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Wednesday, July 07, 2010

There's a bit of whinging at The Single Screenwriter and Done Deal about a contest reader's admission that she "read" 75 scripts in 3 hours for a contest:
Last night I managed to get through 75 scripts in about 3 hours. How are you so speedy and brilliant, you might ask? Easy, the 10 page rule. It’s true. All those stories about “make sure you grab ‘em in the first 10 pages” are absolutely true.

Honestly, I can tell in 2-3 pages if you are a writer. Then I give you 10 pages to show if you are a GOOD writer. If you’ve kept me going that far, then I’ll read further to see how you develop your plot. If you understand how to construct a midpoint, battle scene, and satisfying ending. And if your voice continues throughout, or if it tuckered out when the heavy lifting came into play.
Various commenters think that's just terrible. Readers should read every last word of the script they slaved over! How dare she!

I disagree. I have read literally thousands of scripts. Most are horrible crap. If the first three pages are horrible crap, I have found, the rest of the script never gets good. Sometimes it finds its way up to mediocre, but it never gets good; and usually it just goes downhill from there. I have rarely read a script that was better than its first ten pages. Or first three pages.

If I am reading a script in order to give notes, I will read every last word, of course. And think about it. And try to find the vision that inspired the writer to write it.

But if I am reading a stack of scripts to separate the wheat from the chaff, then the writer has got two or three pages to convince me to read the rest of the script. I don't need a teaser, I don't need a whammy. I don't even need an inciting incident. I need a gripping three pages, whatever that is. They can be subtly gripping. It can be a guy getting out of bed, if, somehow, the way the guy gets out of bed is truly revelatory. If the writer can't grab me in three pages, I'd be wasting my time to read the rest of it, because I guarantee you the writer won't rock my world in the next ten, or twenty, or fifty, or one hundred pages.

Apparently everyone jumped on this poor reader for being honest. Grow up, guys. This is how it is. If you were in the position of reading 75 scripts for a contest, this is what you'd do, too.

Ditto query letters, by the way. When I read query letters as part of my development job, I gave the average letter about 5 seconds. Literally. 5 seconds. I gave the good letters much, much longer than that. But the bad ones? Round file.

I do think that most online screenplay contests are very poor value for your money. But not because the readers don't read the whole script. I wouldn't wish that on anyone.

In general, if you find you are moaning a lot about how people in the industry are not being very nurturing -- how they will not, for example, read your effing script -- you may need to re-examine your attitude. Showbiz does things the showbiz way for good reasons. And if you can't stand the heat, maybe a career in cooking is not for you?

UPDATE: I've been trying to come up with the perfect analogy. Here's the best one I've got. You know the first episode of a season of AMERICAN IDOL? The one where they have all the people who are horrible, horrible singers? How long does it take you to decide someone can't sing worth a damn? Does it even take ten seconds? Okay, now that you've heard the first ten seconds, would you willingly listen to the rest of the recording, just to respect all the effort they've put in?

Well, there you go.

Labels:

19 Comments:

Hey Alex,

Not sure if you saw my response over on my blog so I've copied it here as follows:

I have no problem with contests having a 'ten page rule' (although to be fair, they should state that in their contest rules). Reading a bad script beyond ten pages is downright painful. That being said, cutting scripts based on title pages and making snap decisions because of writer location, goes beyond unprofessional and, in my opinion, enters fraud territory.

I read your blog regularly and really respect your opinion. Honestly, could you give a fair shake to 75 scripts in three hours?

By Blogger The Single Screenwriter, at 3:13 PM  

I think it should be said too that not every contest does this (although Single Screenwriter is correct, they should be up front with it). BlueCat, for example gives notes for every entry, and, this year at least, mine were very thorough and evidence that the entire script, top to bottom, was read.

By Blogger HEROES_are_BORING, at 3:21 PM  

@Single: could I give a fair shake to 75 scripts in three hours? Let's see, that's about two minutes 45 seconds per script, which means I'm reading about 8 pages a script? And I can pass 20% of them up to the next round? I know it sounds absurd, but I could do that. And I'd probably reject more like 90% of them.

Of course you should not reject people because of location or title page.

But when you jury stuff, there is a ridiculous range between the good stuff and the rest, and it's not hard to tell which is which amazingly quickly.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:31 PM  

This idea that scripts got a pass based on the title page alone is a fabrication. The original post had some comments about improperly formatted title pages and the address being a potential turn-off. It said nothing about scripts being set aside solely on that basis.

