How to Catch the Reader's Eye
Hollywood readers are dying to not read your script.
Readers are an overworked group. There are thousands of scripts flowing into Hollywood, and only a small number flowing out onto the movie screens of the world. Most, of course, flow out of Hollywood via the round file, and wind up quietly rotting in some landfill somewhere.
That vast avalanche of scripts landing on the reader's desk must be culled ruthlessly. Readers are looking for any reason to not read your script - don't give them even the slightest excuse! Make that script stick to their hands!
Here are some tips to help you do just that.
First Page Must Kill!
Your first page must be an instant grabber. There must be stuff on the first page which commands attention, then pulls the reader forward. The best way? A question of some kind. Why are they running? What's in that box? Why did she slap him? Human beings are naturally curious, and even the most jaded reader will flip at least to the next page to find out the answer to a question posted on that first page.
There's no excuse not to spellcheck! Good spelling is par for the course - bad spelling is a big black mark against you. Since computers all have spellcheckers, there's no reason not to clean it up. You'll be glad you did.
Show, Don't Tell
Beginning scriptwriters often forget that this is a visual medium, and that a picture is worth a thousand words. Their characters talk about everything. The rule of thumb is "show, don't tell!" You'd be surprised how much you can show...even complex emotional interactions between characters. Watch your favorite movies with this in mind, and you'll see.
There's no excuse not to format correctly! Trottier's Screenwriter's Bible, The Complete Guide To Standard Script Formats Part I: The Screenplay by Cole/Haag, Argentini's Elements Of Style for Screenwriters...though they may not always agree on everything, they are readily available and should be consulted. And screenwriting programs do most of that work for you. When you don't format correctly, you look like you can't be bothered - meanwhile, the other guy is formatted perfectly. Which script is going to get a second look?
Be Concise In Description
Rare is the script that has too little description. Description blocks should be no more than three lines. You must never include what cannot be shown. To indicate emotional states or reactions, you must restrict yourself to gestures, expressions, and tells. Remember that your description will someday be a shot - so what are you showing the audience?
This won't torpedo you, but it marks you as a neophyte right off the bat. Things like CAMERA WIDENS or PULL BACK...even something as seemingly innocuous as WE SEE. Leave it to your director to make those choices, because they will anyway. If you want to communicate a certain rhythm, use description in such a way as to indicate pacing: one sentence = one shot. That way, you can satisfy your inner director, without annoying the outer one.
Avoid Orphan Setups
Orphan setups are things setup and never paid off. For every setup there must be a payoff. Also avoid "false setups" - unusual things that stand out or are emphasized. They feel like setups and if they are not paid off the audience will feel they're missing something.
Avoid Orphan Payoffs
Less common, they take the form of improbable coincidences that should've been set up. Every development in the later pages of your script should arise naturally out of what has gone before: that is, it must've been part of the world. It must've been set up.
It's been said before, and bears repeating: a reader's greatest joy is to find a RECOMMEND. We want you to be in that short pile the reader hands up the chain -- not in that vast heap bulldozered into a hillside.
At StoryPros, our mission is to help you catch the reader's eye. We're that vital "first opinion" you need to avoid wasting a reader's time, and your own. We read your script no matter how it's formatted, and give you the info you need, to keep your script out of the landfill.
After all, you don't want your script sleeping with the egg shells, coffee grounds and banana peels, do you?
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