If you want to sell a screenplay, or win a screenwriting contest, you have to get past the gatekeepers: The Readers.
The Readers hold the keys to the kingdom … The Readers are the ones tasked with slogging through the “slush pile”, that unfiltered stack of screenplay submissions, and decide if any of them are good enough to pass up the food chain to the people who sign the checks. It’s The Readers who decide if the screenplay gets a “consider” (rare), a “recommend” (essentially a unicorn), or simply tossed out after failing to keep them engaged past page 15 (the fate of 99.9% of submissions).
The Readers are charged with reading stacks of scripts … dozens, hundreds of scripts … and they are, mostly, terrible scripts. Sad, but true. Anyone can press keys on a keyboard. Few can turn it into art. So The Readers get jaded, maybe discouraged, maybe even angry.
So how do you get your brilliant new screenplay past The Readers?
49th Films, an Alaska based blog focused on screenwriting and filmmaking, recently interviewed three readers:
- Synthian Sharp, a reader for independent production companies as well as the Jules Verne Adventure Film Festival, and Valley International Film Festival; lead composer on Val Kilmer’s American Meth; and co-director of the film, How I Became An Elephant.
- Jeanne Marie Spicuzza, who reads for her own production company, seasons & a muse, where her film, The Scarapist, is currently in pre-production. She is a published poet, has performed at poetry slams worldwide, and has been featured at such events as Lollapalooza and Ladyfest.
- And yours truly, who as you know, is an optioned and credited screenwriter, a screenplay judge for the Shriekfest Film Festival and the Cinemar Get Your Short Script Made contest, and a screener for the Santa Cruz International Film Festival, as well as a director.
What I’m asking for from you when you hand me your script, is for me to have the right to trust you’re more than a pro, and that I can simply pretend your script is a skyscraper and I’m about to jump off the top, and as I fall I will hit nothing. I will keep turning pages as I plummet straight down through your story until I arrive at the inevitable conclusion, and stand up feeling only, exactly, the emotions you designed me to feel. That’s what I want. Every legendary writer gives us that. Every single time.
– Synthian Sharp
It’s a good read: Check it out here at 49th Films: Script Reader Q&A (Seeking Pot O’ Gold).
2 thoughts on “What Screenplay Readers Really Want: The Interview”
Chip with all due respect. I read the interview and hear is my thoughts.Synthian names some of the best screenplays ever written. Out of all the hundreds of thousands may I dare say millions of screen plays written in the last 30 years Synthian uses these as the gold standard to get by her as the gate keeper? That it must be to this caliber? Look at the crap that hollywood has been churning out! Its a fact that even the bad scripts have a good shot at making it through and the good ones have a better and god bless you if you write a great one.
I think you misunderstand how the industry works.
Yes, Hollywood is filled with terrible films with terrible (or nonexistent) screenplays. But those are not spec screenplays being vetted by readers. Those are tentpole films, sold as concepts often before the script is ever written, and ultimately written by established writers with ties to the studio or prodco. No, they’re not always very good. Sometimes that’s because of the writer, sometimes it’s because so many re-writers are brought on the story suffers (too many cooks), sometimes it’s because the director butchers the script.
To put it another way, it is not “a fact” that bad scripts have a good shot at getting made. It is “a fact” that certain tentpole films are destined to get made in spite of a bad script.
The article you’re referring to is about readers who are vetting spec scripts by largely unestablished writers. Unless the concept is so off-the-charts commercially exciting that the quality of the actual writing doesn’t matter (unlikely) the writing must be great. Each reader has his or her own bar of excellence. Synthian has extraordinarily high standards.
If you hate the crap Hollywood is putting out, you should not simultaneously lament the readers who are challenging new writers to aspire to greatness.
If you have more feedback for Synthian I recommend you leave your thoughts on the article… perhaps he’ll see it there. I don’t think he ever visits my blog.
PS I love that quote above from Synthian. I wish I’d said it. I’ve certainly repeated it (with attribution) whenever I can.