Script readers are the initial gatekeepers of screenplays. So it’s important for screenwriters to know how to treat them.
Screenplay readers are jaded and overworked due to the overabundance of mediocre, derivate and reductive material. Make sure you impress them in the following ways to enhance your chances of your material being referred to the decision makers:
HAVE A POINT
Have something to say. Know exactly what it is. Don’t write for the sake of it, unless it’s for your eyes only. A reader wants to know what is expected of them, thematically. What message does the writer want to convey? Ensure your main concept is singular, clear and well focused. Loose concepts such as crime doesn’t pay won’t cut it anymore. Tighten them up. Before you write your screenplay, write your story intention in one or two paragraphs. Ensure you know what you want to communicate and ensure you’ve chosen the best way to say it.
KNOW YOUR CRAFT
This might sound obvious, but know what you’re doing. Having a laptop doesn’t automatically make you a screenwriter. Understand the nature of story, its structural beats, its format and its length. A script reader for a production company isn’t going to teach you the craft of screenwriting. Nor are they there to give you extensive feedback or help you develop your story.
Being unique is your essence and your individual brand as a screenwriter. This is not the same as being outlandish with way out concepts that don’t appeal to mass audiences. Nothing excites readers more than reading a familiar trope expressed in a way they haven’t seen before. Stand out from the pack, but stay within the accepted parameters of story.
HAVE A HEART
Film is an emotional purchase. A story must touch an emotional nerve in order for it to resonate with readers and audiences. Having an emotional core in your story will compensate for many structural flaws in your screenplay. This is not a license to disregard your craft. There are four main types of emotions; mad, glad, sad or bad. Consider how you want your audience to feel after watching your film. This will help your execution.
An entertaining screenplay is always more attractive to studio executives because they generate higher revenue. Entertainment is the key reason audiences go to the movies, so exploit this knowledge. Being entertained means they experience at least one of the main emotions described through compelling characters. Otherwise, your story is just a series of inconsequential events.
DO YOUR RESEARCH
Ensure you undertake substantial research to add authenticity to your story. Also know that most of the research will not be used in your screenplay. If you are writing a story on the collapse of the credit default swap market, learn how these financial instruments work. However, only add the bare minimum of these to your story so your audience feels confident that you understand your story world. They will not thank you for bombarding them with mountains of facts and figures.
Know your chosen genre well. There are specific tropes and audience expectations which are sacrosanct. Story patterns have been imprinted onto humanity since we started telling them. Model your screenplay on one in a similar genre to understand the main plot beats.
Subverting a genre is not the same as adding a degree of uniqueness. How would audiences react if your horror screenplay isn’t scary or your romantic comedy didn’t have a variant of a couple being doomed to being apart at the end of the second act?
UNDERSTAND THE BUSINESS
As a high risk venture capital industry, understand what story narratives sell in the marketplace. This doesn’t mean you should write a carbon copy of a successful film. It’s a delicate balance of individuality and accepted business parameters. And DBAA.
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