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Old 03-11-2019, 08:53 PM   #1
DaltWisney
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Default Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

Let me preface this post by saying that this is NOT an attempt to argue that there are loads of diamonds in the rough and that certain scripts only succeed because the "right" people get involved. This is not a whine post. I believe that screenwriting is largely a meritocracy, and that great work usually stands out on its own merits. The difference between pro work and the average amateur spec is night and day.

That being said, does anyone think there is a difference in how people read scripts vs. how they watch a movie or TV show? If I pay 15 bucks to go see a movie, I try to enjoy it. I won't say I turn off my critical brain completely, but generally speaking I'm not there in the theater to nitpick every little flaw and suggest changes. I'm just trying to enjoy the ride.

Yet I think when people read scripts they tend to approach it from a "why does this suck?" perspective where they immediately start looking for flaws and things to nitpick. It's like readers have suffered through so much garbage that they automatically assume that the next script will also be crap, which causes them to seek confirmation for that self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'm wondering what the script notes would look like for films such as Moonlight, Annihilation, Manchester by the Sea, Goodfellas, and The Royal Tenenbaums if they had been written as specs by unknowns with no track record. I can easily envision readers having a field day with the various atypical choices and structural elements of these movies.

Some scripts are so good that they might be immune to this. I still remember reading the Prisoners spec when that hit the town. It was a real page-turner and I finished it one sitting, with little temptation to put it down. I'm not surprised it got made almost verbatim and did very well. Other stuff like Men In Black and Michael Clayton seems so strong that even if you went in biased against it, you would still come out a fan.

Maybe that's the secret: Write something so good and accessible that nobody can deny its value. Then, once you've proven something, consider the more experimental route. However, it seems like there's a built-in tendency for readers to seek out flaws and highlight those issues, as opposed to actual audiences, which engage with works for the sake of enjoyment first and foremost. It seems only natural that if your emphasis is on flaws and problems then you're going to skew negative in your assessments compared with an actual audience.
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Old 03-11-2019, 09:39 PM   #2
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaltWisney View Post
...That being said, does anyone think there is a difference in how people read scripts vs. how they watch a movie or TV show?
I only know that every movie I every enjoyed, before I started to write screenplays, has been a mandatory re-watch since. For me, most end up even more enjoyable than before, even though I'm now watching through the filter of storyteller.

Quote:
...Yet I think when people read scripts they tend to approach it from a "why does this suck?" perspective where they immediately start looking for flaws and things to nitpick. ... It seems only natural that if your emphasis is on flaws and problems then you're going to skew negative in your assessments compared with an actual audience.
With my initial comment in mind, I'll throw this out there: That I think there's a danger in overlooking the most important element of a spec script. The story. All the character arcs, pacing, budget and casting feasibility, perfect structure and beat points, etc. etc. aren't going to fix a poor or redundant or unoriginal tale.

This is a bit tangential, but I'm reminded of an early break I had when several years ago I contacted a then-recent best picture winning producer. Their website was easy to find, the contacts were there, and it didn't say "no unsolicited submissions." Sheesh, so I wrote the development guy and pitched my best logline and very short query.

I guess this was before other like-minded writers also discovered the site, and bombarded him, but he responded in detail with one of the comments from my early days in this biz that has really stuck with me: "We make movies from stories, not loglines; send me detailed, 3-5 page synopses and I'll read anything you have."

I did just that! Not having done any synopses for my dozen scripts at that time, I spent a week doing up them up and sending them all in. He requested, I think, two scripts from that batch, as well as one more within the next couple of years before I presume he gave up on me. (Wouldn't you know, since about 2014 they've become "no unsolicited".)

One point of the foregoing is that, I think, when producers read scripts, they target story above all. New material is their lifeblood, after all. But when they have a designee doing the reading, they seem to be forced to let the judgment go through the various matrices and checklists that have sprung up far and wide. Of course, this is mostly to deal with the enormous quantity of incoming material that they face.

This is how things get missed. I'm sure everybody could kick themselves for missing out on something like Memento. But then just try to get attention for a spec script as daring and unusual as that these days, and you may find most if not all of the same producers go right on and pass on it.

Oh, and I agree with you about being curious what sort of coverage spec scripts for some of the greatest hit movies may have had, from today's readers or using today's criteria. I posted here, once, about how even the log lines for some of those masterpieces, well, sucked fairly hard, so there'd be a question as to how they'd even get to the read and coverage stage!

However, many of those films did go through a lot of changes, or at least a lot of hands, before finally being picked up. It serves little purpose to look at the flukes and one-off masterpieces.

Still, it's that fear of missing something that keeps producers open to writers such as myself, who've banged away at this seeming impenetrable wall. Personally, as proof over the decade I've been trying, I've had read requests after 10, 20 and even 30 unresponded-to queries. You just never know!
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Old 03-13-2019, 07:31 PM   #3
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

i love reading scripts. i am always open to learning from everything i read. i read scripts if they are available before seeing the film, if possible. the annual black list is a good resource.

often the screenplay is so good that i do not feel the need to watch the finished film. Inglorious Basterds, A Monster Calls, Arrival, and Passengers are all terrific examples.

