Saturday, March 14, 2015

Getting the Most Out of Script Consultations

  The bulk of the business we do at Catharsis, besides writing and being generally fabulous, is script consulting. Or rather, writer consulting. We groom writers to become the people they need to be to execute their masterpieces and enjoy a meaningful career. We've seen our share of starry-eyed hopefuls, rough and tumble go-getters, anxious self-doubters, over-confident newbies, and more. We wrote our book, Notes to Screenwriters, from the many years of giving notes to our students and clients, and also from receiving notes as writers ourselves.

One of the most disheartening things we see in our line of work is that newbie writers will squander hundreds of dollars on script consultations because they didn't properly prepare for them. It's for this reason we do preliminary evaluations on scripts to deem if they are ready for extensive feedback. We aren't interested in wasting time (yours or ours) if a script is not ready.

Here are the top ten ways to make the most of your next script consultation:

1. Learn the craft. Before dropping several hundred bucks on a script consultation, make sure you've first invested in some training, instruction, and materials. It's surprising how many writers don't do this. If you wanted to be a surgeon, would you want someone to evaluate your first surgical procedure before you've attended med school? We don't think so. At the very, very least, read some books on screenwriting. (Like ours.) There's a ton of basic how-to classes out there. Take some seminars. (Ours are great.) Watch great movies. Read the top screenplays. If you're just starting out, consider signing up for a mentorship with us instead of a consultation. We'll tailor it toward specific areas in which you need to grow.

2. Proofread your script before you send it to a consultant. Please. Pretty please. If you know you're bad at proofreading, ask a friend to help you.

3. Make sure you're sending your very best work. Never send a script to anyone- not even your writers group- that isn't a good representation of what you can do. Write to the very best of your ability and knowledge. Most emerging writers see a gap between their abilities and where they want their writing to be. Take note of this gap, and ask your consultant questions based on where you perceive your own deficit.

4. When you get written feedback, read for clarity. Us poor writers are creatures of ego. When we get feedback, what we really want to know- from the depths of our beings- is whether our work is truly and deeply loved by another. In most cases, especially with drafts in progress, that answer is no. So get over it. Be objective. Be professional. Strive to understand the feedback your consultant gives you, whether you agree with it or not.

5. Ask thoughtful, specific questions. When you meet with your consultant, come prepared with a list of several specific questions you have about your work. The more specific you are, the more satisfying answers you'll get. Move away from asking generalizations, like, "So did you like it? Do you think it can sell?" Instead, ask questions like, "On page 24, I wanted to create a visual metaphor for the hero's descent into hell, so that's why everything is orange. Did you pick up on that?"

6. Resist taking offense or defending your work. See #4. Script consultations are often the first experiences new writers have with getting professional quality feedback, and it can be intimidating for some. Trust us, we're the kind ones. If you stick with it, there will be plenty of uncaring, snarky, and inconsiderate note-givers in your future. It's best to grow some thicker skin now. If you find yourself getting defensive, take a step back and remember that consultants are deeply invested in helping you grow.

7. Say, "Thank you." These magic words open more doors in Hollywood than any other, and your professionalism as a screenwriter starts here.

8. Don't expect a script consultant to act as an agent. The role of a consultant is to give you the notes you need to make your script really great. Don't ask them to slip your script to Spielberg. Just don't.

9. Expect a lot more work ahead.  Many scripts we consult on are several drafts away from professional quality work, mainly because the writer didn't consider several of the points above. Professional quality writing takes years of commitment and practice.

10. The more you learn, you'll learn that you have more to learn. The wisest among us make this a lifelong habit. The most prolific writers are constantly growing in their craft, taking seminars, reading, and attending retreats, like this one.  

We should also say, as former development executives, that many of these same rules apply to sending your script to a production company. DON'T DO IT unless you're given the green light from professionals (like us) who agree that it's ready.
Learn more about Catharsis script consulting here!

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