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  • The Truth About Script Consultants

    June 1st, 2011

    By Danny Manus

    The release of “Hangover 2” has me feeling mixed emotions. I loved the first one, and hope that the second installment lives up to the hype.  But for those who didn’t know, last year I got into a bit of a battle of words with one of the screenwriters of the sequel, Craig Mazin, who had made some disparaging remarks on his website about script consultants after seeing Linda Seger speak at last year’s Austin Film Festival.

    He basically said that script consultants are useless and no one should ever pay to get notes on their script.  As one who could never keep his thoughts in his own head, I replied to his post, which set off a litany of responses (almost 500 comments in total).

    His blog wasn’t the first to bad mouth the consulting profession. Anyone who’s ever logged on to DoneDealPro or any of the other message boards out there can find some wannabe ya-hoo asshole (or perhaps even an A-List writer) trying to feel like the leader of some Lord of the Flies wannabe-screenwriters world by spouting off about how consultants are nothing but sharks, liars, cheats and hacks. Probably because no matter how many he’s paid over the years for notes – no one has liked his material.

    Or there’s the guy who was dumb enough to pay someone $5000 to read his script and give him a couple pages of notes because he chose to send his script to the first person who whispered the word “Hollywood” in his ear instead of doing his research before submitting his script.  I feel bad for people who have had this experience – but it’s their own damn fault.

    But for the rest of you out there, I wanted to give you the no bullshit honest truth about consultants and our role in a script’s development process.

    Script Consultants are your best friend – and worst enemy. We are there to help you, guide you and your story, improve your writing, and get your script to the next level. OR – we’re there to tell you it’s not gonna happen. We are there to be your personal development executive. And we’re there to do this BEFORE you exhaust the money, time and effort of sending (or pitching) your script to executives, agents or managers because with them you only get ONE shot. And you need to know if you’re ready. And your mom, best friend or even writers group – can’t tell you that.  We can be your first – or last – line of defense against rejection.

    According to the Creative Screenwriting Magazine survey that was released last year, there are well over 100 script consultants out there – and there are probably an equal number who weren’t even included in the survey. 200 Consultants?!  Holy shit.  And prices on the survey ranged from $50 to $5000. I’m proud to have been named in the Top 15 “Cream of the Crop” out of that list (and the most reasonably priced of the Top 15), but to people who think we are only out to steal your money, my ranking doesn’t mean shit.   

    So I think it’s time for someone to defend the profession.  I am sick and tired of being called a “failure.” Just because I haven’t become an A-List writer making millions for my screenplays doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about. It doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to help a struggling writer. Or a professional one. And by the way, just because someone DOES make millions as a writer, doesn’t mean they have any business teaching anyone else how to write!

    Are there consultants who charge WAY too much for WAY too little? Absolutely! Is anyone worth $5K to read your script and give you notes? NO. I don’t care if their last name is Seger, McKee or Vogler – your script should not cost as much as your car! But there are very few who charge that much money.  Are some script consultants failed producers? Yes. Are some failed writers? Yes. And I’ll say it – McKee, Seger, Hauge, Rotcop – they are all a bit antiquated. But there are new voices out there that can help. 

    But beware – there are some new consultants out there (who will remain nameless) – people who have only spent a year or so working as an intern or reader or glorified assistant for some production company – and all of a sudden they think they are qualified to read your script and give you notes. They’re not. I don’t care how loud, outspoken or opinionated they might be – everyone’s got an opinion – but they don’t have the right to charge someone for theirs yet.

    If someone says they were a Hollywood READER – that means they have read a lot of scripts. But here’s the thing – readers don’t give notes! They don’t meet with writers or hire them. They don’t develop projects or sell them. They JUST read and write “coverage” – which is much different than writing notes. So, don’t be fooled by people that say they’ve read for CAA – they might have and that’s great – but that doesn’t mean they know how to make your script better.

    I’ve been in this industry almost 9 years and I’ve worked my ass off to build my company. So I take it as an insult when someone whose only experience is that they watched a lot of Tarantino and Woody Allen in college, thinks they can do what I do just as well as I do it.

    Writers should do their research and due diligence and find a consultant that’s right for them. But a professional writer like Mr. Mazin shouldn’t dismiss a whole profession just because HE hasn’t needed to use one or because he got a bad taste in his mouth from one overpriced consultant.  I haven’t had to use a cosmetic surgeon, and I think many of them are unethical heathens harping on people’s insecurities to make money for unnecessary procedures.  But I don’t discount that they are educated or that some people genuinely need them and that some do truly great work.

    The same thing that makes for a good writer, makes for a good script consultant.  We watch and study movies. We read thousands of scripts – the good, bad and truly ugly. But we also follow the marketplace, the trends, know what’s selling, what isn’t, who’s looking for what, what contests and conferences are rip-offs, what’s in development, etc. And of course, we have to know good writing and how to fix it when it’s gone astray.  Just because I don’t choose (or can’t currently make the time) to use my talents to write my own brilliant screenplay, doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to help others do it.

    It would be WONDERFUL if every writer could read scripts and automatically know what works and what doesn’t about it, and know how to relate that to their own writing and make their scripts shine on their own. But 99% of writers don’t. Professional writers of Mr. Mazin’s caliber do – as he’s been doing this for quite a while at a level that 99% of writers don’t get to work at. But for everyone else, that’s where we consultants come in.

    We provide a service. We provide guidance and (hopefully) constructive, valuable feedback. And most of us deserve to be paid for this. Screenwriting might be free, but breaking into Hollywood certainly is not.

