Do I Need a Script Doctor, a Script Consultant or a Story Analyst?
Script consultants do an in-depth screenplay analysis and provide helpful script notes, sometimes as many as 20 pages. Often, consultants will even give line-by-line notes on each page, highlighting examples of their concerns and suggestions. They do not do the actual revisions on your screenplay or seek writing credit for any notes they gave that you choose to implement.
Script doctors do revise scripts. Often a studio hires a script doctor to fix a script when the original writer either isn’t available or isn’t capable of fixing it. Typically, script doctoring is done anonymously; hence many script doctors’ identities remain secret for their entire careers.
Story Analysts (also referred to as a “reader”) write what is called “coverage” on your screenplay. Writers sometimes hire readers to evaluate their scripts in hopes of understanding what an executive is looking for or as a way to ensure they’re script is ready to pitch. Coverage consists of a logline, an evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the script, then a “boxed rating”—ratings on story, premise, character development, structure, and visual appeal, rating them from poor to excellent. The second page is typically a synopsis of your script. The final page includes an overall summary of their thoughts and a grade of sorts—”pass,” “consider” or a “recommend.”
Most writers deal with script consultants, but when you hire a script consultant, or any other professional, make sure there is an understanding as to what services are being provided.
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Are script consultants even necessary?
The market is flooded with “professional” script consultants who have no business being one. Hence, the ones who are indeed qualified, end up getting a bad rap.
Using script consultants is a topic that’s highly debated in the industry, mostly because there’s a perception that paying someone for advice on your script is a bit of a rip-off. If they were that good at analyzing a script, wouldn’t they be professional screenwriters, or managers or producers? Can’t you just use a writing group to give you feedback on a script? Why should you pay for advice?
One’s own creativity free, and, in theory, that success in writing can also be free. Any consultant who promises you career success just from using their service should be avoided. There’s no way, in this type of industry, anyone can make good on those types of promises.
While screenwriting books and other inexpensive educational tools are extremely helpful in teaching the basics of screenwriting, they are rarely enough. No one is born knowing how to write, just as no one is born being a professional athlete. Both take training and practice.
What does help a writer improve is advice from trained professionals who understand what the industry is looking for and how to achieve a higher level of writing. If a writer can afford to hire a qualified script consultant, it can be highly beneficial in getting their script ready for market.
Sometimes you need an opinion from someone who has experience developing screenplays and/or a fresh set of eyes, especially when you have hit a block or exhausted your personal network of readers. When under a time pressure, professional notes can help you finish a rewrite efficiently and meet your deadline.
Sometimes you simply need someone to tell you your baby is ready to go out into the world… or get back in the chair; this isn’t ready. You need a script consultants who will give it to you straight, without sugarcoating. Compliments are great, but honesty is better.
Do professional screenwriters use script consultants?
Professional screenwriters, at the advanced stage of their careers, typically do not pay for feedback. They don’t need to. They have other professionals giving them script advice – agents, managers, producers, etc. (But let’s remember, they do ultimately end up paying their agents and managers in commission… so some advice they get isn’t exactly free.)
But prior to breaking in, many either had limited disposable income or no knowledge of which consultants existed (pre-Internet), therefore they predominantly got their script advice from their professors, fellow writers and/or agents. Production companies sometimes use consulting services if the producers have too many projects on their plates that are in need of assistance in the development process. There are only so many hours in the day.
Another form of “consultant” is the writer for hire – the script doctor. The heavy hands. The one who studios hire to rewrite a pro’s script without forking over writing credit, just a big fat check. Yep. There is a Justice League of Screenwriters who are anonymous, in the shadows and fixing scripts of professional writers, even award-winning ones. A different kind of consultant… one who, instead of giving advice, does the actual rewriting.
But studios and producers aren’t just using any script consultant who hangs up a shingle.
Which brings us to…
What makes a good script consultant?
Some writers only want to learn from someone who has been a successful screenwriter themselves, but not all produced screenwriters make good script consultants. Being a great consultant requires a degree of patience, hand holding, and tolerance to help elevate writing that is sometimes horrendous.
You also don’t have to be a produced writer to know what makes a good story. Many script consultants have read thousands of scripts, many more than the average writer has. The more you read, the more you learn how to be an effective storyteller.
Think about it. Those readers the studios use… the ones who decide the fate of your script. Did they have a screenwriting credit? Um, not so much. But they do know about the industry, what moviegoers’ expectations are, what their studio’s needs are, and what makes a solid story. Since they read an incredible volume of scripts each week, they know when a great story comes across their desk.
Having said that, if you can find a produced screenwriter who has the skill set to consult, even better. They’ve walked the walk and will hopefully give you the advice they wished someone had given them when they were starting out.
What if I can’t afford a script consultant… how do I get help?
Let’s get to the bottom-line—money. When you’re an artist, it is not easy coming up with disposable income to hire a consultant.
Your scripts aren’t going to get anywhere unless they are polished and amazing. A consultant is simply a one-on-one teacher. This is your education. This is your film school. How much are you willing to pay for your education? Many writers spend the money on a consultant to invest in their writing.
Above all, the most important reason to get feedback on your script, paid or not, is to elevate the quality of your writing. One thing is for certain, once you get a top production company to request your script, if it’s not the best it can be, you don’t have a shot at a sale. Not only that, you will be forever in their database with a label “recommend,” “consider,” or “pass.”
Wouldn’t you like to improve your chances of a “recommend” next to your name?
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