I work for a small production company.
While trying to break into the "next" (bigger)
level as a screenwriter, I work here as a reader. Basically, I spend a lot
of time writing coverages for awful scripts that never should have been written
in the first place. I often wonder what is going through some of these people’s
minds when they send this junk out.
I don’t really know when it happened, but at some point it
seems that everyone in the world decided they wanted to be screenwriters. My
question is this: does all that subpar work poison the water for the rest of
I hear you, brother.
I worked as a reader for about a year and a half, both at Tri-Star and at
a little production company based at Paramount. During that time, I read the
worst scripts of my life — horrible, horrible atrocities worse than a dozen
In writing coverage, half the time my plot summary was much clearer than the
script’s true narrative, and my comments section became an exercise in finding
creative ways to express the same underlying truth: this script is not a movie,
and this writer doesn’t know what he’s doing.
I got a taste of my own medicine later, when I slipped one of my scripts under
a pseudonym to an intern whose opinion I respected. His coverage lambasted
the screenplay and the untalented hack who created it. I actually got nauseous
reading his critique.
Since then, I’ve learned to temper my disgust for poorly written scripts,
and try to view them as the little lessons they are. Once you start looking
for the common problems, you can avoid these pitfalls in your own writing:
- Bad scripts introduce ten characters in the first four pages,
without giving you any real information about them, or making clear which ones
- In bad scripts, characters talk about events you just saw happen, which makes
seeing them redundant.
- In bad scripts, characters are always walking through doors, as if it’s a
play where they need to make entrances and exits.
In bad scripts, characters do exactly what you expect they’re going to do.
What’s interesting is that many of these lessons can only be learned by reading
bad screenplays. In a good script, you’d never know what you were missing.
So rather than blaming these bum writers for doing terrible work, rejoice in
their suckiness, and remember that their low standards make your great script
all the more unusual.