Spec Killers #4: CUT TO:

This segment of my blog is dedicated to all those little details in your screenplay that can really add up. The little details that get on reader’s nerves.

Today, we have a little detail that can really bug people. So much so that you’ll find many screenwriting books telling you not to use this spec killer.

I’m talking about the transition “CUT TO:”.

A transition that seems so useful. “CUT TO:” seems like the perfect way to let the reader know that you’re moving to the next scene right?


1) It’s Redundant

This is the reason that most screenwriting books say not to use it. And I agree.

There’s no need to say “CUT TO:” before the next scene because the reader will understand what happened when he sees the next slugline.

Although the use of this transition does create more white space, it also repeats information. Saying the same thing twice is never a good idea.

2) It's Old

If you've ever studied screenplays from the 70's and 80's, you'll notice one phrase that pops up a lot: "CUT TO:"

It's a transition that the "old timers" used before every scene almost. Each page was littered with them.

But that was then. This is now.

Like any form of entertainment, new techniques and strategies will always trump old school rules. In screenwriting, this is even more true.

This business is filled with higher ups who fear anything that isn't new. This quality rubs off on the studio reader. Just a whiff of something old can make you look bad.

And with “CUT TO:” quickly becoming a thing of the past, it’s not outrageous to say that in a few years, “CUT TO:” could be that very whiff that spikes a reader’s radar.

(Omitting “CUT TO:” is especially recommend for anyone who actually has been writing since the 70’s and 80’s. No matter how much it is denied, Ageism is a problem in Hollywood. To get around this problem, do your best to make your screenplay look as “new school” as possible.)

3) It’s Annoying

When I first started wring and studying screenplays, William Goldman’s “Misery” was one of the first screenplays I wanted to read. But when I cracked the script open and started reading, I had to stop before page 20. You know why?

Because each and every page had “CUT TO:” plastered on it at least six times!

It was annoying!

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying William Goldman is a bad writer for using so many CUT TO’S. That’s not what I’m saying at all. He wrote in a different time; a time where that was the norm. But when you read something like that now, it’s very, very annoying.

And who knows, maybe I was just having a bad day. And that’s my point here. I stopped reading a script (of one of the best movies ever made) because I got annoyed. Well what if I was the studio reader for “Misery”? I would have past on one of the best movies ever made because I had a bad day and got annoyed.

More importantly, what if this happened to you?

Think about it. You have no control over your reader having a bad day. And when a reader has a bad day, the littlest things can set them off.

What if that one page in your screenplay that has “CUT TO:” three times on it, is the reason why your reader throws your script away?

It may not happen often, but do you want to take that chance?

Like every screenwriting rule, there is an exception. And with this one, it’s comedy writing. Using “CUT TO:” can be very effective when writing comedy. Example:

I think you’re disgusting!

You’re no beauty yourself!

Oh yeah? I hope I never see
you ever again!



Man and Woman rip the clothes off each other.”

The “CUT TO:” works here because of the irony. And irony can work very well in comedy (this scene however is a cliche and should be avoided at all costs).


Most screenwriters worry about what the executive, agent, actor or director is going to think about their screenplay. Although it may be true that those people may not care about how often you use “CUT TO:”, those are not the people you should be thinking about.

Very few writers think about the real problem.

The studio reader.

Because before you get your script read by someone who can pay you, your script will be read by a studio reader. A person who may just have a chip on their shoulder. And seeing a transition as pointlessly redundant as “CUT TO:” may just be the feather that breaks the reader’s back.

Little details always count.

If you want to be safe, cut the “CUT TO:”.

P.S. Don’t even think about using the phrase “SMASH CUT TO:”. There’s no transition more annoying then cutting “fast”.


Gaga Writing

I don't watch music videos. I haven't watched a music video in a very long time.

Not that I hate them, I'm just not exposed to them enough.

It wasn't until a couple of days ago that someone told me about one video that I "had to see, right this instance". It's a video that I will be sharing with you today.

This video is confusing. It's weird. It's crazy. It's unorthodox. And it probably shouldn't be seen by human eyes.

It's Lady Gaga's "Telephone".

This video is pretty old. Like I said, I don't catch music videos often, but I just caught this one recently. And wish I didn't. But in a way, I'm really glad I did.

So what does this have to do with screenwriting you ask? Believe it or not, It has to deal with the most important aspect of screenwriting:


When it comes to structure, this video is a disaster. Now normally that wouldn't matter. Music videos can be a mini-movie, but that doesn't mean that they HAVE to be.

"Telephone" is different. You can tell from the beginning that this is supposed to be a story. And what follows is a mish mash of random images and random events. Not a story.

But the real reason I offer this video to you today is to hopefully pull off the blinders that some screenwriters wear. The screenwriters who believe that structure means nothing and that formulas are for hacks.

If you can make your story work without structure then fine, I bow down to you. But most of the time, with out a structure, you end up with this.

In fact, 4 out 10 screenplays that are handed to me, look more like this video then anything else. Random fights, random sex and random action with no sense of any kind of connective tissue.

When an exec or reader gets their hands on script that looks like this, it's game over.

You'll notice in this video that Lady Gaga has a "written by" credit. Don't write like this. Please. I see it enough everyday.

When you watch this video, keep the word structure in the back of your mind.

If there was every proof of how important structure is, it's this:

I would love to hear any comments that you have.


Writing the Action-Comedy

2010 is shaping up to be the year of the action-comedy. Hits like “Date Night”, “Macgruber” and the sure to be a hit: The Other Guys, make you forget about the disasters that were “The Bounty Hunter” and “Killers”.

Right now, the action comedy seems to be the way to go.

The keys words there are: "right now". There's a reason you don't want to write the genre that is currently trending. The genre won't be trending forever.

By the time you get that script written, a whole new fad will be the “end all, be all”.

However, I've worked with writers for a long time, and I know that you'll write one anyway. You stubborn, stubborn screenwriter.

So I figure, if you're going to do something stupid, do it right.

Here are some tips to make sure your action-comedy is a hit and not a miss.

1) Know your Tone:

Pick a tone and stick with it. This is great advice for any type of screenwriting, but especially for the action-comedy.

So many action-comedy’s that I read fall apart due to tone. The script starts out only being funny and then devolves into just action. Or it starts off with light humor and action and ends up as dark humor with heads being chopped off.

One of the reasons (many reasons) that the movie “Killers” didn’t work is because of the switch in tone. It went from an almost James Bond type feel to a slapstick comedy out of the blue.

If there was a consistent tone, the movie may have fared better with critics and more people may have gone and seen it.

And if you do decide that you must switch up your tone, do it no later then at the act 1 break. The later into the script the more jarring the swich will be.

2) Less Action, More Comedy:

First you much understand the difference between an action-comedy and an action movie with some comedy thrown in.

Movies like The Losers, Kick-ass and The A-Team are all action movies with bits of comedy.

A movie like “Date Night” however is a great example of an action-comedy. It’s a movie with comedic characters being thrown into a world of action.

And it’s that concept that makes the action-comedy what it is.

For every gunfight and explosion, there must be double the amount of jokes and gags.

When an audience goes into an action-comedy they expect to laugh at least sixty percent of the time. If they walk out feeling like they just saw “The Expendables”, they won’t be happy.

