillsets are different.
Also…uh…and this is kinda the proverbial elephant in the room but, if you guys are PRO screenwriters, why the hell are you here peddling notes on the internet, rather than in a writer’s room, or in a meeting with your manager, or on the phone to the WGA about some of your residuals?
Why are you not at The Grove buying half the Hugo Boss store and not even feeling guilty about it? Why are you not rolling calls from 8am with producers about all the projects you’re currently contracted to? Why are you not thinking up new and innovative ways to BS said producers and studios that they’ll get their contracted drafts on time, this time?
If you guys are truly PRO screenwriters, why the hell are you here peddling script notes on the internet, rather than in a writer’s room, or in a meeting with your manager, or on the phone to the WGA about some of your residuals?!!
It’s because…MGM drumroll…these people are not PRO screenwriters.
They don’t earn their core living writing scripts and broadly speaking, they don’t sell projects for proper amounts to major players. If they did – think about it – they wouldn’t be available for $300 a pop on the internet! It just wouldn’t happen.
They are…The Fauxpros – journeymen screenwriters who’ve never cracked the major leagues, sometimes lack even major managers or agents, who’ve typically fallen on hard financial times, and decided to make a buck or two.
As some of the canniest snake oil script consultants about, you’ll need to watch out for The Fauxpros. They’ll getcha.
3. 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…
4. 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, and still works off Final Draft V4, how can they realistically relate the client’s screenplay to the contemporary market?
And if it comes down to it, how much sway can their view carry with today’s 30 and 40-something industry execs and producers if they’re recommending projects?
(Check out our article on “6 Reasons why Writers Should be Sceptical of Script Hosting Sites”).
5. 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…
6. Junior High Consultant
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 hold the phone, 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. Interning.
7. 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.
72 hours? You’re dreaming if you’re thinking you’re going to get anyone really legit, without properly opening up that wallet.
8. Extreme Social Media Consultant
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 spidey senses of yours should start tingling…
9. Oh go on then, if I must… (The Reluctant Script Consultant)
Like The Fauxpro’s younger, jumped-up cousin who lives two blocks away with his mother. The Reluctant Script Consultant (RSC) is usually a precocious soul in their mid-Twenties or early-Thirties who, basically, thought he/she was going to be Christopher Nolan or Shonda Rhimes or Quentin Tarantino, and it hasn’t played out like that.
RSCs basically believe all and any script consulting is leagues beneath them, however having to repeatedly ask their mother what’s for dinner and sneaking a hip flask out to bars to keep the bill down, is slowly taking its toll.
“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 absolute clowns make the odd dime, so why not launch my own script reading service? Knock up a website in a morning, and boom! 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 and success stories, 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/Amazon models.
Think about it for a minute, how often do you buy anything anymore without reading legit reviews from previous buyers, first?
If the script reading service or training company doesn’t have independent, impartial reviews, and hasn’t signed themselves up to one of the leading third party reviews sites, then what does that tell you about their faith in their services, or the consistency of their work volume?
Draw your own conclusions.
11. The Script Consultant Who’s “Worked on” Lots of Movies
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 When Hiring a Script Consultant
Screenplays 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 possible support.
In this day and age, there’s no other way than to let the hard data do the talking for you…