Scott R.

How many screenplays have you read for BlueCat?

I have read 30-40 scripts for BlueCat. I’ve been a reader for the First Glance Film Festival and various production companies. Currently, I’m writing content for TheScriptLab.com

What is your job when providing feedback to a writer?

My job is to help the writer find and put out the major fires in a script. Normally, I try to provide some kind of solution or jumping off point to nail down the problem as specifically as possible. These aren’t necessarily the exact changes I would want to see in a rewrite, but ideas for how to approach the problem from a different vantage point. There’s a trickle down effect in rewriting, if you fix the major problems, the minor problems improve as well.

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

Your script will underwhelm me. It’s tough to hear, but it’s the attitude people take in Hollywood. There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of scripts floating around. By the law of averages, most scripts are not going to be the next big thing. I’m looking for fundamentals of screenwriting above all else. Can you hit all the major plot points? Do you know what an industry standard screenplay looks like? Does your dialogue flow? Is your description concise? I don’t care how brilliant your “big idea” is; I want to see that you know what keeps an audience engaged in a story. Give me a well-structured Rom-Com (or insert your genre of choice) with a clever take over a high-concept, but overly muddled script any day. 

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

I know that someone put hundreds of hours of work into the story in front of me. BlueCat isn’t just about winners and losers; it’s about developing writers. Even if this script doesn’t work for me, everyone can write a screenplay. Ultimately, I want every writer to succeed. That’s what keeps me reading. 

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

Not enough white space. This is by far the most common problem. I read too many scripts that are overly verbose. Screenwriting means putting economy into practice. I need every writer to say more with less. Instead of scenes where your character does three actions in three separate sentences, give me one sentence that conveys the action happening all at once. In other words, instead of “He sips from his cup of lukewarm coffee. He shoots her a look of contempt. He sets down his coffee,” always go with “He shoots her a look of contempt as he sips from his coffee.” Avoid adjectives and adverbs, which are hard (or impossible) to show on film, like lukewarm.

Incorrect structure. Make sure that your story starts in the correct place and hits all the major plot points. Even scripts with crazy timelines have these same basic features. So many scripts start way too early or way too late. This also goes for every scene, come in as late as possible without missing any key points, and leave as early as possible. If you’re really keen on breaking rules, write a book. Screenwriting is almost like a form of poetry (a sonnet, for example) in its strict rules of structure. Stick to these rules until you are established. 

Weak titles. This is a tough one, because your title won’t sink your script. If you deliver the most amazing script and it has a weak title, that’s fine. However, the title is my first impression of a script. Rarely, if ever, will the first title that pops into a writer’s head be the right title. A good title is something that should tickle my brain as I’m reading the script. It should challenge my conception of the story will be and somewhere in the script, it should click in my brain “OH! That’s why it’s called Your Title.” If I’m on the fence about a particular script, a good title tells me that writer knows his/her story and can keep me wrapped up in it.

How do handle being critical without being mean?

This goes back to the fact that, at heart, I want to see every writer succeed. Even a script that has reached it’s rather low ceiling for continuing to develop, it’s still useful to the writer to know why it’s not working (and why it may never work.) There’s every bit as much merit in knowing when an idea isn’t working and considering it done. You move on, and your next script is better. So, even when I don’t think a script has the right potential to grow into a “winner,” I still consider it important to help the writer grow and know what’s working and what’s not. It’s about recognizing that writing is a process, and every step of the process is important. Everyone is at a different point in the process, and I would hate for someone to believe that they have no potential for writing when everyone does.

How do you avoid unwarranted praise? 

There’s no such thing as unwarranted praise. For every script that’s complete, there are 50 that are out there that will never be completed. For every script that’s submitted, there are 20 that will sit on a desk somewhere because someone is too afraid to put it out there. At a basic level, every writer I read has done something that many people can’t do: Finish and submit their scripts. If nothing else, I can always praise a writer honestly for that major accomplishment. 

Do you have any pet peeves? 

I have two major pet peeves. The first is when I get a script that doesn’t read anything like a script. This includes everything from wildly incorrect formatting to sloppy grammar and punctuation. If you have a little typo on page 50, that’s no big deal, as long as your story is there. If you can’t put a sentence together to save your life, then it’s time to go back to the basics. I can over look one spelling error/typo if your story blows me away. However, I can’t overlook pages upon pages riddled with typos no matter how amazing your story or idea is. This stuff is important. These things hinder the clarity of your script, and literally 100 people (at least) will have to read your script to translate onto the screen.

My second pet peeve comes from resubmissions. I want to see sweeping changes when you resubmit. All too often I see writers shove in my suggestions without changing anything else in their script. When you change one thing, you have to consider what else that changes in your story. By the time you’re done with a rewrite, it should be hard for me to do a page-to-page comparison of your script because of the amount of changes you’ve made. Reader’s notes are a jumping off point, but if you really want to improve your score everything has to change. I personally, tend to only make comments about the three lowest scoring areas of a script, but mathematically, if all you change are these scores, you really can’t improve your script more than about a “grade-level” (i.e. go from a “C” to a “B”.) 

What is the heart of a successful screenplay?

Story. 

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

Economy. It’s important to use fewer words to give more information. Keep in mind that your page count will correlate directly with how long your movie is. If a producer is reading your script, all they see are the dollar signs. Each minute means another huge chunk of money they have to spend on your script. If you can pack 150 pages worth of story into 90, you’re on the right track to writing a true winner.

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

Screenwriting is a joke. There’s always the same basic structure: Act 1 – the set up, “A man walks into a bar”; Act 2 – complications, “with a piece of asphalt”; Act 3 – the pay-off “and says I’ll take one for me and one for the road.” Above everything else, your screenplay must have structure. I would also suggest that you take a month and write tirelessly to finish the best piece of work you’ve ever written. Spend another month or two rewriting, polishing and tweaking. Then, when you feel like you have the best thing you can possibly produce, go back and spend another month or two rewriting and polishing (again). By this time, you should be utterly exhausted from this story, but you will have literally your best piece of work. Now take this script, print it out, throw it into a fire, and forget about it. Never touch it or think about it again. While it’s burning, start the process over again. This will prepare you for the work it takes write something really amazing, and give you the distance necessary to take the constructive (and sometimes scorching) criticism you are bound to receive.

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