Thursday, June 28, 2012

How script readers rate scripts

"Anonymous" commented on my post 10 Reasons Why I Pass on Scripts: "Consider with Reservations"? That's actually a thing?

Good question. Yes, it's actually a thing! Companies ask readers to RECOMMEND, CONSIDER or PASS on scripts - and some companies also allow you to CONSIDER W/RESERVATIONS (aka WEAK CONSIDER). However, that last rating should be used very sparingly, and can sometimes be seen as a cop-out in which readers avoid providing a firm opinion. My function as a reader is to save my bosses time: I read things so they don't have to. If I Pass on something, they don't need to read it. If I Recommend or Consider something, I'm saying "You should read this." A "Consider w/Reservations" is sort of saying, "I think maybe you should read this, but I'm not totally sure" - and if I send up too many scripts with this rating, I'm not really doing my job.

Here's a breakdown of how I view the rating system:

When I Recommend a script, I'm saying: "I love this script. Not only do I think you should read this script, but I also think you should buy it and make it. Hurry up before someone else does! If you don't, you will lose out on millions of dollars and/or Academy Awards!" A script doesn't necessarily have to be flawless to get a Recommend, but it should make me think that someone is definitely going to buy it.

For what it's worth, I was once assigned a revised version of a script I had Passed on for another company. I HATED the original script - but in the rewrite, all the things I had problems with had been fixed. I was about to write Consider on the rewrite, but then in my comments I had no remaining criticisms. I couldn't think of anything bad to say or suggest any changes - and so I Recommended it.

(As you might imagine, readers use this rating VERY rarely. I have only Recommended a handful of scripts.)

This is a much safer way to pass scripts up the ladder. A Consider basically means, "I liked this and I think you should read it." My bosses can then read through my comments and see if they agree. A company once told me, "With a consider, you are not necessarily recommending that we buy the project, but that we take a closer look." I Consider lots of scripts! The scripts don't have to be perfect, but to get a Consider they must have a solid concept, solid characters, etc. Every script aims to be something different; a small indie drama might get a Consider for potential Oscar-worthy roles, while a big-budget action movie might get a Consider for box office marketability. Whether a script fits with what the company is looking for is up to my bosses.

I have heard that some companies include the rating "Strong Consider," but I feel like a script like that should just get a Recommend. If a script has some sort of weakness holding it back from being a Recommend, then I think plain old Consider is appropriate.

Again, I'm wary of giving scripts this rating because I feel like I'm not really doing  my job when I don't take a firm stand. Here's how I think of it: a Consider w/Reservations means, "There's something here, but I have reservations about it. The script has a major flaw that needs to be addressed, but you might not want to overlook this bit of potential." Maybe the concept is great, but the characters need to be overhauled or the plot has a major hole, for example. Maybe there's an amazing lead role in the script, but the tone is all wrong.  Maybe the dialogue is making me laugh out loud, but I worry that the concept is not commercial. I might also use this rating if I like a script but worry that it's too much like another script/movie, or if a script has amazing attachments but would be a Pass without them. It's important to fully explain in my comments WHY I have reservations.

If I find myself really going back and forth between Consider w/Reservations and Pass, I remind myself that my job is to weed out the scripts that my bosses don't need to read - so I Pass. As you might imagine, I Pass on scripts that I don't think are impressive and don't think my bosses should bother to read. In the world of readers, most scripts are Passes. I rarely read exceptional scripts or horrendous scripts; most fall in the middle of the bell curve. If I don't Pass, I'm taking a risk by stamping my seal of approval on a script - and I'd better be able to defend it.

My taste certainly informs my reading, but I try to rate scripts against their genres, not against my own personal tastes. I generally don't like watching action movies, but I Consider action movie scripts all the time. I figure that if I actually enjoy reading an action movie script, it must be pretty good.

If you're a reader, I'd love to hear your philosophy behind the script rating system - please comment!


davidjohnhall said...

I read for awhile at a now defunct production company. I recommended 1 script. It eventually got produced, but not by our company! And even then, the movie was pretty awful. It was my first lesson about the difficulties of translating page to screen.

For awhile I was using all sorts of hybrids to go with consider. I mean, I seriously got out of control. Consider/but only if you were born on a Wednesday/During a full moon/And your favorite color is orange. Yeah -- that didn't last long.

Luckily, the longer I read for the same producer the more accustomed I got to his tastes and that's when I let myself settle into outright pass/consider/recommend.

But like you say -- most of the scripts were passes. Like 99% of them. A lot of them were passes because they were not at all what the company was looking for. The rest were passes mostly because of the writing. In general.

Honestly, the best part of my time spent reading was opening that script that you just knew was going to be a consider right from the get-go.

I don't know if that makes sense, but the flow is just there. There's a certain confidence in the writing. You feel that you're being told a story by someone who knows how to tell a story.

Anyway, I'd always feel sorry for the screenplays that came after! I'd also feel sorry for me. Because I knew that one in a hundred meant that I had to read another 99 screenplays about Panda Bears in Outer Space or Time Traveling Body Switchers (titles changed to protect the somewhat/not-so innocent).

P.S. Great blog. Keep up the good work!

Amanda said...

Thanks for sharing, David! And I know what you mean about the script not turning into a good movie. That's always such a disappointment.

I agree about confidence. Sometimes you read a script and think, "Wow, this is a MOVIE."

Jen C said...

Really interesting, Amanda, thanks. Love to read about your job as a script reader! One question - when you pass on a script, do you inform the writer, or are they only informed if the company actually wants to take action?

Amanda said...

Jen - The scripts are submitted to companies by agents and managers, so the executives at the company will contact the agents and managers with their decision about the material and then the agents and managers will tell the writers.

Also, keep in mind that just because I PASS or RECOMMEND doesn't mean that the company will necessarily take my advice.

Amisha said...

Amanda, thanks for the insight. I can say with surety that you know of what you speak. Your script consult led eventually to an award from Nickelodeon for that Modern Family spec so Thank You! And I gave thanks also on my most recent post: (for brown women in media)

Amanda said...

Amisha - congrats on the award! Glad I could help!

Migg said...

Thank you for this explanation of ratings. I had a script come back as consider w/reservations and always wondered what that meant. I was a little disappointed as some key factors in the synopsis and location were either inaccurate or just completely wrong. I wish the comments had fully explained what the reservations were that I could fix, but suggested "minor dialogue changes" yet was, "a great recommendation for new young actors or established actors that are looking [sic] play a more emotionally challenging role."

As a reader, do you ever write a gentler letdown to a pass or consider with reservations? I feel like ripping a band-aid off the problems, as painful as it may initially, is so much more helpful in the long run to improve a script and as a writer in general.

Amanda said...

Migg - When I'm reading for production companies, the coverage is not being sent to the writer. But when I send notes/coverage to writers directly, I always point out positives and try to phrase all of my criticism as gentle suggestions. As a writer myself, I know how annoying and deflating it can be to receive harsh criticism that doesn't suggest how you can improve anything.