View Full Version : Vertical skimming

07-09-2004, 08:46 PM
Just got our first taste of this "new trend" - maybe it's been here for awhile.

Still, i'm interested in people's thoughts and experiences.

What I mean if you have not heard the term before is the practice of readers skimming scripts, looking for vertical reads - no vertical read capability (meaning fast as heck - in their opinion) then no real read.

I say "real" because after getting our new supernatural horror script back from a major agency I realized the reader only "sort of" read the script. In fact in his/her coverage there were plot points not even noted. The ending - they totally missed. They plain got it wrong.

No we ain't talking Shakespeare here - it's horror meant to give you nighmares and high school boys their first chance at being lucky... it's old school.

It's an easy read and there is not a lot of blah blah... like this post.

My last question is - How can you advance your career if nobody's really reading the script?


p.s. I have been working on movie and tv shows for the past four years (PA, runner, stand in) - there's a lot of stuff not being read or written until the project is in production. And even then... :o

07-09-2004, 09:56 PM
It seems that the only way to combat this at a production house, agency, or management company level is to write a compelling script from page one to FADE OUT.

I know that readers are paid to read on a per script basis most of the time. And more often than not, they know by page five if the script is even worth finishing. So why not do them a favor and yourself a favor by writing a compelling script that is well-written?

07-09-2004, 10:08 PM
In our case I think it has more to do with what is now considered horror and what is horror in the old school sense.

Jeepers 1/2 - joke - laughable
Final Dest. 1/2 - sad jokes
new chainsaw mass - joke and a half
Japanese version of Ring - brilliant
American version - yawn...

I thought we were not supposed to "dumb down" our work.

BTW, we place in festivals - we are told repeatedly "well written, scary as hell..."

Don't get me wrong I have 3 producers with creds. who want to make this film - problem is enough $$. They want direct to DVD. I am trying to avoid that for the moment.

No one in their right mind ever thinks - "Now something to sweat over for a year - just to sell for 1500$ for a directo to DVD thing." Wow...

However, I appreciate your thoughts Hamboogul.

I think the readers thing, being paid per script is just that. They are pushing cars off the assembly line just to get paid their $50 bucks or whatever they are getting. And credentials? Let's not even go there.

I am not trying to say we are all right and they are all wrong.

Vertical skimming bugs me and I wondered if it bugged anybody else.

07-09-2004, 10:20 PM
It rarely happens when a script is good, most scripts that get skimmed are ones that take 20 pages to start getting good. Now I'm not saying yours isn't good, I've never read it but as for the reader not getting it... well sometimes it's just that, parts may drag on and the reader just doesn't get it sometimes. You as the writer need to make it compelling for the reader to want to read it.

As for the examples of the "horror" movies you listed and how bad they are minus the original Ring, all I can say is if that's not the type of thing you write then maybe there's a reason people are looking at straight to video... because all those movies were successful movies. The industry is a business and it's about making money. When dealing with the horror genre that's even more true, it's why they make it. Usually cheap to make and huge calculated ROI. It definitely ain't about writing Shakespeare. In the case for Final Destination, that was just a great concept.

Skimming happens but it doesn't happen all the time, and one reader that may skim a script doesn't mean he/she does it on every or even a lot of scripts.

07-09-2004, 11:14 PM
Yeah, it's been Agency related only so far.

I liked concept of final dest. too
Execution was miserable.
And you are right about the money thing.

It's a sad sad thing about the money thing...
All I see is money and the hunt for it. Great actors? Good story? That's an accident.

Thank you for the input.

07-09-2004, 11:42 PM
we are told repeatedly "well written, scary as hell..."

You know the thing missing from that list? Great story. Without a great story and great characters it doesn't matter how scary the film is, it'll never be great. Perhaps, and i can only guess without reading your script, that is what it lacks. Or perhaps the reader was just having a sh!tty day and had other things on his mind while he was reading it.

Also i don't think that by any stretch of the imagination you can blame it on what Hollywood now considers as horror. For me, no one is doing horror better than the Japanese (Hideo Nakata and Takashi Miike in particular). But it is absolutely clear that Hollywood recognises this. They're currently remaking Ring 2 and Dark Water (and hopefully with the addition of Nakata as director on Ring 2 they won't fudge it up this time).

