Thanks to everyone who participated in our script reader Tweet-chat last night! If you missed it (or aren't on Twitter), Scott Myers is planning to post a transcript on GITS soon.
I thought I would share 10 common reasons why I pass on scripts (or in some cases, bump my recommendation down from "Recommend" to "Consider" or from "Consider" to "Consider with Reservations.")
1. Unclear concept
Scott Myers was shocked to find that all three of us readers named "no clear concept" as a big pet peeve in scripts. It's true: I read tons of scripts by writers who haven't clearly defined what their movie is about. "Friendship after college" is not a hook. Watch this simple yet incredibly helpful video from TBSR about developing your idea into an actual concept and story. An unclear concept is often paired with a lack of clear goals, ticking clocks or throughlines that give the movie momentum. Try to avoid characters who are just kind of floating around.
2. Cliche or familiar concept
You need more than just a concept: you need an original, unique and exciting concept. Pay attention to what's selling and what's in development. It's fine for your movie to be similar to other movies, but it shouldn't be too close to the exact same thing. For readers who are working for production companies, concept trumps execution. Sure, I try to reward great writing - but I'm always asking myself, "Should this be a movie?" and "Will the company want to buy and make this?"
3. Believability/motivational problems
Characters don't necessarily have to be likable, but they should have reasons for what they do. I often find myself taken out of a script because I'm asking myself, "would that really happen?" or "would she really do that?" In this same vein, when characters are "just crazy," it might come off as a lazy way to write an undeveloped character without believable motivations.
Plausibility can also be an issue on a plot level: do some internet research before making up laws, government agencies, etc.
4. Misogyny and lack of female characters
It annoys me when:
-All the women in your script sleep with (or try to sleep with) your male protagonist, even though he is a loser with no attractive qualities
-You are clearly living out your sexual fantasies in your script
-Your script contains zero women
-Your female characters are defined only in the context of men
-Your female characters lack agency and need to be saved or rescued by men
-The physical description of all your female characters is overtly sexual, even though sex isn't part of the concept and none of your male characters are described this way
I'm always on the lookout for scripts with solid female characters. If your script has zero women or only disappointing women, I ask myself, "do I really want to help this get made?" I feel like it's the tiny little difference I can make. Of course I'm not going to pass on a great script about men (I consider and recommend them all the time) - but if I'm already about to pass on a script, a lack of women might further dissuade me from championing it.
5. Race and Sexual Orientation issues
Don't fall into stereotypes. You might also read about the notion of "hipster racism" or "ironic racism" and ask yourself if your attempt at a joke (even a satirical one) is actually just plain offensive. Similarly, I've read scripts that celebrate and condone homophobia - and that's never going to give me a good impression.
I don't automatically pass on 122-page scripts or anything.. but if your script is super long, that likely indicates that you should do some trimming. Is your pacing off? Can you combine scenes? Cut off the beginnings or ends? Make your action/description more succinct? It's hard to recommend a script that takes me forever to get through. I'm hoping for a script that won't make me turn to Twitter for better entertainment every ten seconds.
Don't write a movie about people sitting on a couch and talking about their lives. Please give me something to look at! Have you created a compelling visual world? I was impressed by the script RUNNER, RUNNER because unlike similar scripts about online gaming, it didn't feature a guy sitting in front of a screen for an hour. They go to Costa Rica! Ocean! Boats! Jungle! Cool!
8. Unanswered questions and world-building
I often recommend that writers wait to tackle complicated, futuristic sci-fi dystopias until they have a few scripts under their belts. Creating an entire world is hard; with a script in our current world, you can assume that we all understand what cars and Congress are. But with a sci-fi world, you have to explain everything without weighing down your plot with too much exposition. Once you introduce the idea that the government requires us all to take pills, you have to explain how long this has been going on, who's in charge, how this logistically works, how society has responded, etc. It's just hard - and you'll probably have to study a lot of similar scripts and get feedback from friends who can tell you what's confusing and undeveloped. This idea stretches to other genres as well (something as simple as "how did he know she would be there?" might have to be answered) - but it's most commonly an issue for me in sci-fi scripts.
9. Unsatisfying roles/lack of arcs
Do your characters transform over the course of the story? Would A-list actors want to play them? Characters are the most important thing to me after concept. (I've written about this before.)
10. Failing to live up to your concept
Sometimes writers choose a great hook, but then disappoint me in their exploration of the hook. If you set up a movie about the best bank robbers in the world, then your movie should include a bank robbery. I recently passed on a script with huge A-list actors attached because it was a cool thriller/action movie in concept but a static character drama in execution. I felt misled! Think about whether you're exploring the most interesting aspect of your concept, and don't disappoint the reader by failing to deliver what you've promised.