3) Make us Like Your Characters:

The beauty of this sub-genre is how easy it can be to get the reader attached to your character. Humor is the number one way to get a reader to like your character. Once you get them to like your character, they will be invested when said character is put into danger.

Use that!

I read so many scripts that put their characters in harms way first, then have them start cracking jokes between gunfights. But why should I or the reader care yet?

The best example of this mistake would be in “The Bounty Hunter”. If you were unlucky enough to catch this disaster (8% on rotten tomatoes last I checked) you probably never connected to Jennifer Aniston’s “Nicole” or Gerard Butler’s “Milo”. And why would you?

Neither one of them were good people. They were both self centered and pretty much boring. But worst of all, they didn’t make us laugh! A sin in the world of comedy.

If your character makes the reader laugh, you’ve done something very special. You got the reader to connect with the character. Now the reader will care when your character's life is on the line.

4) Kill the cliches:

There are so many clichés in both comedy and action that I could never scratch the surface in the space I have for this blog.

But if you saw one in a movie or while reading a screenplay, you would identify it as one.

Reversing these cliches or putting a different spin on them can make your script look really good compared to the rest of the pile on the reader’s desk.

Look at the interrogation scene in “Cop Out”. Or the excellent car chase in “Date Night”. Or the entire concept of “MacGruber”, a comedy that spends most of it’s time lampooning 80’s action flicks.

If you’re writing an action-comedy or already have one written, look through it for anything that you’ve seen in another movie.

If you find a cliché, kill it.

5) Don't Bomb in the Third Act:

Here’s the biggest problem when writing action-comedies myself. The third act. How do you create a finale that’s both exciting and funny?

This is a question with no one answer. Every story is different. The best I can do is shine a spotlight on one of the worst third acts in recent history. The third act of “Killers”.

I suggest that every screenwriter should see this movie. You’ll learn exactly what not to do in a third act.

It’s a third act that wraps up the story in the most confusing way possible. Me and my wife looked at each other and screamed at practically the same time, “But that doesn’t make any sense!”

Your third act can not be rushed, confusing or swept under the rug. And in this case, it has to be funny.

Good luck. With an action-comedy, you’re going to need it.


The action-comedy has been around for a long time. After the success of “Date Night”, everyone seems to think it will be the next big thing. And “The Other Guys” may just seal that deal.

Personally I think we’ll be getting more high concept comedies (”The Hangover”, “Hot Tub Time Machine”, “Due Date”).

But who knows? It’s not something that you can predict.

All we can do is write the best we can. And in the case of the action-comedy, the funniest we can.

If you have any tips on writing an action-comedy, please leave a comment below.

And don’t worry, you don’t have to be funny.


First Ten: Groundhog Day

They say that a studio reader only gives a spec script TEN PAGES before they know if it’s worthy enough to be shown to their boss.
I don’t find this fair.
But life’s not fair and neither is screenwriting.

So I decided to turn the tables a bit. Instead of judging the first ten pages of a spec, let’s judge the first ten pages of a script that has already been sold.

This week: “Groundhog Day” written by Danny Rubin

It’s a movie that’s in my top 5 movies of all time. So I was excited to finally get around to reading the script (much thanks goes to #scriptchat on twitter for having a discussion about the script; if you don’t know what #scriptchat is, go check it out).

But my excitement faded quickly. As quick as the first page.

The Link - http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/groundhog-day-1990-04-15-draft

[If you wish, you may read the first ten pages of the script before reading this blog. There maybe many versions of this script floating around the internet. I chose this one.]

Page 1:


This is not the best way to start a screenplay. First, it’s a camera direction. Second, what clock? When I read “clock”, I think of a clock on the wall. And that’s not what this clock is.

For the sake of clarity, always introduce something first before giving it a “CU” (and don’t use “CU”).

* “PHIL” doesn’t have to be in all caps every time it’s used in description. Just the first time. The same goes with every name in the script.

Doing something like this will mark you as a complete amature.

* “The D.J. an his SIDEKICK come on.” - and.

NEVER have a typo on the first page.

Page 4:

* By page 4, we get it. We may not understand what exactly is going on, but we know that Phil is supernatural is some way.

Page 4:

* Phil’s voice over. This is possibly the biggest problem with the script and you can feel it in the first ten pages as well.

This is the exact reason why voice over is hated so much. All the voice over does in this script is give us exposition that should be shown visually, or fill us in on information that we should get through the narrative.

If you read this script and then watch the movie, you’ll notice that the voice over here just gets in the way. It’s not needed.

Page 5:

* A story like this requires rhyming scenes. Scenes where you see something play out one way, and in a scene eerily familiar later on in the script, it plays out another(just like in the movie Groundhog Day).

On page 5, we find a scene that should have been the set up for a rhyming scene. Phil side-steping the puddle in the street. A gag like this works best when we see it affect the hero first, and then see how he overcomes it in the pay off scene.

Page 6:

* Page 6 is where the structure of the screenplay falls apart. Starting with this one line:

“I’m playing by an entirely different set of rules. Suffice to say, it’s a handy skill for a weatherman.”

This is a MAJOR “show don’t tell” problem.

Phil being a weatherman is an important fact in the characters life. You can’t just have the character say: “Oh by the way, I’m a weatherman.” You have to show it.

Watch the movie to see how they fix this problem.

* Phil punching Ned should be another rhyming scene. Not knowing why Phil is punching him works for mystery, but it loses the impact that a rhyming scene would give it.

When this scene is polished for the movie, it’s one of the best rhyming scenes in the film. And one of the funniest ever!

Page 7:

* The pumping Nancy for info scene is devilishly brilliant.

Pages 8/9:

The exposition found here is actually not that bad. But all of it could have been done visually.

The Verdict: Would the reader continue to read past page ten?

The mystery might drag the reader in, but ultimately, there’s a few things holding this back.

1) This isn’t a setup.

What the writer did here was took a great concept and threw you right into that world. On paper, that sounds fine, but in practice, it loses its punch.

Phil shouldn’t go into the constant loop until act 2. That’s his upsidedown crazy world. We can’t really take a journey with this character if he’s already in his new world.

The first ten pages is supposed to be all about set up. And that’s exactly what happens in the rewrite.

2) Phil himself.

There’s just something about the character of Phil. In the first 10 pages, he does nothing to make us like him, which is fine because this is a comeuppance tale. We’re suppose to not like him in the beginning and then fall in love with him in the end.

However, he does very little for us to hate him as well. Sure he hits on the women and sets up Nancy, but it’s not enough.

For a story like this, we need Phil to do at least three bad things and one good (so we don’t hate him completely). It might sound formulaic, but it works. Just look at how they did it in the film.

3) It’s confusing.

Sure, it may not be confusing to us now. Now that we know what exactly is going on with the time loop. But think about if you never saw the movie. These first ten pages can be pretty confusing.

For a spec script, it’s best to keep things as clear as you can. Save your Groundhog Day’s, Matrix’s and Inception’s for when you hit it big. For now, keep it simple.

I see many readers start to skim around page 6.


The first page of this script really took me aback. When I realized that the first draft of one of my all time favorite movies started out with Phil “in the loop”, I instantly hated it. But I knew that I only hated it because it was new to me, so I decided to give the idea a shot.