I can tell i'm in the hands of a professionally written script, because i never feel the urge to fix anything. the read is smooth and amazing.

with amateur scripts, i am always wanting to make suggestions and worst, find the action and dialogue confusing, primarily because the writer is communicating what they WANT you to know, instead of having the confidence in a well developed story that has causality and flow.

i enjoy reading scripts. i love reading a story well told. i love crying on an airplane, almost giving myself an asthma attack as was the case when i read A Monster Calls on a flight to Florida. it was a fast read. compelling. i know a lot of people felt it was preachy, but i still enjoyed it.

as i read i naturally keep an eye out on the story, plot holes, interesting new cinematic methods, scene transitions, characters, etc... i can't help it. i'm probably the worst person to watch a film with. i'm like, that's a set up, watch, here comes the payoff, or that's the killer, wait watch this, he's the real villain... i know, because it's what i would do. haha.

when you read a story, you have a natural feel for when it's working and when there's a huge contrivance, like in Passengers when the engineer wakes up at random and then he's inflicted with a deadly disease. i honestly never thought it would get made unless they fixed that aspect of the film, but the reality is they just needed to attach newer, more relevant stars. haha

i went to see that film because i really thought they had to have fixed the plot hole-- nope, it's still there. see how much i know? haha
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Old 03-14-2019, 10:15 AM   #4
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaltWisney View Post
does anyone think there is a difference in how people read scripts vs. how they watch a movie or TV show? ... I think when people read scripts they tend to approach it from a "why does this suck?" perspective where they immediately start looking for flaws and things to nitpick.
When I see a film, I go with the intent to be entertained and not to do an analysis. There will be times that I will attend a movie, with pen and pad in hand, to analyze a film, but this will be a second viewing. I’ll always first view a film to enjoy, be emotionally moved, and to be entertained.

On those occasions where I’ll view a movie with the purpose to analyze will be: for study of the craft in general, for study because I’m writing a script in its genre, to do a review, or a more in-depth analysis to post in the Done Deal film forum, or if there’s a heated debate on a film, I’ll go back to the theater to refresh, so I could articulate my points strongly and with confidence.

For example, when SUPERMAN RETURNS came out, all the critics were giving it four stars. In the Done Deal’s film forum, there was a SUPERMAN RETURNS thread, where the members were giving it overwhelmingly, four star type praises.

This riled me up.

Like I said, my first viewing is to be entertained and not to analyze, but when the flaws and weaknesses are so glaring, it’s hard not to be distracted with the craft. And I’m not talking about nitpicky stuff. I’m talking about important issues, such as, logic, plot holes, contrived, etc.

Don’t get me wrong. There were some entertaining action and scenes, but four stars? Uh-un, in my opinion, two and half stars.

DaltWisney wondered what the script notes would look like for films such as Moonlight, Annihilation, etc. from an amateur. I can’t give script notes on those films, but if DaltWisney is curious what notes from an amateur like me would give a tentpole, professionally produced movie (SUPERMAN RETURNS), then click on the following link (I entered the thread on page nine, post 88 and left on page 11, post 104):

(For some reason when you clicked the link it comes up "not a secure sight." You can use DD's google custom search located at the heading of this thread and search -- Superman Returns page 9 -- for the thread.)

DaltWisney says, “It seems only natural that if your emphasis is on flaws and problems then you’re going to skew negative in your assessments compared with an actual audience.”

I consider myself part of that “actual audience”, and I believe that’s also the thinking of the majority of the members here. When I give feedback on a script/film, I’m not going into it “to skew negative in your (my) assessments” because of my training and experience in screenwriting.

When I give feedback on a script, I’ll read it first to be entertained and become familiar with the material. On my second reading, I’ll go into it with the mindset to analyze the material.

I’m hoping to find a strong and compelling story where a rewrite isn’t necessary, but if flaws and problems arise, I will address those issues for the writer.

DaltWisney says, “It’s like readers have suffered through so much garbage that they automatically assume that the next script will also be crap, which causes them to seek confirmation for that self-fulfilling prophecy.”

Professional and non-professional readers, from their experiences, may assume that their next script from an amature is going to be lacking in worth, but they are certainly not seeking confirmation to that thought.

They are hopeful that they will be mesmerized, emotionally moved and entertained by the characters and story. They want to tell their boss that they just found the next “Casablanca”, or whatever great movie in the genre you enjoy.

To be able to tell the writer the story is GREAT and see his joy.

Last edited by JoeNYC : 03-14-2019 at 10:52 AM.
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Old 03-14-2019, 11:27 AM   #5
catcon
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

I think a cosmic break occurs when you evaluate a script of a famous movie that you've seen, and try to figure out how to write a script just as good as that movie... sorry, script.

No reader can possibly read such a script without the images and sounds (and, often, the development backstory, hell or not) from the film in question.

