Writing a screenplay is kind of like building a one of a kind, custom piece of furniture. In the dark. While receiving essential parts periodically in the mail, without warning. And then not receiving any for weeks. While your helpful significant other or helpful friends helpfully suggest trashing your project and driving to Ikea.
It’s not really like this. It just feels that way sometimes. Sometimes you feel invincible, like Spielberg entering a local film festival. But the frustrating, damnable thing about screenwriting is that when it works, it’s not always clear why. And when it doesn’t work, it’s not always clear why. It’s as much an art as it is a science. And most writers are either artists or scientists. It’s a rare thing for someone to be both.
THE MYTH OF THE “SOLITARY GENIUS”
But, isn’t screenwriting meant to be done alone? The cliché of the screenwriter, hunched over his keyboard, eating poorly, drinking well, and shunning civil society is a well-worn archetype. It is also unrealistic and rarely ever true. Modern screenwriting, especially at the professional level, is highly collaborative and benefits from other perspectives, fresh ideas and joint problem solving. It is ego that tells us we should never have to ask for help. Like when you give in and buy the damn dresser from IKEA, and insist that you don’t need the instructions, or the manufacturer support line, or any input from your idiot brother Steve. And as a result, you shed the last of your dignity and sanity in a symphony of expletives. Seriously, I think they drilled the holes too far apart.
WHEN TO CALL THE DOCTOR
You have some of the basic structure in place. It’s starting to look like a screenplay. Except it won’t stand up on its own. And there are an awful lot of big pieces left over. Is that normal? Face it. You are in over your head.
Or, you have a script that is good. Maybe even very good. But there is something missing. Some of the big emotional moments fall flat. Maybe the dialogue doesn’t snap. Or crackle. Or pop. There are no instant classic lines. Nothing that jumps of the page. No You can’t handle the truth! No Royale with cheese. No Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn. No one is going to walk out of your film quoting, or meme-ing, or even remembering your words. Face it. You need help.
EVEN THE BEST NEED HELP SOMETIMES
It’s nothing to be ashamed of. It happens to the best of them. Look at the highly publicized script rewrites on the recent Star Wars projects. The truth is, all films undergo this kind of tinkering. The truth is, script doctors have worked on many of your favorite films. You just don’t know about it. Because they usually work uncredited. It’s an industry courtesy to the screenwriters. Paul Attanasio (Quiz Show, Donnie Brasco) equates script doctoring to “being the closer in baseball… coming in at the ninth inning and throwing your fastball to three batters and leaving”. The best part is, when the script doctor comes in to close, you still get credit for the win.
WHY A SCRIPT DOCTOR?
Script doctors are seasoned artist/scientists, who bring fresh eyes, new perspectives, and a deep knowledge of visual storytelling devices to make sure your script delivers on its original promise. They are brought in to rewrite or polish an existing script. Maybe the structure isn’t working. Or the pacing is off, or the transitions are jarring. Possibly the themes are getting lost. Maybe the dialogue is landing with a thud. Or not landing at all. Your production team doesn’t need to labor fruitlessly, you can reach out to a proven professional to address these issues.
A professional script doctor helps to crystallize your vision on the page, with appropriate pacing, dialogue that clicks and structure that delivers optimal impact from scene to scene.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
Every script doctor will have the skills to act as a jack of all trades, addressing a wide variety of problems. But like any trade, each will have their specialty. Some are dialogue ninjas. Some have mad comedy chops. Some can wring the maximum emotional yield out of every character interaction.
It is important to understand the “sweet spot” of your script doctor, as well as the core issue your script is facing, in order to ensure a good fit. You will want to garner as much reader feedback as possible, before the script doctor gives you their official diagnosis. But like a medical professional, if your back hurts from slaving over a godforsaken IKEA dresser, you know enough to steer clear of the proctologist.
The point is, for you to get the most out of your script, you need to get the most out of your script doctor. One size does not fit all.
WHAT TO EXPECT
When you engage a script doctor, the process should be highly collaborative, particularly at first. You need to convey your goals for the script, your issues with the current draft, and the value you are hoping the script doctor will provide. Ideally, your initial conversations will take place in person, but technology is a great option. Skype calls are ideal for strategy or brainstorming sessions, so both parties can share not only auditory feedback, but visual cues and pantomimes. The purposes of this kind of interaction is to get the script doctor up to speed, align them to your vision, and share your sensibilities (and theirs).
Your script doctor also should operate in a very organized and businesslike fashion, documenting your input and communicating transparently throughout the rewrite process. Their job is to help you execute your vision. The work should not be done in isolation, in the dark. Bedside manner matters. If you are about to receive an emergency appendectomy, you wouldn’t do it yourself, and your doctor is pretty much obligated to let you know.
Tipstor® specializes in script doctoring and related screenwriting services. Our award-winning script doctor is ready to help you realize your vision and deliver the promise of your script.