But it didn’t take long for me to hate it even more.

The structure for this draft is way off. The voiceover never stopped being annoying. And worst of all, the story tries to explain why Phil is going through the time loop.

Everything felt like an exploration of the story’s concept instead of a journey we can follow with the main character.

This is the perfect example of writing a story, not a movie.

If you’d like to get the first ten pages of your script Reader Proofed, email your script to support@readerproof.com or visit www.readerproof.net


Spec Killers #3: Day and Night

Anyone who has ever written a screenplay should know what a slugline is (aka scene header). It’s one of the first things a screenwriter will learn and one of the first things a screenwriter will make a mistake with.

The most common slugline mistake is the time of day. The mistake: substituting “DAY” or “NIGHT”. I see this mistake at least 1 out of every 3 scripts. Any script consultant will tell you the same.

Instead of:


The writer will write:



When all you need is “NIGHT”.

Now, there have been plenty of arguments about how substituting “DAY” or “NIGHT” is not a bad thing. That it doesn’t take away from the story and actually puts the reader more into the story.

Let me give you three reasons why not using “DAY” or “NIGHT” can potentially kill your script:

1) There’s no need to be fancy:

It may seem like “DAY” and “NIGHT” would bore the reader. They read those words two hundred times a day. In our spec screenplays, we need to spice it up a bit right?

Not really.

Using “TWILIGHT” or “MAGIC HOUR” almost feels pretentious. And there’s just no need for that.

Sure, it may not affect the story, but does it HELP the story? Does it tell the story better to know that it’s “AFTERNOON” instead of just “DAY”?

Your job as a writer is to let the reader know if the sun is out or not. And “DAY” and “NIGHT” will do that just fine.

There’s no reason to make it fancy.

2) You’re drawing attention to the slugline:
Sluglines for screenwriters are similar to the phrases “he said” and “she said” for novelists. If you have ever taken a course on novel writing, one of the first things they tell you is to write “he said” more often then substitutions like “he exclaimed”, “he screamed”, “he pontificated”, and so on.

The reason for this is so that the “he said” becomes invisible. The reader reads it quickly and then moves on.

Same with your sluglines.

When you read enough screenplays, your brain is trained to scan the slugline, extract the location and move on. “DAY” and “NIGHT” help make it a smooth transition.

Even a word like: “EVENING” can stall a readers brain. Bringing attention to the slugline.

You want your reader to know where your characters are and tell your reader quickly. The reader’s day is a busy one. Don’t let the little things make their day busier.

3) It’s not your job:

Here’s the big one. The time of day that each scene is shot in, is not the decision of the writer, but of the director of photography. Ultimately, you really have no say in the matter.

So if the DP wants to shoot a scene at “MAGIC HOUR”, that’s the DP’s call, not yours.

The writer writes the story and the DP decides how to light it. A writer who has a problem with this is a writer no one will want to work with.

Just like every rule, there are exceptions. There will be situations where an exact time actually helps the story.

Lets take a vampire story for instance:


This helps build tension. We all know what happens when the sun goes down in a vampire story.

Another example is if your story is told within a 24 hour period. It may prove useful to be more specific with the time of day.



You don’t need ‘em.

90 percent of the time, good ole “DAY” and “NIGHT” will do you just fine.

Put your creativity in your story. Not in your slugline.

If you have any questions or opinions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me at: support@readerproof.com


Bad Movies

During a discussion I had recently with a writer on Twitter, an age old screenwriting question was brought up:

"Why should we as screenwriters trust studio executives when they are the reason for so many bad movies?"

This one's a classic.

First, let's talk about the second half of the question: why they make bad movies.

There's a lot of them out there huh? Most of the movies you find in the theater today are horrible. How could something so horrible make it to the big screen? How could they mess up so badly?

Here's the bad news: they didn't mess up the movie.

You did.

The only reason that they changed something in your script is because you gave them the opportunity. They saw a hole in your through line and
jumped at the chance.

As writers we tend to blame the other guys. "It's not our fault, it's that damn producer!"

But look at it from their perspective. They're trying to sell a product. To the mass audience or to the independent crowd, it doesn't matter. No one is going to respect your original work if it doesn't
look like it will make them money.

And if it doesn't look like a money maker, trust me, they'll make it in to one. And there's nothing you can do about it. So you better do it on your terms and not theirs.

But here's the good news: If you nail the structure, your set. That's all you have to do. Structure is the skeleton of your script. If you have a well built skeleton, your story can never truly turn out bad.

Sure they can mess up the dialogue, delete your favorite characters, add stupid characters, create pointless "trailer moments" and horrible
set pieces. They can even take your name right of the script (most likely they will). But if you nail the structure, there's nothing they can do to ruin the core story.

This is where most writers make there biggest mistake. You must make sure that every event that happens in your script leads directly into the next. You must make it clear for anyone reading your script that if they pull or change one event in your screenplay, they will upset the balance of the entire screenplay and the audience will hate the

And that's why there are so many bad movies out there. Too many scripts floating with incomplete skeletons.

Scripts without act two and three breaks. Scripts without midpoints. Scripts without escalating roadblocks and obstacles. Scripts without aftermath and final images that endure the test of time.

That's the writer's fault, not the executives.

So let's tackle the first part of the question we started with: why should we trust executives?

Well, you probably shouldn't. No one messes up a script quite like an executive. An exec can spot a structure issue faster than anyone but at
the end of the day, they're not writers. They can find a problem, they just can't fix it.

And when they try to fix it... well we know what happens when they try.

It's best to let them worry about marketing your script rather than making the story better (so nail that structure).

However, don't write off all execs quite yet. Every once and a while they know what they're doing. Take "Date Night" for instance.

It's a fun movie that enjoyed a good amount of success. And it has a great structure. It's fair to say that "Date Night", is not a bad movie.

Now look at the original draft. It's nothing like what showed up screen! 90% of the draft got rewritten. All because the structure wasn't perfect.
Somewhere down the line, it was an executive who decided to have it rewritten.

It was a good call. If the original script was filmed, it would have been a bad movie.

It happens every day. Bad movies get made and stuffed down our throats.

But remember, you can't always blame the guy at the top. Story problems use originate at the bottom. The guys at the top try to fix them. They just don't know how.

So it's up to you.

Never forget that. Most writers do.

Only you can prevent bad movies.

Your Original Work

It's every screenwriter's dream to get their work on the big screen.

However, there's a huge misconception with this dream.

Most writers assume that whatever they write on the page will show up on screen

That their final draft will be the FINAL draft.

That every word they put down on the page will be an image put on the screen. That every line of dialogue they write will be spoken by the stars.


No, this will not happen.

In fact, you'll be lucky to find 40% of your movie put on the screen.
Even if you do everything right with your screenplay, you'll be lucky to find 60% on opening day.

The bottom line: you will be rewritten.

In most cases, there's no way around it.

There's only two ways to get your script on the screen without getting rewritten: one, you direct it yourself. Two, you're James Cameron.

Otherwise, that script you've been working on for eight months (or years), will be torn apart and be put back together by a team of screenwriting strangers.

They mean well, they really do.