And yet, when production company/contest/agency readers have to pay attention to so many of the scorecard metrics of a script, while also trying to understand the story (presuming the plot goes beyond the usual candy bar fare), it's asking a bit much.

My solution to the readers' and producers' problems? Not a one, sorry.

But maybe a kernel of a suggestion for writers!

That being, if you keep at it and generate 10+ scripts of quality, and through your hard efforts have made lots of contacts among those who actually make movies (ie. producers, and not just reps, contests, consultants, etc.), and use all the social media and technology and crowdfunding you can, then there is hope. Because at least you have the one thing that most of even the richest producers do not possess or have the ability to create: Intellectual property (our beloved screenplays).

All that's missing to make those scripts into movies is the guts to consider yourself a nascent movie-maker, and not just a writer. And especially not just a writer who expects everyone else to pay for it yet allow you to keep most the credit.

So, start small, film a preview or shoot a scene, include its link with your queries, and partner with people who make movies. And don't expect to own 100% of everything, even if you do nearly 100% of the work for these early efforts. Be patient.

Thus, I somewhat pity writers who're just starting out and have only one or two pieces of work in their repertoire, yet think a contest placement or rep or even Guild membership means they've made it. However, I do envy the young, as most of you are. Because no matter how 'young-at-heart' and entrepreneurial one can be (for instance, as I am, at 62), I'd rather be undertaking the foregoing DIY approach knowing I had 40 years ahead of me, rather than just 15 or 20 productive years for an old-timer such as myself.

But, you deal with the breaks you get and the attributes you got, and just do it!
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Old 05-05-2019, 09:42 AM   #6
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

A movie is a finished product.

A script is just the blueprint for a possible movie and is used as a tool to decide should we make a movie, thus it's designed to be critique as that's how they decide to pick script 143 over script 88.

So if a script was a book instead most people would read it for enjoyment.

Ever notice how many books get adapted into movies and if the author wrote that as a spec how so many of them would never ever be made into movies?

There are many reasons for this, but I think it's some mind trick that Hollywood sees a crazy idea already as a finished product - a book - they say someone else liked this, I want it too!.

They buy books before they even are published, so it's not just like Harry Potters that are huge they pickout. If Harry Potter was a spec first, I don't think I'd know that name or you would.
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Old 05-07-2019, 01:03 PM   #7
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

Quote:
Originally Posted by DaltWisney View Post
...That being said, does anyone think there is a difference in how people read scripts vs. how they watch a movie or TV show? If I pay 15 bucks to go see a movie, I try to enjoy it. I won't say I turn off my critical brain completely, but generally speaking I'm not there in the theater to nitpick every little flaw and suggest changes. I'm just trying to enjoy the ride.

Yet I think when people read scripts they tend to approach it from a "why does this suck?" perspective where they immediately start looking for flaws and things to nitpick. It's like readers have suffered through so much garbage that they automatically assume that the next script will also be crap, which causes them to seek confirmation for that self-fulfilling prophecy. ...
I pretty much go in expecting movies to be crap — though I almost never pay to watch one at a theater. And even with movies I like, I start finding the holes and picking them apart. My favorite movies are the ones I expect NOT to very good and they surprise me. But even with those, on the second watching, I tend to find the flaws and (since the expectation has changed), I usually don't like them as much the second time.
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Old 05-09-2019, 04:34 PM   #8
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

Prisoners first won several contests and then made the "real" Black List. So it landed on desks with an excellent track record. And - yes - it was a top quality read. Guzikowski is highly skilled and talented.

I do think the film industry is primarily a meritocracy. Which means we're competing with the best of the very best in terms of concept, character development, plot, and dialogue. If we're not firing 100% on all cylinders, if we have a weakness in any of these areas, or more than one area, our chances to break in are greatly reduced. To be blunt -- likely reduced to zero chance.

I threw in the towel on writing specs because I know my weakness is concept and that creates a weakness in plot. And that's the foundation of a good script so I'm essentially screwed.

I'm great with dialogue and character but that means I'm only excelling at 50% of what the job requires.

If everyone is passing on our specs, there's a valid reason. We have to honestly assess our skills to discover that reason. Otherwise we're spinning our wheels -- for years.

Now -- I love the film medium. I love reading writers who absolutely kill on the page. That's why I still lurk here now and again -- just to see what's happening with aspiring writers. Will I ever give screenwriting another crack? Maybe. But first I have to crack through my weaknesses. And I'm not sure I can.
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Old 05-11-2019, 02:35 PM   #9
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Default Re: Reading to Enjoy vs. Reading to Critique

Seeing the world and interpreting its meaning is something we start to learn from birth. Movies provide us with a very similar visual and graphic medium. Movies even come with sounds to enhance the experience.

Learning to read is a skill which comes later in life and script reading, even a well written one, requires a great deal of imagination.

In contrasting scripts to movies, your brain effortlessly processes pictures and images faster than words. Perhaps it is this reduced rate of perception that makes (allows?) us to be more critical with scripts?
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