Writing Effective Screenplay Evaluations

Every screenwriter needs a second or third opinion on their screenplays. It’s all part of the screenwriting game.

Script evaluations are a necessary part of script development. They are slightly different to script coverage which includes a scoring grid for various story parameters, a summary and some notes.

Script evaluations highlight the strengths and weaknesses of a script. Development notes give specific ideas on how the story should be told.

There are a few things to consider when writing script evaluations. What stage of development is the story at and what sort of comments does the writer require? Is it a first draft or an advanced one? What does the writer need?

Think about how you express your comments, especially for very early drafts that  haven’t yet found their footing.  Take ownership of your comments. Your job is to stimulate the writer to create a better script, not to crush them.

Every script has some redeeming qualities to it regardless of its overall state. Be a diplomat and express your comments in a way that writers are most receptive to them. There is a skill in delivering a fatal blow to a writer and making them thank you for it afterwards. Don’t be a hater. Be a helper.

If it’s an early draft, the writer is most likely seeking general comments about the overall concept. Is the story clear, movie worthy and is there a clear protagonist, goal and theme?

You may add some additional notes about what you liked and what you didn’t like. What areas would you like to see built up and what areas would you like to see reduced? These are story balance issues and designed to look at the big picture. These types of notes are probably 1-2 pages in length.

You may also discuss your feelings towards the script. Was is satisfying? Did it elicit the anticipated emotional response? Is there a market for the material? What was the pacing like? Did the story lag in certain parts while skimming through others?

Non industry readers are qualified to give a simple thumbs up or thumbs down verdict on a script. They represent the consumer and give an indication of whether they would likely see this film.

Industry readers should give specific craft based comments such as structure, characterization and dialogue. They may identify areas in the script they had issues with without necessarily elaborating or offering a fix. Pose questions for the writer to think about.

An industry reader should be able to better identify problem areas in more detail, so writers have something to work with during their next draft.

A trained SCRIPT ANALYST should be able to hone in on the problem areas, define them and offer potential solutions to get a story back on track.

Finding a fit for a script reader is like finding the perfect hairdresser. They must understand what you’re trying to express and help you achieve that goal. They must strike a balance between nurturing the project and destroying your vision. Script analysts don’t even have to like your work. They just need to know how to make it functional. This is the difference between personal taste and objective critique.

In all cases be honest. “This script sucks” sends a different message than “this script isn’t ready to circulated”. There is little value in telling a writer their story is great when it isn’t.

Finally, a writer doesn’t have to agree with your notes. Hopefully they will be able to identify other fixes for the problems you’ve identified even if they don’t take your suggestions. You may both be visualizing different stories.

Don’t be belligerent. There is always an element of subjectivity in script evaluations, so you won’t always be right. You may misread something or completely missed the point.

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