Ask Script Q&A: Script Consultants

From time to time we get questions sent to us through our Feedback Form. Douglas F. sent in a question recently about script consultants. We asked Dave “Dr. Format” Trottier for an answer…

QUESTION: Forgive me if you’ve dealt with this topic before, but I could not find any past articles on the topic of guidelines for a writer hiring a script consultant to look at their script. (Not to be confused with a production company or studio hiring a script consultant on a script they have the rights to.)

I recently hired a script consultant to review my script and sent him a .pdf copy, so he could write notes and not get into the actual script. He wrote back and said he needed a Final Draft copy so he could use script notes. The problem was that he actually went into my script and started rewriting it.

I then had to make sure not to use any of his material so he could not claim he wrote any of the script. Am I right in this regard that even a script consultant should not be trying to rewrite the script? Or is there an understanding that if a writer hires a script consultant, that they can rewrite portions without being able to claim any writing credit since they were hired as a consultant?

I would appreciate clarification of the ethics and standard practices in this area.

— Douglas

ANSWER: Dear Douglas — You hire a script consultant to evaluate your script and provide helpful notes, not to revise your screenplay. That type of work (revising) is done by a script doctor. A story analyst (usually referred to as a “reader”) writes a coverage which consists of a few pages of notes and a synopsis of your script.

In your case, a consultant revised a portion of your work. I am not an attorney and cannot provide legal advice, but it seems to me if you paid a script consultant, then any work he or she did on your script belongs to you. Again, you would need to consult an attorney to see if that is correct.

In the future, when you hire a script consultant or any other professional, make sure there is an understanding as to what services are being provided. Good luck with your work.

— Dave Trottier

Learn everything you need to know about the differences between a script doctor, script consultant and script analyst in this FREE eBook from Script mag.Get a list of necessary qualities and questions to ask BEFORE hiring a script consultant with our FREE download!

23 thoughts on “Ask Script Q&A: Script Consultants

  1. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Jake, label your montage and then identify your shots:

    MONTAGE – THE GROUP’S ADVENTURES

    — MOUNTAIN TRAILS — Jen, Kim, and Mike hike up the trails.

    — RIVER STREAM — They place… [and so on]

    Good luck and keep writing,
    Dave Trottier
    keepwriting.com

  2. Jake

    I’m confused on which scene heading to use for a montage. My montage includes all my main characters going hiking / kayaking / rock climbing / and paint-balling and I used:

    –MOUNTAIN TRAILS–

    Jen, Kim, and Mike begin hiking up the trails.

    –RIVER STREAM–

    They place their KAYAKS on the RIVER. They get into the kayak and begin paddling.

    –PAINT BALLING RANGE–

    Jen, Kim and Mike are RUNNING around DODGING from getting shot!

    Etc. Etc.

    But for the other montage, I got confused and I used:

    EXT. BEACH – DAY

    They are PLAYING volleyball on the BEACH.

    Etc.

    Which scene heading do I use for a montage?

  3. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Well, Sandy, what do you want? Consider naming a purchase price for the “Literary Purchase and Option Agreement” being proposed. Writing credit is good. You’re negotiating.

    Good luck and keep writing!
    Dave Trottier

  4. Sandy

    I’ve written a screenplay. I’m a documentary filmmaker so this is my first feature screenplay. I feel I’ve taken the script as far as I can at this point and a producer/director friend of mine says she’d like to “option it”. She wants to know what I want out of it. What should I ask for? Money? A writer credit? An option to co-produce it?
    Thanks for any advice!
    Sandy

  5. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    John, just write something like this:

    MONTAGE – EVERYONE TRAVELS

    — Joe’s plane lands in Paris

    — Emma shoots a photo at Waikiki

    And so on. That should give you an idea. Here’s the other situation:

    FLASHBACK MONTAGE – MEMORIES FLASH ON IPAD

    — Describe first memory.

    — Describe second memory.

    And so on.

    Keep writing!
    Dave Trottier

  6. John

    Hi, I’m currently writing my own independent screenplay and I seem to be stuck on ‘how to write a montage for an ending scene with the characters going to different places and also to wirte a flashback scene that is being shown on an Ipod Touch. My main character is watching memories from school and they are actually flashbacks because it is memories that happened a while ago that he recorded on his Ipod Touch. I read somewhere that with a flashback you would use:

    ex:

    –DINER–

    Jenny takes a seat at the dinner table.

    Do I use for heading for a montage as well?

    I have four drafts done, but I feel like the flashbacks and montage scenes didn’t use the proper headings.

    Could someone help me out?

    Thanks,
    John M

  7. Bismark Boadi

    I am a writer and i want to esterblish my own protuction house, as the matter of fasct i started some years back but i didn’t get any help so it went down, i want to start again because i can’t aford to be a loser, and i also don’t want to give out my story to these big productions in my country again, all they do is cheating but they don;t want to help you to come up with your dreams. what i need most is a Camera, and i know with that i will be able to come up. in will be very greatful to any one who want to help, or advise. this is my dream. Bismark 20years, Ghana, west africa. thanks to all.