The fact that critics feel they have to lie about the original post says much.

Patrick Sweeney
I Blame Ninjas

By Blogger Firefly Games, at 3:55 PM  

Think of it this way. Suppose you were watching football tryouts. And there are 5 NFL guys. And 5 college football guys. And 20 guys who played high school football. And 35 guys who can't throw the ball more than 20 yards, and 35 guys who don't know how you hold a football. How long would it take you to pick the NFL guys and the college football guys out from the rest of them?

Or, how long would it take you to separate the Broadway-quality dancers from the high school dancers from the people who have only really danced at weddings?

The thing is, as few people can write with any degree of competence as can dance, or do surgery, or build a decent cabinet. But everyone thinks they can write. And it's obvious to pros in the field who can and who can't.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 3:55 PM  

On re-checking, I see the original post did suggest scripts with improper title pages were passed. The various posts have been subjected to so much confabulation and paranoid conspiracy-theorizing that I guess I sort of lost track of which complaints are accurate and which are fictional. But I was wrong on this point, so I wanted to set that straight.

Patrick Sweeney
I Blame Ninjas

By Blogger Firefly Games, at 4:39 PM  

Oh Alex, you've committed the Cardinal Sin of telling the truth.

What's next?

Are you going to be honest to your friends about their "less than beautiful" babies?

By Blogger DMc, at 6:09 PM  

It's nice to have some actual pros weighing in (Denis McGrath? Awe. Some.)

The whole thing got really scary, really fast at DDP and I think the posters stopped considering whether or not the info posted was actually true.

Thanks for weighing in and keeping it professional, Alex!

By Blogger The Spec Life, at 6:59 PM  

Then it should say in the contest rules -- we may not read the entire script. We may reject your script if we don't like the title page, or where you're from or just because we f*ckin' can. But keep sending us your money.

By Blogger cmw, at 10:06 PM  

The analogy isn't great. They're not looking for the screenwriting version of the next great singer, they're looking for the next great original song.

By Blogger The Single Screenwriter, at 12:47 AM  

The cardinal sin of missing the point.

Contestants paid good money for a proper evaluation but didn't get one. That's why people are heaping well deserved criticism on Froley and her associates.

Nobody on DDP mentioned cruel, cruel Hollywood. In general, they're well acquainted with the LA based film industry.

A number of people, on this blog and elsewhere,have said, "Man up! This is how we roll in Hollywood!" Except that none of you actually have careers in Hollywood. That's harsh, but it's also the truth.

Some of Froley's critics on the DDP site do in fact have solid careers with great credits, in the Hollywood film industry.

Most of Froley's defenders are concerned about their revenue stream. Once people know just how little their sixty bucks gets them, they won't be flocking to sign up for sketchy contests.

And that, good sirs, is the point.

By Blogger odocoileus, at 8:25 AM  

Contestants paid good money for an evaluation, but it's an up-down evaluation. And they got one. They either made the cut or they didn't. They win the prize or they don't.

No career in Hollywood? Hmm. I worked for ten years in LA as a development guy, reading scripts among other things. I'd call that a career. Now I work out of Montreal, support myself writing, and have a hit (Canadian) film on my credits. Do you think we read scripts differently up here?

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 8:47 AM  

Heard this before, and the reality is the contests generally state the script will be read ... I don't know of a single contest where the rules state the script will be evaluated on a per page dependence on craft.

People pay for this (contests cost money) and therefore the expectation is that they'll get the same read as everyone else.

That's really the point.

I get your analogies, I just think it's missing the point. People are paying for consideration, a read.

Obviously the readers have a different idea of what that "read" means, if so, it needs to be stated up front.

Sure, if I had a script to someone in the business, and he only reads ten pages, I get and understand that. I'm not paying him for anything.

If I pay someone, I expect they give me the same read that they gave the other guy for the same amount of money.

Now if there were no money being asked for, if it were free, or if they were only judging the first ten pages or loglines (as some contests do) then I wouldn't have issue with it.

I don't do contests (and most are probably not worth it) but I always wince when I hear these stories.

I get most scripts are terrible, I get that. I get that it's a lot of work to read a load of bad scripts for a contest the reader may not care about, I get that, too.

but that's the job, really. Right?

they didn't HAVE to read for a contest, hmmm?

