Put script editors and script readers in a room together and it won’t be long before they’re talking about That Time They Dealt With A Crazy Writer – and they’ll usually have multiple tales to tell!
Every time I press “send” on script notes or feedback, I have to brace myself. Why? Because writers are creative people and creative people are frequently susceptible to meltdowns. You name it, I’ve had it: from writers threatening to “take me down” (where??), to writers sobbing hysterically about a single misfiring plot point (even when I’ve said other GREAT things about their writing), it happens. It can be a wearing job emotionally, but I love it and generally my Bang2writers are a great lot who take their writing and careers seriously.
However, in contrast, whenever anyone says or writes the actual word “meltdown,” I am forever reminded of a screenplay I received waaaaay back when hard copies were much more common. The envelope looked weird when I picked it up: a greasy stain was blooming through the paper and it smelled odd. With trepidation, I pulled out the script and…
… On the back of said screenplay?
A single slice of melted, plasticky hamburger cheese. Mmmmmmm.
2. Groundhog Day.
A huge proportion of writers get notes or feedback, then ask questions about stuff that is actually addressed in the notes or feedback. That in itself is okay; I am a trained teacher and realise lots of people need either reassurance or things broken down multiple times in order to learn. I’m totally fine with that.
However, once I had to deal with a guy who asked the SAME screenwriting craft question in a slew of emails, Facebook postings and tweets. It didn’t seem to matter how many times I answered his question, or how; it didn’t matter how many times I broke it down, rephrased or offered links to other sites dealing with that issue. Again and again he asked; again and again I answered. It was like GROUNDHOG DAY, only with added screenplay craft queries (that didn’t make the final cut).
In the end, I referred this troublesome writer to another, much harsher reader who – shall we say – answered his question MUCH more bluntly. Imagine my surprise then when that writer forwards that reader’s email to me, telling me he found that other guy **so much more helpful** and why couldn’t I have been blunt in the first place?? YARGH.
3. Note to Reader: This Screenplay Rocks And This Is Why!
Notes to reader happen quite frequently and usually relate in some way to the story or characters the writer fears the reader may be too dense to get (NB. We’re readers, the clue is in the name: we READ FOR A LIVING. Avoid notes to the reader).
However, back when I was reading for a literary agent when I was still at university, I came across the best note to reader, ever:
“This screenplay received funding from [this initiative]. This means the story and characters are good. If upon reading you disagree, please call [this number] and the writer would be happy to explain anything you did not understand.”
I kid ye not. Despite the above assertions, unsurprisingly I wasn’t blown away – though to be fair, there was nothing in it I didn’t understand.
4. The Adaptation That Was Not An Adaptation.
Still one of my faves, this came from a writer who asked me to write some development notes on the adaptation of her own novel. I frequently look at adaptations without the source novel first. I feel it can be advantageous, as it means I avoid “filling in gaps” from the novel’s plot or characters; I can then be sure the screenplay can “stand alone.” So, I read this lovely lady’s screenplay, then rang her and asked for the novel, so I could then make the comparison:
“Oh there is no novel.” She says, “… I haven’t written it yet”!!
5. A Report On My Report.
Back when I started reading, there were no dedicated script reading courses; it was very much a “learn on the job” kind of role. And part of that learning was diving headfirst into the spec pile and compiling one thousand word (max) reports for my then Boss. And like many young people who have no clue they’re treading on other people’s dreams, back then I was harsh… Though I was never needlessly cruel, but if you’ve met me in real life I can be curt, shall we say. And back then, I was the same in my script reports (I’m not now).
So imagine my surprise when a report came in… for me!
It was a report on my script report, from one of the agent’s clients. In it, the writer in question critiqued my tedious (and apparently predictable) sarcasm; my obsession with the word “actually”; not to mention my apparently facile attempts at humour and misspelling of the word “restaurant” (3 times, no less). All this was rounded off with an admonishment of ignoring the story’s commercial viability and concentrating instead on how the script looked on the page.
I called the writer up and congratulated him on teaching me my lesson. I never forgot his words about commercial viability, and I actually do try and stop writing the word “actually” (but still fail).
- More Submissions Insanity with Lucy V. Hay
- Script Angel: Creating Memorable Characters
- Award-Winning Story Structure for Film Festivals
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