Everyone is just trying to make a good movie. In theory, an unproven writer is limited in his writing abilities. Thus, they bring in more writers. More drafts. More polishes.

More ways to ruin the original.

It's part of the business. There's nothing that any screenwriter can do about it.

There are two ways to deal with this fact:

One, accept it. Write every script with a voice in the back of your head saying: "I know that most likely, someone will rewrite this. I will do my best to give them very little to rewrite."

Two, you don't accept it. If you choose to not except this fact, my suggestion is to stop sceenwriting now. You can write novels,
books, or even comics. But if your original work is that important to you, screenwriting is not for you.
Why? Because making a movie is a group effort. It may start with you and your script, but it ends with a crew of over three hundred people.

No movie is made by one person.

So if you're not a team player, this is not the business for you. It's best to get out now while you still have your sanity.

It all comes down to this: how bad do want your screenplay to end up on the big screen?

Are you willing to change your original draft to get your screenplay sold? Are you willing to surrender creative power to those who may not have much creative ability?

Are willing to be a team player?


Get it out of your head and...

"On to the Page", for the uninitiated, is the name of a podcast that is dedicated to the business and craft of screenwriting. The host of the podcast is Pillar Alessandra, a former script reader and current script consultant.

For the last three years, the "On the Page" podcast has been free of charge for all writers. Three years of some of the best screenwriting advice you can find.

In the next couple of weeks, the podcast will switch from a free podcast to a subscription podcast. Twenty dollars per season, a season being six months. So basically forty bucks a year.

Now, that’s a big change for content that has been free this whole time. I’m suspecting many listeners will refuse to pay for content that was free and stop listening to the podcast.

My advice for anyone who plans on doing this is: don’t.

"On the Page" is an excellent podcast. Every week there is something new, and every week it gets better. It’s surprising that this podcast has been free for this long.

So if you're a fan of the show, don’t cancel. This is the hardest time to crack into the spec market, and a screenwriter needs more help now than ever.

I know it’s forty bucks, but in the long run, that’s nothing. You might find something in an episode that will blow your screenwriting mind (for me it was learning how to network with Modern Warefare 2).

And if you’re not a fan already, go to itunes and search for "On the Page". You can still listen to the first hundred or so episodes for free and you can decide if it’s right for you.

I can only name a handful of screenwriting podcasts out there, and On The Page is by far the best.

Worth the forty dollars.


First Ten: Avatar

They say that a studio reader only gives a spec script TEN PAGES before they know if it’s worthy enough to be shown to their boss.

I don’t find this fair.

But life’s not fair and neither is screenwriting.

So I decided to turn the tables a bit. Instead of judging the first ten pages of a spec, let’s judge the first ten pages of a script that has already been sold.

This week: “Avatar” written by James Cameron

At this point, there’s been plenty of opinions throw around about this colossal movie. Both good and bad, everyone has something to say about Avatar.

I don’t want to rehash what has already been said. Instead, we’ll concentrate on the screenplay as professional as we can and pretend like James Cameron had to send the script out to studio readers (like that’ll ever happen).

The Link - http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/avatar

[If you wish, you may read the first ten pages of the script before reading this blog. There maybe many versions of this script floating around the internet. I chose this one.]

Page 1:

* “WE ARE FLYING through mist, a dimly glimpsed forest below.”

“We are very low over the forest now, gliding fast, the drums BUILDING to a PEAK --”

Two “we sees” on the first page. Neither of which is needed. These are two of the many examples of the use of “WE SEE” in the first ten pages.

Two “we sees” at the beginning of a script may very well bring up a red flag for the reader.

* Jake Sully’s name is in bold. Never bold anything in your screenplay. It just looks wrong.

* “The room is a tiny CUBICLE, prison cell meets 747 bathroom. Narrow cot, wall-screen droning away in the B.G...”

I really like that first line. It’s a good use of a simile.

The second however needs a quick fix. “B.G.” is another one of those “fourth wall breakers”. It’s hard to keep a story engaging when you’re constantly being reminded that you’re just reading a screenplay.

* The “PERKY NEWSCASTER” part can be cut for pacing. We already get that it’s the future, and if not yet, we’ll get it in the next couple of pages.

Page 2:

* “Jake laboriously pulls his pants off -- rocking to one side, pushing the fabric down past his hip, then rocking to the other, and so on.”

Just put:

“Jake laboriously pulls his pants off. It’s not an easy task.”

Something like that. On page 2, there is no luxury of dragging things out.


Not the kind of place you’d bring your mom.”

Here’s a nice quick description of a setting that works. It builds a picture in your mind easily and is exactly what you should strive for in your description.

However, I’ve read this line a good fifty times in amateur screenplays before reading it here. If you can modify this line to make it a little bit different, you’ll have descriptive gold.

* “CU JAKE, watching what he can’t have. Expression stony.”

Two things:

One, “CU” is never a good thing to use in a spec script. Another “fourth wall breaker”

Two, “Expression stony”? This is one of those times where it’s best to use the pronoun or at least a colon, “Expression: stony”.

I think anyone reading “Expression stony” will understand the intention, but quickly realize the mistake.

* “Let’s get it straight up front. I don’t want your pity. I know the world’s a cold-ass bitch.”

I know I said that I was going to treat this as professional as I could, but I have to comment on this personally.

Wow. Just, wow.

* “TIGHT ON JAKE’S HAND as he starts pushing the wheel of his chair. TRACKING WITH HIM as he rolls forward.”

No one gets impressed by your knowledge of camera work. Not the actor, not the reader, not the executive and especially not the director. Here’s a quick rewrite:

“Jake rolls himself forward. His eyes fixed on his target.”

What happened to the close up shot of Jake’s Hand? Simply put, you don’t need it. As the writer, you don’t get to chose the way your story is going to be shot.

The original sentence is like a slap to the face for the director. The rewrite let’s the director start thinking of ways to shoot it. Gets the director excited about the possibilities.

Also, if you can forge two sentences into one, do it.

Page 3:

* I like the “save the cat” moment presented here with Jake saving a woman from being beaten. It may seem cheap, but so far he hasn’t done anything for me to like him.

It’s hard to connect with someone who thinks that life is a “cold-ass bitch” (again, wow, just... wow).

Seeing him jump out of his wheelchair to protect someone helps.

I hope you realize you’ve just lost a customer!”

This doesn’t need to be underlined.

Page 4:

* By page 4 you really start to feel a disdain for Jake’s voice overs. They try too hard.

Pulling off a good voice over is one of the hardest things a writer can do. These first ten pages show why.

Page 5:

* “JAKE’S POV -- A TECH in medical scrubs FLOATS WEIGHTLESSLY toward us. Wherever we are, we’re not on Earth.”

This is the ultimate “we see”. There are so many other ways to be drawn into this mystery. You don’t need to break the fourth wall.

Page 6:

* Our first page without any dialogue.

Zoom this page out and study the blackness presented.

Do not do this.

* There is no need to bold the planet names, just put them in all caps. And I’m really not sure why “shuttles” is in bold.


For a spec script, it’s DAY or NIGHT.

Unless it’s important to the story to know what exact time of day it is (in most cases it’s not), let the DP light it how he wants.

