Reader Profile: Spotting a Unicorn: How to Stand Out From the Pack
FINAL DRAFT: How did you start out reading?
READER: I was just out of college and running around Los Angeles making pennies as a Production Assistant on various film shoots, and needed a way to pull in a little more income. A friend at a production company referred me to his boss for a few freelance scripts. After a year or two, it made more sense to read full time.
FD: Can you give us an overview of your reading experience?
READER: I’ve been reading full time for over a decade – it’s a great way to keep a schedule that allows me to write and work on my own filmmaking projects, as well as find new and interesting writers and keep up with writing trends. I started out mainly reading features, then added pilots as TV exploded. Overall, I think the quality of specs has gone up across the board, which is great, though I still read a lot of turkeys.
FD: Have you had success as a writer yourself?
READER: Yes – some short films and a horror movie.
FD: How many years have you read for Big Break?
READER: At least five.
FD: Can you share some of your favorite memories?
READER: I love seeing the list of top scripts and counting how many were scripts of mine in the first round – there’s such a sense of satisfaction knowing something you recognized as special in the initial read made it to the later rounds.
FD: What are your favorite genres to read and/or watch? Are they the same?
READER: I’m an omnivore when it comes to genres for reading and watching, but I especially love fantasy, period pieces, horror, and all kinds of TV drama.
FD: What is the worst cliché you see in the scripts you read?
READER: I personally hate it in thrillers or mysteries when the protagonist turns out to be the killer, or it’s all in his or her head. This is so hard to pull off effectively, and it basically unravels the story for me.
FD: What do you look for in the first 10 pages of a script?
READER: A clear setup of setting and character – I want to be able to root for the protagonist on some level right from the start and ground them in the world of the story immediately.
FD: What common pitfalls should entrants avoid?
READER: Undeveloped female characters. There’s a tendency to relegate women to love interests or victims, particularly in scripts where the leads are mostly male. Also, avoid overdirecting the script – “we see” “we hear” “we realize” almost always pulls me out of the narrative, reminding me that I’m not in the world, just reading the script.
FD: What is your worst grammar pet peeve?
READER: Their, there, they’re. However, poor grammar and a failure to run a simple spell check in a script drive me crazy.
FD: What are some factors you consider in advancing a script in the early rounds? How do those factors change in later rounds?
READER: Good structure, either three-act or alternative, and a protagonist with fully realized emotional and physical goals. In later rounds, when the writing is universally stronger, I tend to think about other issues like professional style, use of theme, originality, etc., but if the basic building blocks of story aren’t there in the first round, that’s a problem for me.
FD: What about the funniest thing that’s happened in your time reading?
READER: People tend to write about whatever is going on in the world or whatever the current trend happens to be. I always find it funny when a stack of scripts yields three pirate scripts or four vampire scripts. Even more entertaining is when I run across a historical topic I’ve written about myself – it’s always fun to see a different approach on a subject you know well.
FD: What gets you the most excited about the scripts you’ve really loved?
READER: Despite all the books, classes, and online help out there, screenwriting is still incredibly difficult, and truly great scripts are very, very rare. Reading a great script is like spotting a unicorn. What I like best is a script that manages to be commercial and well-written, but still original- these are the scripts that have the best shot of finding a home somewhere. I read close to a thousand scripts per year, and of those, I always remember the great ones, because they stand out from the pack.
FD: What advice would you give screenwriting entering the Big Break Contest?
READER: The knee-jerk answer is proofread – there’s nothing readers hate more than a script where the writer didn’t take five minutes to run a spell check. It’s a good way to annoy the reader before they’ve gotten into the script. I’d also suggest making sure those first ten pages really shine – you want to the reader invested as quickly as possible. Finally, nine out of ten script problems can be solved through character development – making sure your protagonist has a journey from beginning to end.
Submit your scripts between February 22, 2017 and July 14, 2017 to be considered in the 2017 Big Break Screenwriting Contest! Check out our rules for entry and prizes here.