  8. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Mahe, a comedy is not different than a drama in terms of basic structure. As to software, I like Final Draft and Movie Magic Screenwriter. Generally, you start a movie with FADE IN and end with FADE OUT, Everything else is up to your creativity. Good luck and keep writing!

  9. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Richard,

    Let’s look at the first scene heading. Unless absolutely necessary, use DAY or NIGHT. In this case, DAWN may or may not be absolutely necessary. I use the term DAY 1. If you want the audience to know that, then use a SUPER for it. Finally, I assume that the street is part of the park. Thus your first heading would be:

    EXT. PARK – STREET – DAY

    SUPER: “DAY 1”

    If the street is a separate location from the park, then make a decision: Are we at the park or on the street. It’s got to be one or the other. If you are trying to INTERCUT between the two, then use the INTERCUT device.

    I have no idea what you are trying to do with the second scene heading. I’m guessing you want to INTERCUT between the three locations. With three locations, you might be best off to use master scene headings. The main thing is to be clear so that the reader doesn’t have to guess.

    Keep writing,
    Dave Trottier

  10. richard

    Is this a correct scene heading. Can you kindly correct or show me to scene formatting rulebook? Many Thanks. Happy New Year.

    EXT. PARK / STREET – DAY 1 – DAWN

    ..

    EXT. CAR RUSSIAN MOB / CAR JOE / MIKE’S BEDSIT – DAY 8 – NIGHT

  11. Michaela

    I was 14 when I wrote my first screen play. I had a casting call and cast 28 young actors and 3 adults. It took me 8 months to train these actors some who had never been on stage. My parents gave me the venue but I had to direct it by my self. Including set design. It was such a success with full houses and people I didn’t know coming in to see it just to support me. There was such a demand that I wrote part 2 and staged the whole play. It went up as a World Premier Red Carpet Event. Producers, Directors and agents from LA and San Diego came to see it. The theater seats 500 and we had sold out shows. A producer sent a letter of intent to film it as a feature film. My mom produced my show and is now in a joint venture to promote it as a feature film. We have a location and a known actress wanting to star in it. I’m expecting a successful film. I loved writing this screen play and am very busy in LA as a actress with film, television, and national commercial credits. I am writing this to encourage anyone who has the desire to make it can. You must have passion and determination to win! Good Luck and never give up!!

  12. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Lucille, your situation is complex enough that I can only respond in part. First, of course, you must get someone to ask for the script via a pitch, query, or some other means. If someone asks for the script, you could stick a CD to your back cover, but keep in mind that the story must sell first. Good luck!

  13. Ron Dzierzynski

    I am not a screenwriter but I have recently thought of what I thing is a very intriguing story idea. My questions are:
    1. How do I know if this is a good story idea or just good because I thought of it?
    2. How do I collaborate with someone who is an experienced writer who will do the idea justice and be somewhat true to my concept rather than chaning it to their’s?
    3 How do I protect this idea?
    4. How is it then marketed to see if there is an interest from anyone?

  14. Lucille Gay

    Question

    I have a completed screenplay which is a musical. My husband, Ray Gay, is deceased but left me with beautiful melodies. I have incorporated some of the songs in the screenplay. When I submit my screenplay to someone, do I also send a cd of the music? I realize with all of the songs I use, the movie would be over two hours if I played the entire song. Would I just use part of the song? It would take away the meaning of the moment if just a partial of the song is used. The only way for me to use an entire song, would be to have a TV series. What do you think? Please advise. Thank you.

  15. Dave TrottierDave Trottier

    Well said, Michael, about work “for hire.” I have an additional comment to make regarding collaborations. If you as a writer want to write a script with another writer, make sure you have a written agreement between you, especially if this other writer is a friend or relative. Who is going to contribute what? Who’s name will appear first on the credit? What happens if one party does not contribute? And so on. Creating an agreement in advance helps protect you, creates a moral obligation to do the work, and makes the endeavor real.

  16. Michael Mooney

    Collaborators don’t pay each other to collaborate. If you pay someone for feedback then, whatever form it takes, you own it–you paid for it. It’s clear they did the work “for hire.” This doesn’t mean they can’t sue you, it just means they can’t win.

  17. Michael O'Daniel

    No, not “preferably” in writing — do not proceed with a script consultant unless you have a written agreement. It seems to me that a professional script consultant would have his/her standard contract already prepared and present it upon verbal agreement to proceed. If not, the writer (the buyer in this case) can prepare a simple deal memo outlining scope of work and payment terms. If the script consultant also offers doctoring services, there would need to be a rider / contract modification / separate agreement if you want to proceed to that additional step.

    One of the biggest mistakes creative people make is to proceed on the basis of a verbal agreement or “understanding.” If someone you’re doing business with says “we don’t need a written agreement, we trust each other,” that’s a red flag.

  18. Philip Bloom

    Very cool info Dave. I’m sure there are many who misunderstand what the differences are between the different “script _”, especially those who are just starting out and hoping to get noticed.

    To Douglas, I would second what Dave said about making sure there is an understanding about what services are being provided, preferably in writing. It only can protect you, your work, and avoid any stress you may encounter later down the line! Take it from someone who knows!

    Good luck with your writing.

    Phil

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