(Guest Posting by script reader Joanna Ke)
There are numerous steps that have to take place in order for a film to get made. Truly, it’s a huge accomplishment that any film makes it through post, no matter how it turns out. Pre-production, production, and post take constant coordination, double and triple checking so that when a film reaches the final export stage, nothing has fallen through the cracks.
The step that most indie filmmakers let fall through the cracks is early on, in the development stage, which lays the foundation for the production and why this step affects the entirety of a film. The step? Getting insight from a professional script reader (aka story analyst) on the screenplay in development.
Everyone wants to make a good film, no matter the budget size, and a good film starts with a solid script. Most indie filmmakers know that, but they don’t completely understand what needs to be done in the development process to achieve that solid script that’s ready for production. Because of that, this crucial step is skipped.
Studios and big production companies employ story analysts. They have them in-house or freelancing, a permanent part of the payroll. These companies understand the importance of story analysis in the development phase, so much so that they set aside money and time specifically for this step.
So, why would an indie filmmaker skip it? Feedback is one thing. Insight from a professional reader that has experience in the development process, has seen hundreds of screenplays, knows how to offer notes, can identify a strong script and spot effective writers due to a thorough understanding of the core elements of a script is different from having your actor friend or screenwriting group give you feedback on a script.
You might love the concept of a single location horror script that’s also perfect for a name actor you have attached, but you know it could be stronger. A professional reader could read that script and tell you that, yes, the concept is great, but it’s actually the writer that’s not skilled in crafting tension and suspense on the page, so a new writer could help get the script to the next level before you shoot. The reader could also then help you identify an effective writer that could execute the revision. This way of looking at a screenplay and identifying strong writers is a skill story analysts possess.
If the screenplay is weak, it makes everyone have to work harder. Issues arise during production and post. More money and time has to be invested, which means a script that hasn’t been developed well costs the production to fix its mistakes. If you’re already on a low budget, coming by that money is difficult. This is why the insight of a professional script reader is invaluable at the development stage, especially for indie films.
There are three options you have with this step of getting insight from a professional story analyst in development:
Learn to Do It Yourself
Nine times out of ten, indie filmmakers choose the last option – skipping the step entirely. This affects the entire production, which then affects the outcome of the film, and the product you produce is then your calling card for your work as a filmmaker. Deciding to skip this step has a lasting affect on your career. Taking action make sure this step isn’t missed can open up opportunities for you when your films reflect a higher level of work.
If you decide to hire someone, here are some tips on how to find a script reader that’s a good fit for you:
SCRIPT READER VS. SCRIPT CONSULTANT: A script reader is different from a script consultant. Readers are story analysts that read for a living. Consultants have varied backgrounds. They might not have ever functioned as a reader. Maybe it’s a screenwriter or a former head of programming that’s offering consulting services. Readers specialize in the development process. As an indie filmmaker, aim to function as your own studio. Seek out a Script Reader or a consultant that has an analyst’s background.
ASK FOR SAMPLE COVERAGE: Coverage is the report that contains the analysis and development notes a script reader provides. If someone is a professional script reader or has functioned in that capacity, they should have samples of their work to send you. If the reader is working today, they most likely will send you older samples since what they are currently working on is confidential. Some readers provide verbal notes. If that’s the case, get him or her on the phone for a quick chat to see how this person works. Ask them how they give notes and what they look for when assessing a script.
ASSESS SAMPLE COVERAGE: In the samples you receive, check out how this analyst gives notes. Not every reader is cut from the same cloth. A good analyst will not impose their personal opinions in an assessment. It will remain objective. If you see personal opinions that the reader “liked” something that happened in the script with nothing to back it up other than their biased opinion, that’s not effective coverage. It’s not analyzing the core elements of a screenplay. Regardless of if an analyst personally enjoys a particular genre, a good analyst will be able to objectively analyze any script.
DIGESTING NOTES: Assess if the way the analyst offers notes is effective for you and your production team. If you and/or your writer don’t understand the coverage or the way an analyst articulates feedback, it won’t work for you. Perhaps there is a lot of flowery language but not a lot of development notes that would help improve the script. The goal with hiring this individual is to be able to utilize his or her expertise in the development phase, so make sure there is substance in the notes that you can easily digest to be able to move forward.
If you’re unable to hire someone, the other option you have is to do as indie filmmakers do – innovate and learn to do it yourself! Script readers go on to become producers, directors, and screenwriters. It’s because when you understand the story analysis step, it makes you better at all of those roles.
To do it yourself, find someone with a reader’s background that can teach you story analysis. Contact a reader directly to see if they will teach you, or check out workshops in your area like the one I’m offering in Los Angeles and Online. Again, make sure you’re learning from an individual that’s worked as a reader and has written professional coverage.
Think like a studio. It’s not just when you get on set that you make a good film. It starts in development.
About the Author: Joanna Ke is an award-winning filmmaker that thrives in the industry as an actor, writer, professional script reader, and producer. As a professional script reader, she has read hundreds of screenplays for production companies, producers, literary management, sales agents, and screenwriters. She is known for her ability to masterfully analyze and articulate what’s working and what’s not in a script, and help writers and production companies move into knowing how to specifically improve their screenplays.