Script Notes

As a script contest reader, I see the whole gamut from utter crap to sparks of brilliance. There are some writers I want to grab by the collar and say “please, delete your copy of Final Draft and do the world a favor by never writing again.” There are others whose hands I’d like to shake and marvel “how are you not already a major writer?” Most are somewhere in the middle, trying their best, doing a fair to middling job, and could do better.

As many how-to books and screenwriting gurus will tell you, there is a science to the art of screenwriting. There are rules, there are best practices, there are structures. This should make judging screenwriting a fairly scientific and objective process. And yet. I’ve fallen in love with scripts that had original premises, well-crafted humor and strong protagonists only to find a fellow judge gave the same script a barely passing score. I’ve read for producers who’ve gleefully handed me their latest gem and been astonished anyone could find a filmable story in the haphazard pages. Most pointedly, a veteran writer friend recently shared that she got her big break when she won a prestigious contest. On the same day, she heard from another contest that the very same script was not advancing past the first round.

So who is right? Everyone and no one. As scientific as we make our rubrics, a good script is still all about striking a chord with an audience. In this case a reader, then hopefully an executive and with any luck an actual, theater-going audience (and maybe with the Academy for those rare few).

My point is this: do your best to learn everything you can about the science of screenwriting (for it is a science before it is an art). Surround yourself with trusted readers (or enter contests) where you will get brutally honest critiques as they are the only ones worth anything. Be brutally honest with yourself on your strengths and weaknesses as a writer. Work on developing your craft. Rewrite and, for the love of god, proofread the heck out of your script. And then, if you’ve done all of this, know that any scores your work garners, good or bad, are purely subjective and from people who’ve worked as hard (if not harder) than you to be in a position to say so. The key is getting it in front of the right eyes, taking the notes and trying again tomorrow. If you’ve put in the work and the script really is as good as you think it is, it’s just a matter of finding the right reader.

About heidihornbacher

A graduate of UCLA’s screenwriting program, Heidi has written numerous features, treatments, and TV pilots for various independent producers. She’s judged for the Slamdance Film Festival screenwriting contest and co-founded the Slamdance Script Clinic. She and her husband founded PageCraft Writing in 2008 offering script coaching and writing retreats in LA and Italy. Her clients have gone on to find representation, win contests, and become working writers. Heidi has written, directed, and produced numerous commercials, music videos, and electronic press kits for various artists. She’s currently making a documentary film about British artist Paul Whitehead.
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