You need to write or develop a great screenplay to make a great movie. And while this advice may seem obvious, many filmmakers can’t tell if a script is any good. To avoid this pitfall, make a list of every classic film you enjoy. Then do an online search for that screenplay and read it. Make it a habit to read at least one great script before bed every night. This practice will help you refine your sense of what’s good and what is not good.
Outside of the classics, I’ve probably read about 600 screenplays. And about 580 of those were not good! I have had horrible scripts submitted to me by screenwriters represented by popular agencies, famous actors, and friends. One time a successful movie editor gave me a screenplay that was unreadable. And he edits $300 million studio features.
Finding A Great Screenplay Is Hard
Everyone thinks they can write. And this is a significant reason why the WGA has to retain such strict standards for admission. Do you want to produce an independent ﬁlm? Having just an okay script or just a good one won’t be good enough. You have to start with a great screenplay. That’s the only way you can hedge your bets to get your ﬁlm made.
Repeat after me: “The killer script is king.”
How do you know if you have a killer script? Reach out to a handful of people and ask them to read it. Get the feedback. And then get some coverage. One approach is to go on Craigslist and click on the Los Angeles location. Then place an advertisement for script readers.
- You’ll receive resumes from people who’ve been script readers for major studios.
- Get a few of these people to read your script and give you studio-level coverage for $50-$100.
- Don’t put your name on the script. Doing so might lead the reader to censor his or her comments.
Get Screenplay Coverage
Get at least three people to read your script and look for trends. Even experienced readers have likes and dislikes. And these professionals can misinterpret things. One time I went coverage for a dramatic screenplay I wrote. Somehow the reader assumed the main character murdered a man twenty pages into the story. The problem was, the main character did not murder anyone!
The screenplay reader provided this note:
“The main character shows no remorse throughout the entire script!”
This plot point was clear to everyone who read the script but her. And because she missed this point, it soured her overarching coverage. This sort of stuff can happen a lot. So always get multiple people to read your work and give you feedback. If everyone says, “The supporting characters don’t work,” that’s what you need to fix.
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Writing Is Rewriting
To create a killer screenplay you’ll, most likely have to rewrite your story more than seventeen times. And even then, be prepared for adjustments. Actor A might come to the set wanting to change dialogue. You might have to change a scene because you lost a location. You may need to write “a quick filler” scene at the last minute. All kinds of problems arise. So start thinking of your script (much like you think of your business plan) as a living, changing organism.
And don’t worry that you can’t write. You have to be honest with yourself. This won’t stop your movie from getting made. It just means that you’ll need to work with someone who can write and help you further develop the story. Pay them to rewrite your script, or option one of their scripts. There are killer scripts out there… You have to find them.
Search everywhere: IMDbPro, Craigslist, Inktip (a website that features a directory of scripts from screenwriters), and within your network. You may even want to turn to managers and agents. Follow the coverage process I mentioned earlier when you eventually have a screenplay that you love. Then keep improving the project. Killer scripts find a way to get made. And if you liked this article, grab a copy of my film business plan training.
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