This week's Answer:
About six figures.
Not really. Well...
actually, sometimes that’s true, but not always.
Thank you for the question, Darren, you who come
from the land from where many a “good script” has
at least, you may be just be visiting merry ol’ England.
And, if that’s the case, get back home on the
double and get to work on your six-figures script, that is
if you’re not working on it there at this time, possibly
having sent me this e-mail via your laptop while sitting
in front of Buckingham Palace, using it as an
inspirational setting for your next thriller, “Who
Changed The Guards And How The Heck Did They Do It?”
which would be probably closer to an English Mystery
rather than an English thriller, something that the master
of suspense, Mr. Alfred, himself, was quite adept).
If you’re willing (and I’ll
assume you are since I’m unable to know your opposing
view of “No I am not willing and don’t assume
that I will agree with you about anything you may opine
from now until perpetuity.”), instead of using
“good” and “bad” (because, if it’s a bad script,
then I’ll have a compulsive urge to scold some of my old
ones lying around on my shelves, tell them that they’ve
been very naughty and have to stand in the corner.
And, since, the corner is occupied by my good
scripts, which I praise daily, telling them that they’ve
been well-behaved and promise to get them optioned or sold
soon, although the latter condition also causes my little
paper-and-brads family a bit of a problem by prompting
them to be afraid of being left and unloved in another
I do my best to offset this dilemma
by bringing in a script therapist, who works with all of
my favorite screenplays, helping them to work through
their abandonment issues, issues that started early when I
would write a scene and then not write another for three
months, or write half the script and not come back to it
for six or seven years. You may have heard about this new addiction that more and
more screenwriters that are at long last coming out of
denial are willing to admit they have.
But thank God there’s a place for some of us to
go now and get help:
It’s a little different than some other meetings.
It only has one step.
“We, Story Abandoners, have found that following
this step is the road to our recovery. Step One (and the only one):
it. It’s a
great One-Step program.
If you’re a writer, you ought to try it.),
let’s use the adjectives “effective” and “less
effective” (or, if you insist, considering that you may
vigorously not be agreeing with me at all at this
venture, “good” and “less good.”
I can just imagine studio story analysts employing
this new stamp of non-approval:
“Well, Clarence,” says the studio exec looking
for the next Underworld to his top reader.
“What’s your overall take on The Attack of
the Forest Gnomes from Hell?
“Less good, sir.”
And there goes Clarence, driving past the security
guard and off the studio lot.
But worry not because our Clarence may very well be
back a year from now for a pitch meeting with the same
studio exec (unless there’s been a changing of the
guards – and not the kind in England) and he’s now a
studio custodian, Clarence having just signed a
three-pic deal because after he was “released” from
his reading duties, he proceeded to write a six-figure
So, what is the difference between an
“effective” and “less effective” script?
Well, one way of describing an effective script is
calling it a “page-turner,” (although, considering how
often scripts are now read on computer monitors, we might
soon be hearing script readers extolling the virtues of a
screenplay by referring to it as a real “scroller”).
But what makes us want to keep turning those pages?
(or fingering that mouse? – the inorganic one, of
never do that to a mouse.
Unless it ate my last piece of cheese.)
As with any effective (we can use “good” here)
writing (poetry, prose, newspaper articles, recipes for
chocolate mousse – and not “mouse.”
I would never eat a mouse.
Or finger it.
Well... maybe if it was chocolate... ), the reader
is brought into a very close relationship with the
writer’s world. You,
the reader, can “feel” the writer, your mind and
emotions being stirred and guided by his or her unique
observations and sentiments and means of expressing those
observations and sentiments.
Think of the last movie you saw that you really
enjoyed. You most likely “got it” (and I’m not talking about
some weekend life and mind-numbing training course’s
ultimate resulting words that thousands of its gleeful
graduates spout as they walk through the doors Sunday
night, finally being allowed to get off their chairs and
go to the bathroom – and make those important cell phone
calls to people that would rather not be bothered.
Hey, maybe that’s what those glass-eyed self-made
optimists were talking about when they said, “I got
what they got. Now
I’m enlightened.), really went through some type
of transforming experience that was initiated by a
or she can’t reach you as directly as, say, a novelist
or a poet, because there are so many people “in
between” he or she and you, an audience member, people
such as a director, actors, set designers, caters who
can’t for the life of them make a good chocolate mouse
– mousse!, etc., who, at times, have prompted a
screenwriter, who, after finally seeing his work on the
big (or smaller) screen after a thousand others have put
in their two cents, including studio execs (many of whom
are as close to knowing how to write a good screenplay as
you are to becoming president of these here United
States), say “That’s it!
I’m getting out of the business and running for
the presidency of these here United States.
Although... maybe, first, I should become an
In conclusion (Writers use this
catchall phrase, especially when they think they’ve lost
their reader and don’t want to admit it.), after I’ve
read what I consider to be a good and effective screenplay
(and not a “less good” one), it feels like I’ve been
in the same room with the author, respecting him or her,
loving what has been offered from the deepest part of
himself or herself, and (and this is essential), loving
the way (read:
“story, structure, characterization, dialogue,
milieu, tone, pace, etc. All those words you find we story analysts throw around a
lot.) it was offered.
A good script gives you the feeling that you
somehow know the author and (most likely) like him or her.
Why, you could like him or her so much and what
they stand for that you might even be willing to sit next
to them at a SSA meeting (or in a hotel ballroom with a
thousand other people who are trying to “get it.”)