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SCRIPT ANGEL: Getting Screenwriting Help

Script Angel's Hayley McKenzie explores the screenwriting help available to emerging writers and asks which one is right for you?

Hayley McKenzie is a Script Editor and founder of Script Angel, helping screenwriters elevate their craft and advance their screenwriting career. Follow her on Twitter @scriptangel1.

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Turning your screenwriting into a career is tough but it IS possible. Every year new writers break in, get signed by managers and agents, sell scripts and get staffed. I've seen my own screenwriting clients make exactly that leap so I know it can be done. But screenwriting is like any industry where there are more people wanting to do it than there are opportunities to earn a living from it (sports, music, etc); it's competitive. So it's up to you to do whatever you can to give yourself an edge over the competition. I know we're not a competitive bunch by nature but the truth is that your script has got to be more compelling than all the others like it if you want to stand out from the crowd. And getting help to develop your screenwriting makes sense, but how do you know what screenwriting help is right for you?

SCRIPT ANGEL: Getting Screenwriting Help by Hayley McKenzie | Script Magazine

There is more free help out there than ever before; there are articles on the craft of screenwriting (many of them right here on ScriptMag), there are writers groups (both local and online) where you can get peer review, there are scripts of your favourite movies available to download. For relatively little money you can get great books on the screenwriting craft or attend a class. There's no doubt that these resources, combined with your own creativity and storytelling instincts, should enable you to start producing scripts that deliver the basics. But many writers derive enormous benefit from getting more tailored professional screenwriting help.

A substantial industry has grown up offering help to aspiring screenwriters and while there are charlatans out there, as there are in every industry, there are also a lot of good people offering valuable help. But there are so many options it can be overwhelming. So, here's my run-down of the most common paid-for screenwriting help available and how you can decide which is right for you.

Many writers' first experience of feedback on their script is by paying for Script Coverage. This basic type of feedback is great for finding out just how good your writing really is but, be warned, it might be brutal. Most scripts sent to producers and production companies are first assessed by Script Readers whose job it is to provide a report for their boss on the strengths and weaknesses of the script. A script reader's job is not to help the writer make the script better but to tell their producer whether the script is worth pursuing or not. It often includes a synopsis and a grid evaluation of the various elements (characterisation, dialogue, etc). Freelance script readers then started to offer this kind of evaluation to writers directly for a fee.

The next step up is Script Notes which provide the same kind of analysis as Script Coverage but go on to suggest steps you can take to improve the areas of weakness identified. Script Notes offer the kind of feedback you'd get if your script had been optioned or you'd been commissioned to write a script by a producer. Script Editors, whether working in development or production, are experienced in providing script notes directly for writers since they are tasked with helping the writer to make the script better. So script editors are experienced in delivering notes with more diplomacy that, while being honest, are more constructive and offer valuable suggestions for changes that will elevate the script. Experienced script editors are chameleon-like in their approach to working with writers; one size does not fit all and a good script editor is able to adapt their approach to suit the writer's personality and enable them to better execute their vision.

You can buy both Script Coverage and Script Notes as a one-off on your current draft, but you may find that this kind of ad-hoc approach doesn't really help you to devote the kind of writing hours you need to make serious progress. There are now a handful of script consultants out there offering screenwriting help over several drafts. As a script editor I was used to script development as a multi-draft process so at Script Angel I've replicated that with our Script Development Service over three months and our Screenwriting Mentoring over six or twelve months. Any multi-draft script feedback service, especially one within a specified time-frame, is great for making you do the rewrite. It can keep you on track and give you the incentive needed to really polish a draft; perfect if there's a major screenwriting contest deadline coming up.

Writing a great spec script is a fantastic first step to breaking-in, but in this super-competitive business having a strong and targeted portfolio under your belt can really help show that you're serious about having a screenwriting career. There is screenwriting career help out there; people with whom you can discuss your screenwriting goals and ambitions, and who will devise a strategy to help you achieve that.

With so much screenwriting help out there it's important to do your research. Think carefully about your own weaknesses and the kind of screenwriting help you need to progress. Be sure to check out the experience and credentials of those offering to provide help in return for your hard-earned money. Make sure if someone claims to have worked for a big-name studio that they were at least a script analyst/reader there, and not just making the coffee! Word of mouth is invaluable so ask around within the screenwriting community (use #scriptchat on Twitter, or a screenwriting group on Facebook) and be sure to check out their testimonials. We're a pretty approachable lot; I'm regularly on Twitter @scriptangel1 and I'll be at Story Expo in Los Angeles from September 10-13 so be sure to come and say hello.

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