Anywho best of luck with it, don't be discouraged simply because one person didn't like it as much as you do.

07-10-2004, 01:22 PM
"just write a great story" is kind of useless advice. If you gave 10 people on this board a script, responses would likely be all over the map. People rarely agree on what's "great." It's like telling someone who wants to be a 4-star chef "just cook really tasty food."

The reason readers skim is because they're being paid $50-75 per script, they have a bunch to get through and they want to finish in time to meet their friends for drinks and hopefully get laid. The harsh reality is you spend thousands of hours writing, polishing and marketing your script, they spend less than one distracted hour reading it.

07-10-2004, 01:33 PM

I agree and disagree with your assessment. Yes, "just write a great story" is a sarcastic and useless advice, one that I often give. My other favorite useless advice being "The easiest way to break in is to write a great script that I'm shocked that so few people try it."

But I do think that if you gave 10 people (perhaps not on this board but those with enough industry experience), a majority of them would recognize good writing and exemplary execution within the genre. I am sure that if I ate a great clam chowder that a four star chef made, I would see that it's better than other chowders I had even if I don't care for chowder myself.

Writing In The Margins
07-10-2004, 01:50 PM
Hamboogul, I will have to agree and disagree with you. I agree that a 4 star, well-schooled chef will technically make a better clam chowder. But if the taster simply has bad taste, they can't tell the difference between gourmet chowder to Chunky Soup. In fact, someone with bad taste might even say the Chunky Soup is better.

The problem with Hollywood is that a lot of people have bad taste, or stated another way, they don't know what good taste is. What good is it for a writer to write a "great story" if the reader doesn't know what a great story is? But unfortunately, that's the nature of the beast, the system we must play in. Don't get me wrong -- all things considered equal -- there are a lot of writers out there who don't know what a great story is either. Lots of bad going around, not enough good.

That's why selling a script, landing an agent, getting a deal, attaching stars, is all about right place, right time -- and a modicum of talent.

Gary Whitta
07-10-2004, 03:02 PM
Chunky Soup Clam Chowder is actually f*cking good. Don't knock it.

07-10-2004, 03:18 PM
DJKUMA, have you thought about comedy?

07-10-2004, 09:09 PM
My thoughts:

How long have you been getting coverage? If it's been less than a few months, or if this is one of your first scripts, I would recommend that you don't despair over the issue that (apparently) the reader didn't do your script justice.

The first few times I received coverage, I felt like you. Embarrassingly, on one occasion, I even wrote back to the reader pointing out all the things that she missed, misinterpreted, etc.

Now if I read the coverage, it seems justified, and the things that the reader missed were not as major as I thought.

Readers skim. Of course! For $50 it would be too much to ask to get a careful read and a very elaborate coverage report. Especially if it's a PASS. My guess is, many readers quickly read the script, then write the coverage from memory. Sometimes things get mixed up in their mind. Well, it was probably confusing in the first place. I can understand the need for scripts to be told in short sentences, without much extraneous information.

If it's atmospheric description, cut it down and evoke the atmosphere with 1 or 2 well-chosen words. If it's action, break it down with character slug lines etc. No big deal.

It's sooo important not to confuse the reader. Given the amount paid for coverage, they don't have time to re-read sentences.

Take your own posting:

"No we ain't talking Shakespeare here - it's horror meant to give you nighmares and high school boys their first chance at being lucky... it's old school.

It's an easy read and there is not a lot of blah blah... like this post."

Maybe it's just me but I had to read the first sentence a couple of times to catch your drift. (Isn't Shakespeare "old school"? ;) ) The second sentence could mean opposite things... the "like this post" could refer to the "blah blah" or to the whole sentence "It's an easy read..."

Of course, my own posts are confusing as well :-) It takes me many drafts to create anything remotely acceptable in my writing.

I don't think the reader is the enemy. The "enemy" is the enormous task of writing a "great script" and all that it entails.

P.S.: I liked most of the scripts that you discard as a "joke."