* “FLYING OVER A LANDSCAPE of massive cliffs and towering mesas carpeted in rainforest.”

Here is an excellent way of drawing a reader in without using “we see”. He could have easily wrote:

“WE ARE OVER massive cliffs and towering mesas...”

But he didn’t. He drew us in by putting us right there in the thick of it.

If I was James Cameron's script consultant (yeah, right) I would tell him to replace every “we see” with something like this.

Page 7:
* “ A BLUE INHUMAN HAND reaches INTO SHOT, parting the foliage to reveal the shuttle hover-taxiing across the compound.”

Our first big story moment. The mystery of the Navi. Page 7 is a good place for this moment.

* “Everybody except JAKE, who’s turning his this way and that trying to figure out the straps.”

How about just:

“Everybody except Jake, who struggles with the straps.”

* “Remember people, you lose your mask you’re unconscious in 20 seconds and you’re dead in four minutes.”

Here we have one number spelled out and the other not.

Be consistent with spelling out all numbers in a screenplay.

* Again, only underline dialogue that is IMPERATIVE to the story.

Page 8:

* “Beyond the tractor, two VTOL vehicles take off. Armored and heavily armed, they are AT-99 “SCORPION” GUNSHIPS.

MITSUBISHI MK-6 AMPSUITS -- human operated walking machines 4 meters tall -- patrol the perimeter. They are heavily armored, and armed with a huge rotary cannon called a GAU-90.”

Here we have some unfilmables. How will the audience know that it’s a “AT-99 Scorpion” gunship? Or that the ampsuit is a “Mitsubishi MK-6 with a rotary cannon called a “GAU-90”?

Unless this information is printed on the sides of these machines, the audience will never know. And why would they care? It doesn’t move the story at all.

When writing a sci-fi screenplay, this is a mistake that I’ve found is made by most writers. Too many “futuristic” details.

It’s always best to just describe what it is, and not give it a name (unless the story demands it).

Page 9:

* “The MAN raises his masked face to look at the sky. He eyes are an icy steel gray.” - his eyes

* “You are not in Kansas any more...”

Much like “say hello to my little friend”, this is a phrase you can never use in a screenplay again.

Page 10:

* Quaritch’s speech may seem corny, but it actually works. The threat of Pandora is established well (although a little reworking of the dialogue wouldn’t hurt).

The Verdict: would a reader continue to read past page 10?

I would say no. Sci-fi movies are a tough sell. In the first ten pages you have to hit them with something big to keep their interest. There’s just not enough here to do that.

This is a 152 page script (the number one reason a reader won’t read the whole thing) so the big stuff won’t happen until much later.

My suggestion to cure this problem, not just for a sci-fi screenplay but for any screenplay, is to make sure you have a setpiece in your first ten pages.

It doesn’t have to be a whole setpiece, even just half of one should be enough to show the potential of your story.

You can argue that the bar fight was the half setpiece used in the first ten pages of this script, but that was more of a showcase of his character. Not a showcase of the world, theme or concept.

There’s a reason why that scene never made it into the movie.


Overall, this is a screenplay written by one of the most powerful people in Hollywood. He hasn’t worried about readers since the 80’s.

Plus, he directed the movie, so all those “fourth wall breakers” seem natural to him.

But we as spec writers can still learn from this script. The lesson here is: leave the camera angles to the director. And if you are the director, leave the camera angles to yourself.

Just focus on the story.

Next on the First Ten: A legendary script for the 90’s. With an opening page that gave new meaning to “inciting incident”.

If you’d like to get the first ten pages of your script Reader Proofed, email your script to support@readerproof.com


Spec Killers #2

It always seems like such a good idea. What better way to put your reader into a story than "We See"? Example:

"We see the boxer swing his last right cross. We follow his body as it slumps to the ground.”

That worked right? We were right there with that boxer. We were right there to feel his pain, right?


1) It's Breaking the Fourth Wall

A good screenplay is like a good novel; you get lost in the world. You forget that it's only a story.

You forget you're only reading.

So when a "we see" pops up, our brains go, "We see? Who's we? I'm we. Oh right, this is a screenplay."

Thus, breaking the forth wall.

As a screenwriter, you must put the reader in your world without breaking the spell.

2) It's Still a Camera Angle

Your job as a screenwriter is to tell a story in pictures. It is not however your job to describe how those pictures should be shown. That's the directors job.

Camera angles are very much forbidden in a screenplay. It may be true that a quick "we see" is better than:


But it's only a step behind. "We see" is still a camera angle. It's still you as the writer trying to tell the director how to do his job.

Same with the use of "we follow". Yes it's better than:


But not by much. You must come up with a more kinetic description
without using a camera angle.

Once the script ends up in a director's hands, it's their story and they get to shoot it how ever they want.

A hard truth that every writer must accept.

3) It's Lazy

Descriptions can be hard work. So can orientating who is in what scene and what they are doing.

It's very tempting to slap a "we see" down and keep writing. During the first draft that's fine. It makes a great placeholder. But when the presentation script is written, you need to come up with something more active.

The thing you have to remember is, a screenplay isn't just words and paper, it's a professional document that has a price tag of at least eighty thousand dollars.

An executive has no time for you to be lazy.

Now keep in mind, I'm not saying that if you have one or two "we sees" in your screenplay your script is doomed. Used in moderation, no one will notice. The phrase is used so often in professional screenplay's that it's just white noise at this point.

It's when the phrase is used excessively when we start to have a problem. You become a "paper director". A writer who directs on the page.

In a spec script you're trying to sell not just a story, but a GRIPPING story. A story that grabs the reader and refuses to let go.

A shortcut is never gripping. It's like reading the cliff-notes of an amazing novel. You get the gist of it, but you never get engrossed.

When it comes to "we see", it's best to just let the pros have it.

Don't worry, you'll get to use it soon enough.


First Ten: The Hurt Locker

They say that a studio reader only gives a spec script TEN PAGES before they know if it’s worthy enough to be shown to their boss.

I don’t find this fair.

But life’s not fair and neither is screenwriting.

So I decided to turn the tables a bit. Instead of judging the first ten pages of a spec, let’s judge the first ten pages of a script that has already been sold.

This week: The Hurt Locker by Mark Boal

Sure it may have won the Oscar for best screenplay this year, but few people realize how independent it was. Although it was the shooting script that won the Oscar, it’s the spec script that will be studied by other writers. A script that never had to face the wrath of a studio reader.

Let’s see how it does...

The Link - http://www.mypdfscripts.com/screenplays/the-hurt-locker
[If you wish, you may read the first ten pages of the script before reading this blog. There maybe many versions of this script floating around the internet. I chose this one.]


Page 0:

* I’m not going to include the page of quotes as page 1. But I want to quickly say: Don’t do this. It comes off as pretentious. There’s a reason why only the pros get to do this.

Anything flashy will hurt you in the long run.

Page 1:

* The first thing you will notice about page 1 is the white space. And how little there is of it. It’s a little daunting.

* The details present on this first page, really kill the read:

“From this angle close to the ground we FLY down a road strewn
with war garbage: munitions, trash, rubber, animal shit --
all of which, from this odd, jarring perspective, looks
gigantic, monstrous.”

Just “war garbage” would be enough. This is a well written paragraph, but it just adds to the already word heavy page.

