Reading Is Sexy

I was very proud to be a returning judge for this year’s Slamdance Screenplay Competition, one of several prestigious competitions I judge for. If you don’t know, Slamdance was set up in response to what filmmakers saw as the over-commercialization and inaccessibility of Sundance. The festival itself happens concurrently with Sundance in Park City and has a more edgy, scrappy, fun vibe. However, their screenplay competition happens in the summer.

This year out of 3,600 submissions, I read over 300 scripts in competition. I’m very proud to say that of the thirty-two scripts that ten of us judges took into final deliberations, eight were scripts I had personally advanced and championed. Of those, one became the overall winner, two more won their categories, and three others placed in their categories’ top three. I am pretty proud of that track record.

Early on, one of my mentors told me “Read all the scripts you can. They’re a great education.” Ugh, I thought, the last thing I want to do is spend my time reading other idiots’ work when I could be working on my own stuff. So I didn’t. For a long time. But that mentor was right. I started reading. In all my consulting and judging, I’ve read around 500 scripts this year alone. Who knows how many more in the last ten years.

In all that reading, patterns emerged and my own style greatly shifted. This has made me a better writer. This year I have two different pilots making the rounds at MIPCOM and gaining attention from producers and outlets I never dreamed of working with.

This also has also made me a better reader. When you read a lot, you see the same mistakes over and over, you learn what frustrates you on the page, you see what a lean, muscular script really looks like, you develop a facility for spotting the truly unique, and you learn how the masters who break our hearts or make us cheer make it happen on the page. I can get to the heart of what working, what’s not working, and what could be working better in your script. I can communicate why and how to you in digestible language and help you with the roadmap for your next draft. All because I’ve finally read a lot.

Like my mentor, one of my most common recommendations for clients now is “read as many original scripts as you can get your hands on. Not shooting scripts as these will fill you with bad habits such as ‘we see’ and camera or edit directions like ‘the camera pans over’ or ‘cut to’. Many original scripts for your favorite shows and movies are easily findable online.” I stand by this recommendation: Read all you can. You never know just how it will benefit you and your writing but benefit you it will.

Want to enter next year’s Slamdance competition? Submissions start in February. Maybe have me give you feedback first so you submit the best version of your script that you can.

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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