A Reader Speaks
OK - this week I thought I'd hand over the blog to David Roden. He works with me as part of the Academy team, and his job is mostly to read scripts that are sent to us. I asked him what he thought... he did this:
"I read scripts.
I read a lot of scripts.
I can't tell you how many scripts I've read this year because I've lost count.
I get asked on a reasonably regular basis "what makes a script stand out?"
I read so many of them, and have read so many over the years, I can tell very quickly what I've got in store for me as I pass from page two to page three and onwards.
Most days I'm never wrong, but some days ... and, god I love those days ... some days I couldn't be more wrong about what a script holds in store for me. Some brilliant soul out there has told me a story that completely knocks me for six.
That's why I am passionate about the job I do. There are a lot of brilliant writers out there ... and also some good writers... some competent but dull writers... writers who are technically not brilliant but have something really exciting to say... and some very deluded people who think they can write... and I read scripts from all of them on a daily basis. Not all writers are the same.
But every single time, I will pick the "technically not very accomplished but got a spark of something really special" script over the "technically hugely accomplished but got no life or heart at all" script. I promise you. Structure can be taught. Heart, passion, and soul can't.
A trial script for a TV soap... I will scream if I get sent another bloody one of these. I want original scripts - something a writer is passionate about. Not some half-arsed attempt at a soap you barely watch.
Cop Shows full of clichÃ©s - such as: a rogue detective with psychic powers; good cop / bad cop routine with dialogue ripped off from Quentin Tarantino's back catalogue of films; cop with a self-destructive vice because they've lost their partner in a failed bank robbery; high flier with a dark secret goes back to seaside fishing village where they were born; blah, blah, blah.
Short Film Scripts - a completely different medium and style and format. Don't ... just, don't.
Angels and Demons - science-fiction scripts that feature an age old battle between heaven and hell in a post-apocalyptic city that are pitched at a Saturday tea time slot - and, one of the main characters has died and is trapped in this limbo, and to find a way out they have to solve the mystery of how and why they died. You might think I'm joking, but I get at least two versions of this story a week. Every week. Please don't be derivative of your favourite shows - be unique and bold and brilliant. Make me sit up and say, I wish I'd thought of that.
Starting with a voice over or a monologue - just because the brilliant 'American Beauty' did it, doesn't mean every script should start that way. More often than not, it's a lazy way of imparting information.
Directing in the Stage Directions - 'whip pan to', or 'crash zoom', or 'crane up to ...' Stop it! Stop it now! You are telling me a story, not telling me how you would direct it. Your stage directions should be brilliant prose. They should read like a novel - an un-put-down-able novel. They should be sparse, exciting, precise, punchy, create an atmosphere, make me laugh, draw me in ... but NEVER tell me how it should be directed, because I'll assume that you'd rather be a director instead. Read a Russell T Davies script - he is the master of genius stage directions.
Irrelevant Stage Directions ...please don't give me too many stage directions that tell me information about characters' family trees or feelings... a note I often give is 'can we try to find a way of dramatizing the stage directions'... if you can't dramatize it, cut it out, it isn't necessary. And, don't break up a wonderful, passionate piece of dialogue to say something bland like: 'She sits down slowly' or 'She nervously fiddles with the toggle on her parka' ...
Irrelevant Time Jumps - Unnecessary flashbacks, or flash forwards, or flash forwards within flashbacks ... you get my point!
Spelling - I shouldn't even have to say this, and yet ..."