“We zoom towards a crumpled COKE CAN, the white ‘C’ growing
enormous on the screen, filling the screen like a skyscraper.
We SMASH into the can and barrel ahead.”

This is my least favorite detail. What was the point of this? Unless there is a bomb in the coke can, this can be cut.

It doesn’t move the story.


A few things:
1. No period after EXT.
2. A slash is used instead of a double dash.
3. The use of “DAWN” instead of “DAY” OR “NIGHT”

The first two may seem optional, but I don’t believe it is. Since the majority of scripts use periods and double dashes, not using them may come off as not knowing the industry standard.

As for the use of “DAWN”, you want to keep sluglines as simple as possible. As the writer, you just say if it’s day or night and the DP will figure out the rest.

* There is some bolding on this page. Never bold anything in a screenplay. It just looks tacky.

* Despite the issues, this page is very cinematic. It just needs to be cleaned up a bit.

Page 2:

* Speaking of bolding, this is the most bolding I think I’ve ever seen in a screenplay. And I’m not sure why any of it is bold.

Are these title cards? Will the audience be reading this? If not, this is all unfilmable. The reader might get this information, but the audience will not. There should be a “SUPER” used to show that this will be read by the audience.

* Check out the lack of white space on this page. There is less white then on page one. That’s not good.

The more words on a page, the faster the reader will skim.

* “Next to a parked Humvee, THREE EOD (Explosive Ordinance
Disposal, aka Bomb Squad) SOLDIERS are crouched over a laptop

Here is a definite unfilmable. Sure, the person reading the script will know what an EOD is, but will the audience?

My suggestion for Mr. Bowl would be:

“Next to a parked Humvee, THREE SOLDIERS crouch over a laptop computer. The back of their jackets read: “EOD: EXPLOSIVE ORDINANCE DISPOSAL.”

This way “EOD” is explained to the reader as well as the audience with very little exposition.

* “This is summer in the desert and the median temperature on
this bright clear morning is 110 degrees.”

Another unfilmable and kind of stale. How about:

“By the looks of it, it must be 110 degrees out.”

* There is a paragraph that is seven lines long.

Make sure to keep all paragraphs under four lines. It will do wonders for your pacing.

* “Before joining EOD, Sanborn was in Military Intelligence. He quit. Military Intel was too easy.”

This is background information that should be told through dialogue.

Page 3:

* “Eldridge laughs. He clearly likes the two men he’s with.”

This is a show, don’t tell problem. “Eldridge laughs” shows us that he likes these two men. Saying that he “clearly likes them” is telling. And in this situation, it’s repeating what has already been alluded to.

Page 4:

* “Eldridge is already on it, approaching with the four blocks
of C4. He’s done this enough to know what they need.”

Another unfilmable. That last bit is background information that can’t be relayed on screen.

The blast is going to roll out
there (pointing) the shell will
probably kick out there (pointing),
and most of the shrapnel is going
to rain up in an umbrella pattern.”

Make sure your parentheticals are their own lines.

Page 6:

What, you don’t like it here?”

If you’re going to use a parenthetical, for the love of god don’t use the word “wryly”. At this point, using “wryly” is a joke.

* In describing “The Suit”:

“Because of its weight and complexity it takes two men to
put it on - or one Sanborn.”

This is a good example of a working unfilmable. You’re allowed one or two unfilmables as long as it isn’t background information or a chatty aside.

Page 6/7:

* Thompson's speech is a little long.

Page 7:

* There really is some excellent dialogue in these first ten pages.

Page 8:

* “Breathing. Heat. Sun. Sweat. Flies.
Suddenly a DOG out of nowhere charges, BARKING ferociously.
Thompson is momentarily startled. Then resumes his walking.
The dog runs off.”

- Excellent suspense!

Page 9:

* The (over walkie) and (headset) usage is repetitive. Use it once and we’ll fill in the blanks for the rest.

Page 10:

The “UPRANGE”, “DOWNRANGE” works well as secondary scene headings.


The Verdict: Would the Reader Continue Reading?:

This is a tough call. On the one hand, there are enough amateur mistakes here to stop a reader by page 5 (this was Mark’s first screenplay).

But the suspense and tension found in most of the scenes will make up for it.

It’s a bumpy ride, but getting past page ten for this script is possible. It’s the next thirty or so pages that may do the script in.

It was Kathryn Bigelow’s directing that made the movie what it was. She brought out magnificent performances from her actors and created shots that can easily be deemed as classic.

The script itself is not bad. For an independent movie it’s fine, but for a studio, it needs work. The structure alone is enough to say no. There is no three act structure.

The story feels like a procedural. There’s a bomb... bomb gets diffused. There’s a bomb... bomb gets diffused. There’s a bomb... bomb gets diffused.

It’s not that I didn’t like it, it’s just not the kind of structure that works for a studio movie.

So if you’re looking to get a studio to buy your script, and most likely you are (unless you’re a friend of Kathryn Bigelow), The Hurt Locker isn’t the best script to study.

But if you’re looking to write a suspense movie, this is a good one to check out.

Next on the First Ten: A movie that took over the world... with a story we’ve already seen.


If you’d like to get the first ten pages of your script Reader Proofed for free, head on over to www.readerproof.com.

Use promotional code “Hurtlock001” to get %25 percent off of a full proofing!


The Backlash

Recently, a writer asked me kind of a loaded question: do spec scripts still sell?

In a market place filled with pre-sold franchises, do spec scripts have a chance in 2010?

The best answer to this question can be found at the most likely of places: the movie theater.

Iron Man 2, Jonah Hex, Marmaduke, Prince of Persia, Robin Hood, Sex and the City 2, Toy Story 3, Shrek Forever After, The A-Team, The Karate Kid and Get Him to the Greek, (a sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall).

Eleven movies, all part of an existing franchise.

On the spec script side, we have: Splice, Letters to Juliet, Killers, and Date Night.


According to Box Office Mojo, out of the top ten grossing films of 2010 so far, only three are not pre sold franchises. Same thing for 2009 and 2008.

Here are the #1 grossing movies of each year from 2000 to 2009:
The Grinch, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, Spiderman, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Shrek 2, Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, Spider Man 3, The Dark Knight and Avatar.

So out of the entire decade, only ONE original movie made it to the top. And Avatar is not a spec script (and some people would argue, not original; but I don’t want to get into that right now).

So what does this mean to the average, not-sitting-on-a-million dollars screenwriter? It means those 110 pages that you’ve poured your heart and soul into, has a very little chance of getting made.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a CHANCE that it might get made. And an even better chance that it might sell. If you hop on over to sites like Done Deal Pro, or read the trades, you’ll see that specs are selling often.

They’re just not getting made. Hundred of specs bought per year that just sit there doing nothing. All because there isn’t a comic book, novel, or other movie already attached to it.

Studio heads are often ridiculed for not taking chances on original material. But look at those odds.

This is a business before art. And money doesn’t lie.

So the question remains: do spec script still sell?

Yes. But not how you think.

The 90’s are long gone. There’s no more epic bidding wars for that script that you wrote in a month. In 2010, a spec script is more like an audition.

Your spec script sells you as a writer, not the other way around.