    To those who bad mouth consultants, I have an idea – how about YOU offer to read every wannabe screenwriters’ scripts for free and give them comprehensive, constructive notes.  Oh wait…you don’t have time? You don’t want to? You’d rather stab yourself in the eye with your WGA Award?  Gee, I guess it’s a good thing there are people who will do it then.  And if you DID offer to do that, you’d quickly realize you deserve to be paid!  Or you’d turn into Josh Olson and rant and rave like he did about how he “doesn’t want to read your fucking script.”

    Consultants need to be honest with you, though. I’ve branded myself as a “Simon” (referring of course to Simon Cowell). If I think a writer is wasting their time, I have no interest in taking their money and giving them false hope.  Not everyone is supposed to be a writer, not every script – no matter WHO works on it or “fixes” it – is good enough to be submitted (much less bought or produced). There are people out there telling the truth. Yes, I can count them on one hand, but we are out there.

    And on the Simon Cowell note…He’s not a singer, musician, songwriter, or performer- but he knows what the hell he’s talking about. He’s been AROUND those musical types and even though he’s the least musical of the bunch, he’s the judge everyone respects.  I also like the NFL Coach analogy – you don’t have to win a Heisman Trophy to be a great football coach.

    Writers don’t like when they are all grouped into one category and painted with the same brush, and neither do consultants. We’re not all the same. People who are out to harm each other in this business – whether they are consultants, agents, teachers or writers – should be weeded out. And so should those who try to take advantage of unsuspecting writers. But no one should degrade consultants just because they haven’t needed to use one yet.

    That’s being said, I’d like to wish Craig luck with Hangover 2 and despite our difference in opinion, I’ll still be buying a ticket to check it out opening weekend. And if it sucks…well…I can suggest a good consultant for your next project.

    *Do you disagree with me? Do you love me or hate me? Do you have something to say? Have an idea for a column? Leave a comment or email me at Daniel@nobullscript.net. I want to hear from you!

  • Brainstorming…When it Rains it Pours

    January 8th, 2010

    Have you ever gotten stuck? Ever know that there’s an answer out there that will bring your whole script together but you just…can’t…find it? Or perhaps you’ve got a great logline and concept but you just don’t know where to take the story that will make it commercial and complex? What do you do? Well I suggest it’s time for a brainstorming session. And I suggest you don’t do it alone.

     

    Around the end of the year, it’s easy to put things in a drawer and just wait until January to start something new. But that just means December is the perfect time for brainstorming.  It’s often helpful to make a list or speak out loud – you might just come up with the answer you’re looking for, but if you’re doing this by yourself, you might not realize it. Stream of Conscious sessions can be great to stir up ideas but I think they are even more productive if there’s someone weathering the brain-storm with you who knows what they are talking about and can say, “Yes! That’s it! Try that idea!”

     

    Writers at every level use this technique to fix a story problem, flesh out their stories or come up with new ones. It’s a service that some script consultants offer, including myself. It’s basically like having your own development executive by your side to help you realize what’s working, what isn’t, and why. I highly recommend it and have found that many of my clients at No BullScript have come to love it. Some writers want someone there through the whole process – like a mentor – from fleshing out the idea through the writing of the first or second draft to make sure you stay on track, story-wise. Others just want a professional stamp of approval and suggestions on an idea or storyline before they write it because they are worried they might be wasting their time. It’s certainly better to use a consultant at this point rather than wait for the pitchfest and use the executive as a barometer on your story. You only get one chance with them!

     

    I feel like two heads are often better than one. I had two recent clients that found the answers they were searching for after a brainstorming session. The first just couldn’t come up with a third act turning point – a catalyst that was sufficient enough to bring her characters together. Her current one was too dark and just didn’t fit the story, and she had dismissed others because they didn’t seem original or important enough. And it was through just brainstorming during a phone consultation – listing all the things that could happen to this character – that we figured out the one that fit. 

     

    Another client of mine had a million ideas and loglines but no sufficient storylines fleshed out and he didn’t know where to begin and was worried about taking them in the wrong direction. So what did we do? He sent me 10 ideas (a logline and whatever thoughts or bits of information he had already worked out) and I brainstormed possible storylines for all the ones I thought worked, creating some characters, some storylines, and basically giving him options on ways the story could go that matched what he wanted. And when I sent the ideas back, he had all these options to choose from that reinforced his belief that he had some great concepts to work with and he couldn’t wait to start writing.

     

    In general, this is a great exercise for writers. Come up with 10 loglines – they don’t all have to be winners – and then take the 5 you like best and spend 15-30 minutes on each,  brainstorming storylines or characters or plot points that could flesh out the story and write them all down. You don’t have to be too specific, but sometimes a certain scene or line will pop into your brain – write ‘em down! You may not like any of them, or you might find a trend or theme that could help you with other projects. Or maybe – you will create a story you fall in love with. Being able to plot out a general story in a short amount of time will really help you down the line.

     

    As an executive, I used to do this all the time, but the days where a company will just work on a pitch from scratch with a writer (especially an unproduced or first time writer) are over. Nowadays, you not only need a completed script but preferably a package. But you can still do this on your own, or with a consultant.

     

    Brainstorming with a consultant isn’t about telling a writer what they should write – it’s about giving that creative rock the first nudge down the hill and helping set up different ways for it to fall — and then letting the writer take over. Sometimes a writer just needs someone to talk to – to flesh out ideas out loud. Or create a list of every possible option and eliminate from there. Talking to your buddy or family member or dog is great but isn’t going to give you the constructive feedback you need to make this list productive or make you see the bigger, sellable picture.

     

    If you are interested in a brainstorming or story conception/direction session, or are looking for professional feedback on your ideas, please contact me at Daniel@nobullscript.net. And in the meantime, keep thinking, and keep writing!

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