By Blogger Joshua James, at 12:29 PM  

But Joshua, what is the difference to you if your script is rejected or accepted after 10 pages or 100? The joy of knowing that someone read your script?

If a contest requires their readers to read the whole script, not that they could ever enforce that, the readers would have to charge a LOT more. Which would raise entry fees drastically.

By Blogger Alex Epstein, at 12:59 PM  

There's really a few separate threads here, which all lead to the same simple answer.

Are most contests scams, wastes of time, and not worth the money you spend on them?

Yes.

Can a professional reading a script know within the first few pages if the person can write, and if it's worth their time reading the rest?

Yes.

Is this the way things work?

Yes.

If you actually want to have a career or expect to get anywhere in this business, do you need to simply accept all of the above, get down to making your script the best it can be, stop whining about how fucking unfair it is, and get on with it?

Yes.

If you don't, will the person who does accept all the above come out ahead of you in the end?

Yes.

By Blogger DMc, at 1:04 PM  

To be up front, Alex, I'm not eligible for contests (at least the recommended ones), and when I was I found most of them to be a waste of time (except Nicoll and Austin) ... I should say that up front (I believe there are also some good TV fellowships there, too) ... what I really think (and I remember Chris Lockhart blogging about this in 07) is that it's really about paying for evaluation, which is what the entry fee is about.

For me, it's about money. If I'm paying fifty or sixty bucks, I want more than a page or two (or ten) and if that's all that's promised, I'd want to know that UP FRONT before I pay (I think Sundance only takes the few ten pages, as do others).

So yeah, it does make a difference to me if someone reads the whole 100 pages, if that's what I'm paying for. And if I'm writing a check for fifty bucks, that's what I expect.

And if they can't operate with that low of an entry fee at that level, then they should charge more (my understanding is that every Nichol script gets read, and their fee is not too high, at least when I last entered four or five years ago).

So the difference isn't in the joy, there's no real joy in not placing or not doing well, whether it's in 10 or 100 pages ... it's really about trusting the process.

Don't you think?

If you're a professional reader and a prodco hires you to cover a script, you have to read the whole thing, no matter how bad or good the first 3-4 pages are ... they may trust your judgment, but they want the whole thing read, even if they're as sure as you are that, after ten, it won't work.

Because that's what they're paying for.

In a contest, if the rules state a screenplay is going to be evaluated by a pro, I think it's right to expect the same thing ... real coverage.

Because that's coverage, that's evaluation ... the real issue with me is that it's obvious that if someone goes through 75 scripts in 3 hours (which is what the reader mentioned, correct) that not even the most BASIC evaluation is being done for the money being paid (especially when scripts are dismissed because of the title page, I mean, come on ... that's ridiculous).

I'd get that if you were doing it in an officer for a production company, a director, anyone ... hell, that's what creative producers do, they zip through material, loglines, titles, first pages ... until they find something that turns them on ... I know that's how some folks find what they want to do ... but they're not charging money for that (nor should they). If they were charging writers (or agents) for this, there'd be an outcry.

The fact is, if there were no money involved, I'd shrug and go, okay. That happens. And 99 percent of them were probably bad. You bet.

But in this instance, folks are paying for consideration of their craft ... and it's obvious that, if a reader does 75 scripts in 3 hours, that's not happening.

It's just my opinion, of course. I think if folks pay for something, they should get a shot, no matter how poor their talent level.

The American Idol thing, where folks line up for days to sing three or four bars only to be dismissed with snide comments about their lack of ability, it's not my bag but I understand it. They're there, they're giving it a shot in what little time they have.

But that's all it costs them (other than dignity) is time. If they were charged money to go before these guys and sing a song, I'd make the bastards sit through the whole song.

If I PAY someone (like, for example, if I paid you as a consultant on a script) to read a script, I expect them to read the whole thing or give my money back.

It's really that simple, isn't it?

Again, this is all only my opinion.

By Blogger Joshua James, at 1:28 PM  

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

By Blogger Joshua James, at 1:29 PM  

Double post, sorry ... feel free to delete one.

By Blogger Joshua James, at 1:30 PM  

My understanding from Julie Gray's post on DoneDealPro is that this was not a formal judging round, but a courtesy spot-check on the lowest-scoring 75 scripts to ensure a worthy entry hadn't been overlooked.

Patrick Sweeney
I Blame Ninjas

By Blogger Firefly Games, at 4:04 PM  

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