Executives want to know that you can handle the big six: structure, characters, concept, dialogue, set pieces and story.

Nailing those six factors is tough. But that’s what they want. Most of the time, not even all six of them.

Let’s say your spec has excellent dialogue, and Transformers 3 needs a dialogue rewrite. Well, guess who just got the job.

Now I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t care about Transformers 3, I want to get MY script made!”

In good time.

Before you get your own script made, you have to prove yourself. If you write Shrek 5 and it’s a hit, then they’ll trust you with anything.

And then you can sell that spec of yours.

There are many people out there that can make your spec script the best it can be (me included), but in this economy, no one can guarantee your script to end up on the big screen (me included).

It’s 2010 and the spec is dead.

For now...


Keep in mind the age old axiom: “nobody knows anything”.

Mr. Goldman was right. Hollywood is filled with people who think they “know” what the public wants. And right now, the public “wants” pre-sold franchises.

For now.

But how long can the public withstand sequel after sequel? How long can they watch movie after movie based on a novel or comic book before they figure out they can cut out the middle man and just read the novel or comicbook?

There’s going to be a backlash.

Just go to any cineplex and you’ll hear rumblings of “the book was better” or “I like the first one more”.

But if you listen real closely, you might just hear someone say “I wish they’d just make something original.”

And that’s the backlash.

It won’t take long before everyone is thinking the same thing.
And it won’t take long before the studios freak out.

And who are they going to turn to?


You and that spec you’ve been writing for a year. Suddenly that spec is looking fresh and new. Suddenly, original is the way to go.

So don’t give up on that spec quite yet. Because when the backlash hits, it’s going to hit hard.

And you better be ready when it does.


Twitter Pacing

First there was Myspace. The site that put social networking on the map.

With its top 8 list, colorful backgrounds, music and video players, a myspace page could get very busy.

And then Facebook came along and stripped away all the flash. No more top 8's and no more music. Just a white back ground and some info.

And yet, it was still too much for some people. It could still get simpler.

Enter Twitter.

On Twitter, you can barely do anything. Just update your followers in 140 words or less and that's about it.


In many ways, a perfect concept.

So what does social networking have to do with screenwriting?

Well, I’ve been thinking more about pacing in the last couple of weeks.

What’s the best way to keep the pacing up?

The simple answer: white space.

And there’s a tool out there that can make sure your page is as white as possible.


Write every description and every block of dialogue like a tweet. 140 characters and that's it.

There will be so much white on the page that it'll be a joy to read.

Now of course you don’t want to write exactly like a tweet. Your characters can’t be named @Bob and @Jane.

And your screenplay can’t be called #Awesome Screenplay.

The usual tricks you would use to shorten a tweet can’t be used either.

Numbers have to be spelled out, you have to use the best grammar you can and if you have some one laugh you can’t put “lol”.

All you have to do is make sure most of the script is in 140 character chunks.

If you can do it in a tweet, you can do it in a script.

And if you don't have a Twitter account, get one. It's good practice.

The days of writing whatever you want are over.

You have to trim everything down to the bare bones and still tell an engrossing story if you want the reader to pay attention.

Long blocks of dialogue can scare the reader/executive. They scream, "Guess who's not going to lunch on time?”

But if you use Twitter pacing, they'll have time to spare.

And trust me, you can gain major points for getting an executive to lunch on time.

So here’s the challenge.

And it’s a big one.

Take every chunk of dialogue and description in your screenplay and cut and past them into a twitter box.
If it doesn’t fit, start trimming.

And just to prove that it can be done, every paragraph in this blog can fit in a twitter box.

That was a fast read huh?


First Ten: Chinatown

They say that a studio reader only gives a spec script TEN PAGES before they know if it’s worthy enough to be shown to their boss.

I don’t find this fair.

But life’s not fair and neither is screenwriting.

So I decided to turn the tables a bit. Instead of judging the first ten pages of a spec, let’s judge the first ten pages of a script that has already been sold.

This week: Chinatown by Robert Towne
The Link - http://www.sendspace.com/file/cjphyd

[If you wish, you may read the first ten pages of the script before reading this blog. There maybe many versions of this script floating around the internet. I chose this one.]


Page 1:

* First: there is very little white space. But because this is the first page where you have to establish so much, it can be allowed.

* “FULL SCREEN PHOTOGRAPH” - This could have easily been: “CU - PHOTOGRAPH”. But Towne doesn’t write that. It’s still breaking the fourth wall, but in a much more subtle way and that’s why it works.

* I’m not a big fan of Curly physically biting into the blinds. Its tone doesn’t match what has already happened and what will happen from this point.

Page 2:

* “(settling back, breathing a little easier)” - This is a little long for a parenthetical. On the page it stretches down three lines. Ideally, you want your parentheticals to only be one line.

* (almost the manner of someone comforting the bereaved) - Same goes with this parenthetical. Parentheticals need to be fast in order to justify being on the page.

Page 3:

* We get our theme on page 3. The whole “you gotta have money to kill someone” speech. It’s a good theme and a great way to introduce it.

Page 4:

* “He's now walking him past SOPHIE who pointedly averts her
gaze.” - This is an example of not active writing. Instead of: “he’s now walking”, try “He walks”. You can make it even more active by changing the word: “He stumbles past SOPHIE who averts her gaze.” (I don’t think the adverb: “pointedly” is needed).

* “He shuts the door on him and the smile disappears.” - This one line tells us EXACTLY who Gittes is. Very nice.

Page 5:

* By page five, we meet Mrs. Mulray (or do we) and the mystery is up and going.

Page 6:

* “A drunk blows his nose with his fingers into the fountain at the foot of the steps.” - Now that’s a great detail! Gross, but you get the image immediately.

Page 7:

I’m a big fan of the first six pages of this sceenplay. They’re almost perfect pages. It’s page 7 where the problems start for me.

* That speech by Bagby needs some serious trimming. You can pull a speech like this off later in a script, but before page 75, a speech like this if daunting.

If a studio reader today saw this, he would skim it faster than you can say Chinatown.

Page 8

* Towne follows up Bagby’s speech on page 7 with a speech that is almost as long from Mulray. This one even more exposition heavy than the last. And it’s only page 8!

Page 10:

And then there is page 10. If this script was written today, this page would be unacceptable.

* That first paragraph makes my brain want to pop.

In a screenplay, you never want a paragraph of description to go longer than four lines. This paragraph has fourteen! I’ve seen stuff like this in plenty of amateur screenplays (from people who just didn’t know) but this has to be the longest paragraph I’ve ever seen in a professional screenplay.

* Notice anything missing from this page? Dialogue.

Not a line of dialogue on the page. A page without dialogue reads like a text book.

* If you zoom this page out far enough, you’ll truly see how much black is on the page. It’s enough black to kill any chances of anyone reading this page all the way through (there are five or six more pages just like this throughout the script).

In a spec, you want the reader to be able to read each page in under thirty seconds. I dare anyone to try and read this page in under a minute.

* This page does have excellent use of secondary slug lines, moving us to different locations or people quickly.


The Verdict: Would a Reader Keep Reading?

Past page ten, I’d say yeah. Those first six pages are killer, and enough to entice any reader.