07-11-2004, 04:37 AM
Thank you for all the great replies. I am learning a lot.

Story - bingo. I see very little story in many of the Hollywood currents. In our script I am not sure if more or less is required.

Anyone see The Clearing? It's sad. All that talent.... bawhoooosh.

Thank you all again for the comments. It's great to have many heads to listen to... some things I never imagined and realize now I must pay attention to.

I hope the Nakata ring2 works out. It'll help us.

07-11-2004, 05:19 AM
I hope the Nakata ring2 works out. It'll help us.

Gawd i hope so too. Personally i think it would help the whole genre. Get us away from the quick cut, make ya jump, cheap scare horror that has been relied on far too much.

Winter in New York
07-12-2004, 11:43 PM
It's like telling someone who wants to be a 4-star chef "just make sure you cook really tasty food." It sounds practical but it's ultimately useless advice.

Well said Steve. Those 'just write a great script' pieces of 'advice' are so glib and pointless they make me want to spin my head and projectile vomit over the person who posted them!

Winter in Pea Soup

07-13-2004, 12:18 AM
I am ready.

Of course, it's very glib and pointless. But if you read the tone and the message of the original poster, the subtext, as I understood it, was:

"Wah, wah, Hollywood doesn't understand our genius while they keep cranking out stupid movies."

Well, those stupid movies, many of them, were well-done. And if the script that they wrote is indeed superior to those, I'm sure they'd get recognized.

Anyway, I'm the a-hole here so vomit away. What do I know about the biz? I am still unsold and I've yet to get read by a studio reader.

07-13-2004, 10:02 AM
No projectile vomiting, please.

07-13-2004, 12:16 PM
It's not the reader's job to "get it." It's the writer's job to convey it.

Maybe the plot points that the reader missed were buried so deeply in pointless stuff that he/she couldn't find them. I haven't read your script, of course, so I can't say, but it's worth taking another look at it in light of the coverage you got.

A similar topic came up a little while ago:

p068.ezboard.com/fdonedea...1411.topic (http://p068.ezboard.com/fdonedealquestionsandadvice.showMessage?topicID=14 11.topic)


I don't think "write a great script" is bad advice at all. What's the alternative? Write a bad script and then whine about how nobody likes it?

People might not know if the clam chowder is good or great, but they'll sure be able to tell if the clams are spoiled, the broth is sour, and the dog wouldn't touch the chowder even if his bowl had been empty for a week.

07-13-2004, 01:33 PM
Wow, what a minefield.

I think Steve summed it up best. You spend a year, thousands of hours and you hope for a somewhat decent read.

Hollywood is all about the benjamins. Poor taste is rampant. I've met more accountants that have moved into development than I ccan count. And to a pod their taste is dreadful. Most pitches I hear are good for scenes or acts but are not solid stories.

Story seminar people with one or two credits or ancient credits are revered. That's another "joke." I say, read great scripts, novels, short stories, live life, see the world, get into trouble, drop pre-conceptions... all of these things have been my school.

By "Joke" I meant movies that don't scare me or are absurd in premise or execution. The fat black chick in Jeepers and the guy in the morgue was just bad - poorly done and executed in a film school drop out fashion. Talk about re-shoots to fix a script not making sense. However, I concede it is all a matter of taste.

We have a very good idea of what "story" is. We have no worries or insecurities about that.

I realize that in this town you either play the game or self finance what you want to make in some way. Like Rodriguez and a bushel of others.

By "it ain't Shakespeare" meant that while our story is a bit intricate it is still "low" enough that 13-15 year olds will get it.

As for our script, it has also been called "a true horror movie" by a Rocekfeller fellow. And of those who have actually READ it, two at the moment, are trying to finance it. It is in the 3-5$ million range.

I see part of Hollywood on the verge of a metamorphasis at the moment - I hope it is good.

I don't mean to piss on anyone's parade by not liking what the studios are producing. Just stop telling me it is good work when it is not or you know what story is and you don't.

This board is a school. Thank you all.

Gary Whitta
07-13-2004, 01:40 PM
"And of those who have actually READ it, two at the moment, are trying to finance it. It is in the 3-5$ million range."

Then what are you moaning about?