Craig Mazin came back from Austin with some strong words about script consultants:

Listening to and questioning the people who do the job you want is a smart move.

What is NOT a smart move is listening to the people who DON’T do the job. And who are they? Oh, you know who they are. They’re selling books. They’re selling seminars. They’re “script consultants.” And for a small fee, or a medium fee, or a goddamned flat-out ridiculous fee, they’ll coach you right into the big leagues!

Horseshit. Let me say it loudly and clearly: IF THEY WERE ANY GOOD, THEY WOULD BE DOING WHAT I DO, NOT DOING WHAT THEY DO.

Dig? Simple rule of thumb: don’t spend a dime on a book, a lesson, a seminar or advice if the person selling DOESN’T HAVE A REAL MOVIE CREDIT.

Craig focuses on Linda Seger, but the fact is that very few people who write screenwriting how-to books have meaningful writing credits. They make a living selling advice to aspiring screenwriters, either one-on-one or at seminars.

I don’t endorse any of them. I haven’t found any I’d recommend to readers.

But here’s where I disagree with Craig: I think you can learn from people who have spent a long time analyzing a craft, even if they’re not particularly good at practicing it.

Sports are the easiest analogy. Many of the best coaches were never star players. Rather, the top coaches have the ability to extract the best efforts from the athletes they train. They recognize weakness and focus attention. It’s conceivable that the same could hold true for screenwriting. There might be individuals with a remarkable sense of both the broad narrative form and the precise on-the-page details.

And yet: in Hollywood, someone with this set of skills could make a much better living as a producer, manager or development executive. Rather than charging screenwriters, they would work with them to get movies made. And they do. I’ve worked with a half-dozen non-writers who taught me a lot about screenwriting. None of them charged me a dime.

When I see “script consultant,” I don’t think failed screenwriter. I think failed producer.