However, the next four pages are so slow that it’s almost hard to get through. And with almost half of the script just as slow as those pages, I probably wouldn’t give the script twenty five pages before the reader gives up and starts skimming.

Now obviously, this script was written in a different time. A time where overwriting wasn’t a screenwriting sin.

The reason these problems need to be addressed in 2010 is because plenty of screenwriting classes, teach this script to their students. Exposing them to all the nasty little habits inside.

I think that there are plenty of great scenes in Chinatown, but as a whole, the script feels so daunting. Like something you HAVE to read, just because everyone else says it is so good. But the fun factor is set very low.

To use a famous scene from the movie, this screenplay is good *slap* is bad *slap* is good *slap* is bad *slap* is good *slap* it’s both good and bad!

(note: I do not condone violence towards women, or blogs.)

Coming Soon to the First 10: The Hurt Locker


How Much Does a Reader Really Read?

A few years ago I had an argument with a writer friend of mine about how many pages I thought the reader would get through in his script. It went something like this:

"So did you read my script?"

"Yeah, I thought it was pretty good."

"Think it'll sell?"

"I don't think a reader will get past page fifteen."
"I thought you said you liked it!"

"I do. But your act one starts on page forty. Everything before that
is just two guys talking."

"Well the reader has to read it all. It's his job."

And there it was.

The big question: how much does a reader read?

First off, my friend was right. It is the reader's job to read the entire screenplay.

The studios do this because they are not looking for a "story" out of a screenplay, they are looking for a concept. Something solid for them to hold on to and develop into movie. So even if the first 100 pages are horrible in a screenplay, there could be something special in the last ten (in theory).

Is it foolish to believe that every studio reader reads every screenplay from start to finish? No. Most readers will give writers the common courtesy of finishing their screenplay.

But it would be foolish to believe that no reader skims.

When you read enough screenplay's, you start to develop a sixth sense. Every reader has it. I can tell if a screenplay is going to be good by page three. And most studio readers can tell faster.

It's really easy to tell. If on the second page there is a block of text that is thirty lines, slowing the pace to a crawl. Or if there has been two flashbacks and it's only page two. Or if the first line of the screenplay is: "A beautiful woman and an ugly man are f***ing"(all three examples are from scripts I've read).

You just know this isn't going to be good.

So they skim, not because they are lazy or because they hate you, but because the script just wasn't engaging enough. There was nothing to grab on to, right from the beginning.

And with three more scripts the reader has to get through that day, he/she don't have time to analyze every word of your screenplay.

So when asked the question: "how much does a reader really read?" there are two answers.

Answer 1: Ten pages. Most readers will read your set up without skimming. After that, if your story doesn't get going with a catalyst/inciting incident, they will assume that there is no story to be told. And start to skim.

Answer 2: All of it. If you have an exciting concept, fun and layered characters and a solid structure with excellent pacing, the reader will read it all.

Writers tend to blame the reader for not selling their script. Writers rarely point the finger at themselves.

Remember: readers are people. People with lives.

If a reader only has a few hours to read a 165 page screenplay, nothing in this world will stop them from skimming like crazy (for the love of God, don't send anyone a 165 page screenplay).

The reason I created Reader Proof was not to trick the reader into finishing your script, but to entice the reader to.

And there lies the true answer to the age old question.

A reader will read anything; as long as you make him want to.


Spec Killers #1: "Beat"

One little word.

It looks so innocent.


Often the sole owner of a parenthetical, "beat" can be found in over half of the amateur scripts out there and virtually every professional script you can find.

The word is usually associated with pausing. As in:

You know I hate it when you do that.

You know, I hate you."

The use of the word "beat" is common practice among the screenwriting elite and you'd be hard pressed to find a script without one.

So what's so wrong with a word that everyone uses? Three things:

1) It's lazy.

Instead of creating an action for the character to do, the writer just slaps down "beat" and calls it a day.

That's great if you use the word as a place holder. But as seen in a parenthetical, nothing could be lazier. Use it once or twice, and I'm sure the reader wouldn't notice. But if "beat" plagues the page, the reader might assume you don't know how to do your job.

Your job being: actually writing something.

2) It's obscure.

More than half of the time, "beat" usually means "pause". And it's usually for comedic purposes. More than half of the time.

Which means for the other half of the time it means something else.

And it's up to the reader/actor to figure it out.

That's not good.

Take this example:

What do you want to do tonight?

Maybe go to dinner."

This beat can mean anything. A pause, her ignoring him, her smiling, her lost for words or pretty much anything. It's unclear.

It's never a good idea to let the reader fill in the blanks. They don't have the time and that's not their job.

They want to read your story and that means all of it.

3) It's Annoying!

I once read a script that had nine beats on one page. Nine! What?

That means there was a "pause" almost every four lines.

That's not good pacing.

Plus it was hard to tell what kind of beat it was.

It was beat, after beat throughout the entire script. It was a script that was written by a professional that felt like it was written by a newbie.

It was annoying.


Yes, the pros use beat. But this is one of those things that is best to be left for the pros. I don't think it's cool that they do it, but it doesn't matter. They made it. They're pros. They don't have to worry about anything because they're not writing on spec.

You are.

Like I said before, if there is a "beat" or two in your screenplay, I don't think anyone is going to notice. It's a word this is used so often that most readers won't even see it.

But more then two "beats" per script is a dangerous move.

Personality, I don't allow even one for my clients. There's just so many better ways of expressing what you mean and I try to give them more active and engrossing choices than "beat". You rjust have to be more creative.

And if all else fails, just say "he pauses".

Hey, it's better than beat.


Hollywood's Insurance

It happens every day. A writer slaps down "FADE OUT" on their "brilliant" first draft and sends it to Hollywood.

And when I say it happens every day, I mean every day. Roughly half a million scripts per year get sent out like this.

Half a million unpolished scripts that look like monkeys wrote them.

Let's be honest here, no one has a good first draft.

And Hollywood knows this. That's why they have insurance:


Trained individuals who's main job is to weed through that endless mountain of scripts to try and find the ones that will become cinematic gold.

It's a pretty sweet deal for the executive. Instead of sloughing through script after script until his eyes bleed, he gets to kicks up his heels with dry martini (or what ever executives do) and live the life.

But the reader, like any good insurance, is very good at his job. Even the slightest whiff of un-professionalism will turn that six months of your life into six months heartache.

Typos, bad grammar, bad punctuation, bad format, unorganized story telling, lack of clarity, lack of white space, telling not showing, unfilmables, unlikeable hero, no subtext, no subplot, no stakes, no conflict, no rules, no set-pieces, too much information of the cover, not enough information on the cover and worst of all, not having an amazing concept. These are just a few of the things that a studio reader is willing to chuck a script for.

I've heard readers judging a writer just because he fastened his script with too many brads (it's one on the top and one on the bottom by the way).


So this is where we come in.

Since Hollywood has its insurance, we thought it was only fair that writers had insurance as well:

The Reader Proof Blog.

Through this blog and our website, our goal is to save as many scripts we can from L.A.'s garbage dump.

And the best part is: Most of it's easy.

Some of it will make you want to pull your hair out, but overall, most of it's easy.

A half a million scripts is some major competition. Even the greatest writers in the world need help to shine through.

And that's what we're here for.