Dramaticus Excessivus Pt. 2

Part two of two

Screenwriting Expo 2010 is coming up in Los Angels, October 7-10. The hundreds of attendees will spend a lot of money there on books, DVDs, seminars, and software, and the organizers will make a tidy profit. Fair enough. Consultants, Script Doctors, and Coaches of various stripes will also be present or advertising at the convention.  They range from companies like “The Script Department,” which offers coverage, feedback, and mentoring, and “industry connections,” to individuals, like me, who offer personalized story and screenplay analysis.

I attended the Expo in 09 – I’m staying here this year, opting to offer a one-day workshop at Creative Alliance (Saturday, October 16, 10am to 4pm – www.creativealliance.org). If you’re seriously planning or working on a movie script, or any kind of story, you should check it out.

Perhaps you have considered working with a consultant. I think it can be good, if you have the money and it feels right for you. The last one I used cost the same as a shrink, per hour! (My one-day intensive at Creative Alliance is a bargain). Quality Story consultation is a classic case of “you get what you pay for.”  Just do the math – If you are really going to understand someone’s script or book, you’ll probably have to read it twice or thrice, and to write up a thoughtful, useful analysis, and page notes that delve into Story, as well as format, style, dialogue, marketing issues and so on, it’s going to take 8 to 12 hours or more. A wise, experienced, reliable consultant is not going to work for 10 or 20 bucks an hour. So, if a consultant is offering “script notes” or “coverage” or “script analysis” and they are going to charge you a hundred bucks, what amount of effort could they really be putting into it?  The answer is “almost none,” for consultants that farm out the work to starving students, or throw boilerplate remedies at their naïve clients.

If you have investigated the screenwriting world, you’ve heard about “coverage.” Coverage as a professional practice is used as an in-house reference tool for studios or companies needing to keep track of scripts that have been submitted, and as a weeding-out process for busy execs.  It’s not intended as an analysis for helping the writer’s work-in-progress.  In recent years a sort of offshoot service industry has been created in providing “coverage” to anybody that wants it and is willing to pay for it. There are many for-profit “coverage mills,” some with a contest component built in, which offer “professional studio coverage” with a “grid sheet” and so on.  This coverage is necessarily a superficial review of your material, and probably of not much use. Coverage responses can vary wildly between different readers (I used to read studio archive coverage – one reader at Universal rejected “Jaws”), and usually you’ll have no idea what level of experience/ qualification the (usually) anonymous reader has. Coverage can supply a quick and hopefully objective viewpoint of the material – and maybe satisfy a writer’s curiosity about what someone else thinks of the work, but that’s about it. Some readers that do piecework for coverage mills do not really read your script – they scan it and toss it on the pile. So, just be aware of the limitations and purpose of these script reports.

My advice is to be very judicious about spending money on screenwriting stuff, especially the quick fix, gimmicks, and lofty promise-oriented services. All of that energy should be directed at constructing an excellent screenplay, and that happens when you’re in a room, alone, not reading, or watching a DVD, but focused on the problem at hand. That said, there’s nothing more expensive than an unsold screenplay, so if you do want professional consultation, skip the coverage mills and gimmicks and look into working with a real consultant.

–  David Warfield

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