Tuesday, June 26, 2012

10 Reasons Why I Pass on Scripts

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.

6. Length/pacing
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.

7. Visualzzzzzzz
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.


Steve said...

Hi Amanda! My first introduction to you was last night's GITSChat on Twitter, and this is the first I've seen of your blog. Very useful stuff, I look forward to reading your new and old material!

Ferreteiro said...

So 12 Angry Men, Alien or Dog Soldiers would have never been read by you right?

Amanda said...

Thanks Steve!

John Harden said...

Hi Amanda,
"Consider with Reservations" - ? That's actually a thing? Thanks.

Momo said...

Hi Amanda,

Just stumbled onto your blog. Looking forward to catching up on your archived articles.

zanzaboonda said...

I put a lot of effort into making my protagonist's love interest a strong female character (their story was actually the crux of the film) - one who doesn't need to be rescued, stands up for herself when she's being objectified, and bravely risks death to choose the life that she wants to live.

With that in mind, I had a contest reader describe my screenplay as a "sausage fest". I guess s/he expected more women to be fighting in the Crusades...

Anyway, I'm not trying to suggest that is what Amanda does or is implying, but I found it humorous and thought you guys might as well. :)

I am a HUGE believer in diversity, but it does have to be appropriate for the story you're telling. (E.g., any extraneous characters I could have included in this script would, quite frankly, have been whores. Which option is worse?)

zanzaboonda said...

Good article. Nice and succinct while still explaining the concepts well (which is something many screenwriting books and blogs fail at).


Amanda said...

Thanks Monique!

Amanda said...

zanzaboonda - Totally get what you're saying. Some historical events don't contain a lot of women, the same way that others don't contain a lot of minorities.

But has it occurred to you that that's a CHOICE you've made? You're choosing to write a world without women, the same way a studio would be choosing to spend millions of dollars to make a movie without women. I just want us to be aware of our choices.

Amanda said...

Also - if half the scripts I read were written by women, I don't think this would be such an issue. But the last FOURTEEN scripts I've been assigned were all written by men. I think we need to start encouraging women to write from a very young age... but if we can't get the numbers to improve, I'm hoping I can get some men to rethink their portrayals of women.

TBrady said...
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Amanda said...

btw, zanzaboonda, I'm glad you put thought and effort into your female character. That's really what my goal is here - to get people thinking about it!

Anonymous said...

Hi Amanda. Have read your blog before, glad to see you getting back to it regularly. Great post - in my permanent reference file now! thanks

Dwacon said...

Interesting you always look out for scripts with female leads. I just had one run the gauntlet with Trigg LA and survived.


Now... if only the gate keepers will have the same initiative.


Ira said...

Amanda, might you do a sequel of sorts to this post - "Reasons Why I DON'T Pass on Scripts, Despite the Rumors"?

IOW, discuss those things such as non-standard formatting, lines per page, weird fonts on the title page, references to songs - all the things that many people say will result in a a PASS... but that might/might not be a fatal problem.

Amanda said...

Good idea, Ira! I have plenty of pet peeves that would never be Reasons To Pass.

Scott Gould said...

Hi, Amanda. I found your blog through Twitter. And yes, I agree, one of the most important elements is an unusual and high concept; you have to take your readers where they've never been before. I refuse to write the same old, tired cliches that Hollywood produces by the handful these days. My ideas are kind of..."out there"...such as Storm Chasers. By the way, it's not a script; it's a manuscript (currently)--not even finished, just three completed episodes so far. I don't know how to do scripts.

Scott Gould said...

Hi, Amanda. I found your blog through Twitter. And yes, I agree, one of the most important elements is an unusual and high concept; you have to take your readers where they've never been before. I refuse to write the same old, tired cliches that Hollywood produces by the handful these days. My ideas are kind of..."out there"...such as Storm Chasers. By the way, it's not a script; it's a manuscript (currently)--not even finished, just three completed episodes so far. I don't know how to do scripts.

Jeff said...

Amanda, I find your "treatment of women clause" really disconcerting. That you would count it against a script if it doesn't have women seems to be inane. There a tons of valid stories that deserve to be told that don't involve women. For example, a submarine movie.

Also, this idea that you wouldn't like a movie if the writer indulges their sexual fantasies. Movies are fantasies. They are how we imagine the world to be, or how we remember it.

Basically, what you are saying is that men shouldn't be allowed to have sexual fantasies on screen.

So you would clearly pass on True Romance, since Tarantino is obviously living out a fantasy.

If you're going to take this point of view, I think you should start doing the same for men. If a script has only women. Think about passing. If a female writer is living out fantasies (50 Shades of Grey, Twilight) pass.

If you aren't viewing the world both ways, who is the one guilty of hate?

Little Miss Nomad said...
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Little Miss Nomad said...

@Jeff As someone who briefly did script reading for a production house that's made most of its money on female-friendly fare, let me clarify two things. There are NO female-only scripts. They just don't exist. No one writes them, and, if they do, agents don't submit them to producers. But, yeah, no one writes scripts with only girls in it, but there are TONS of scripts with only men, or men and a few token, half-assedly written females, and they get made a lot. Amanda's fighting the good fight by expecting and demanding more. If a company is looking for a submarine movie or something, that's different, but we're talking movies where there's no reason for there not to be well-constructed girls, except that it's action or sci-fi or horror and the writer's a guy and lazy.
Second, the best scripts don't give the audience what they want until they can't take it anymore--i.e., they're a tease. A script that's just someone's fantasy playing out usually lacks tension or believability and fails to elevate itself in any meaningful way above Final Draft masturbation.
But if you're a great writer, you can write a movie about a gay men's choir either indulging in an orgy or crashing their plane and having to eat each other (or both, if that's your fantasy), and Amanda or I will give it a strong recommend, because fundamentally the no girl thing or the fantasy thing isn't a hard-and-set rule but, like a low white blood cell count, a symptom of what is likely a much bigger problem--the writer can't tell an original, gripping story. And that's why we pass.