How many screenplays have you read for BlueCat? 

600 +

What is your job when providing feedback to a writer?

I’m there to bring fresh, dispassionate eyes to what is on the page, to assess it on a cold read just as someone at a management or production company might.  I’m also there to highlight strengths and weaknesses, and provide pointers for improvement, effectively offering a second chance to the writer.  My aim is to provide specific, actionable notes rather than general criticism. 

What is your attitude toward a screenplay before you start reading? 

I open up each file as a new story that might excite me or might not, and keep an open mind.  A good title always whets the appetite – never underestimate the power of your title to intrigue your reader and put them in the right frame of mind for what follows FADE IN: 

How do you stay focused when reading a script you don’t find interesting? 

I read mainly on an e-reader as there are no distractions (no internet!).  A lackluster script can actually be physically painful to read, so I’ll “chunk” it, 20 pages at a time, with plenty of chocolate to reward myself for getting through each chunk.

What are three common problems that keep coming up when reading for BlueCat? 

Apostrophes, apostrophes and apostrophes! If you don’t know the difference between it’s/its, they’re/there/their, and the plural and possessive apostrophe, you have no business expecting a professional reader to examine your writing.  Poor grammar, typos and incorrect formatting demonstrate a lack of respect for the written word as well as suggesting that your ideas are something less than sophisticated.  Writers should not be using BlueCat as a proofreading service.

How do handle being critical without being mean?

I have an intrinsic respect for anyone who can produce the requisite 90-120 pages of a feature screenplay, and that’s always my starting point for a critique.  I know how much work has gone into those pages, and my job is to help it go to the next stage, not tear this significant achievement to pieces (unless, of course, it is really bad, and the writer should never inflict their writing on anyone ever again, but I have only read one or two at that level).  

How do you avoid unwarranted praise? 

I try to structure my reports around concrete examples, with page numbers, in both the “What did I like?” and “What needs work?” sections.  It’s not helpful to make comments like “great dialogue” unless you can cite a line or two in support of your opinion.  If you can’t cite a specific example, the comment isn’t worth making in the first place.

Do you have any pet peeves?  

Screenplays that fail the Bechdel test (Google it!).  It’s 2011, not 1951 (unless you’re writing a period piece), and rigid gender stereotyping should be a thing of the past.  These days, women have jobs other than waitressing, or being a whiny wife. They also buy more than half of all movie tickets, so if you’re not incorporating three-dimensional female characters into your storytelling, you’re potentially disenfranchising half your audience.  

What is the heart of a successful screenplay?

Characters the audience can engage with for a couple of hours.  Would you spend an evening hanging out with your protagonist in a bar? If not, why would you expect a movie audience to sit in silence and listen to their exploits for ninety minutes or more?

What do you believe is the hardest part of the job of the screenwriter? 

All of it.  The beginning, the middle and the end.  Story, structure, character, dialogue. There is so much to get right, and the bar is set extremely high – of the hundreds of screenplays I read during the course of a year (for other competitions, producers and financiers) only one or two ever get an “excellent” rating.   Knowing the odds, perhaps the hardest part is to keep writing.

What advice would you like to offer a screenwriter before they enter BlueCat?

Watch movies.  Read screenplays. Listen to DVD commentaries by writers.  A screenplay is written within a very specific, very tight format (almost like a sonnet), so make sure you understand the format and the purpose of each element of the format before you start writing.  If you can get practical experience on a film set, and see how the format translates into screen action, that is extremely helpful for your writing. Learn what to put in, and what to leave out.

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