Script editor, script reader, script consultants, writers’ group: What is right for you?

As a writer my work has benefitted from work with a script editor, a script consultant led writers’ group, a self selected writers group, and as a person working with other screenwriters, I have worked as a script reader, a script consultant and a teacher of screenwriting. If you’ve finished a short film course, have an idea, or a draft, or a commission, what is the best and most appropriate way to get feedback that will help you grow as a screenwriter for film, stage, or TV? Here is my understanding:

Script editor as a term is commonly used within TV. When I wrote for ITV’s Crossroads, andn BBC’sDown to Earth  as part of a drama series writers scheme, I worked with a script editor as well as meeting with other writers in the same boat. The script editor is   the link between the show’s overall feel, long running storylines,  series characters and  individual writers, ensuring that the tone and shape of each episode feels the same. Sometimes script editors on drama series have worked their way in from a more lowly role in the company, and many go on to become producers of shows.  On Doctors, you would send one page ideas to a script editor ( credits at end of ep) and if they like  it and it hasn’t been done before, they would ask you ( free of charge!) to develop it to a step or scene by scene outline. This may be run though the series producer. If its a green light at this point, you will then be paid ( at last!) to write the script. Its always a tight tutn over, n( 2 or 3 drafts in 6 weeks)

Script editors in film companies often have a development executive role and again mostly work with the writer but along side perhaps the producers , the director  and to certain deadlines, not as tight as in telly but none the less they have a dual responsibility – to the writer and to the company and others on the team.

Script readers

Some years, ago, I worked as a script reader, for various schemes such as Guiding Lights, helping to shortlist screenplays in competition,  and also for Blue Star Films, based in London and Milan.  I started out as a reader for plays, for the Royal Court. The reader might be a gatekeeper so that the  literary department or development team  only have to look at those recommended.  Its a competitive industry and reading can really hone your own skills as a writer.  IN my experience, many of these screenplays had major flaws that suggested rewrites and rethinks were needed .  The maxim goes that all screenwriting is rewriting and there are companies, such as Industrial Scripts,   who offer script reports directly to the writer,  sometimes including the viability of the project.   This kind of script reader provides between 2 and 12 pages of script coverage or analysis. This usually includes the reader’s understanding of synopsis, character, genre, tone, style, visual grammar, and pace and might or might not have recommendations at the end  as to what is missing.  THey are analytical and cancan be very insightful. The  problem a writer faces with a simple anonymous report, is that such a report can feel  soul destroying if a writer doesn’t have a clear steer on how to develop a new draft.  script reader role creative skillset

Script Consultants

I trained as a feature film script consultant with the EU scheme North by North West, which equipped me with tools, based on the work of Frank Daniels and professors from University of Southern California. My  tutors were  Tom Abrams Tom Abrams and David Howard Prof David Howard at USC

The consultant is sometimes called an editor, though I try to distinguish this  role from the idea of the editor as in TV. A freelance script  consultant is someone a writer might hire on an individual basis  to help them develop the script through various drafts. Someone who understands structure but is also a writer’s friend through the marathon that is ten drafts of a feature to get it  right. .Working with a good writing consultant should feel like an enjoyable learning process. The screenwriting consultant can be mentor, cheerleader as well as analytically insightful.

This kind of script work has the sole aim of supporting  the writer develop their script, they should be  someone who can sit right along side, taking on board both the script and the person writing it.

HOw might you decide if a script consultant is worth their salt?  They may not come cheap – between £40-£100 an hour.

Are they a  successful writer themselves – they have been in your shoes?. How important is this to you? With so many sources of advice online, it can be bewildering, and if you find someone you can trust to have your best script at heart, just stick with them.

Have they got examples of coverage or script analysis on their website? How much do they cost, is this transparent? If you are in it for the long haul  this has to be a consideration.

What is their cv?Do they have connections to the industry, or can they advise about your next steps?

At the end of the day, you just have to go by instinct, and trust that.

 

WRITER’S GROUPS

Writer’s groups can be a cheap and very supportive way to develop your scripts. I have been in many writer’s groups over my writing life –  from the Royal Court’s playwriting group, royal court writing group  Script Breakfast, at Lighthouse Film lighthouse  and postgraduate courses at University of Sussex.  More recently I have been in a writing group for 8 years  with other writers – script writers and novelists -which meets at people’s houses and  is very supportive.

Workshopping scripts can be a good introduction to the wider development process where may people may have different notes. And it can really speed up the process of rewriting.

In my view, the  way that the group feedback works is if

a) guidelines for feedback are clear. When I teach short film writing, I offfera crib list for students to consider. Character and their problem – is that clear? Is there a clear arc for second storyline? Are locations clear? whats the main source of conflict or main dramatic tension? Whats the main event in this short( or sequence of longer piece) . whats missing? What is original and what familiar?

b) everyone is committed to reading scripts and contributing their own writing at some point

c) the focus is always on problem solving – how can you help each writer move their script to the next level, making it the best version of their script it can possibly be.

 

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