(Not) Wanted: Script Assessors

I know, I know. I promised a regular, more personally sounding post – instead I kinda disappeared.

Truth is: the year end was hectic, next I went holidaying with my son Baxter and his mum. Then suddenly 2011 was upon us with urgent and boring stuff.

But hey, I’m back! And I have devised a plan with my super team of interns (Niels, Dave, Adrian and Louise – you are absolute legends!) to get this blog back on track with regular posts. We’ve been slacking off and that’s not good for anyone.

There’s so much more I’d like to tell you but I’ll have to keep it for my friendly newsletter. Have you signed up yet? Click the ‘Be A Friend’ button at the bottom right in the sidebar and I’ll tell you some more stuff about myself and The Story Department behind-the-scenes.

Today I’d like to be opinionated again as it’s been a while – and some of you love it when I am.

The Australian film school is running a course for script assessors and a few people have asked me:

If I could find the money, would this course be worthwhile? Is there enough work out there to do this, or would it be helpful for my own writing?

The short answers: NO there is not enough work out there for assessors and YES it could be helpful for your own writing.

What follows is somewhat biased (I am after all the only serious script assessor in town) and some people may direct the same concerns towards certain other screenwriting courses and workshops.

1. What do you want to get out of it?

If you want to learn a methodical approach to reading and critiquing scripts, this may well be a good start. If you want to understand how they assess your script, this is your opportunity. But if you want to learn how to give others professional feedback, it may take more than a 12-hour course. The teachers are acclaimed writers and if you don’t believe writers are necessarily good assessors, at least this is an opportunity to get to know their process.

(If you had already decided to take this course, do not read on.)

2. This course won’t give you the experience

The best script editors and assessors didn’t wake up one day and decided to review scripts. I had been in the industry for twenty years, both as an acquisitions exec and later as a producer, before I started offering this service. To become a reliable reader, an understanding of the industry is essential and you’ll need to read dozens, if not hundreds of scripts. A course can’t do this for you. Readings scripts, as you know, you can do for free at home.

3. This is for producers more than anyone else

Producers need to be able to read and understand scripts. But what will this course offer that they haven’t already learned from McKee (or me). Plus, they’ll still need to hire an assessor for an independent appraisal on their own projects. Writers may be able to learn the development lingo in this course but they, too, will always need a second pair of eyes to review their work objectively.

4. There is no need for more assessors, seriously

If you are hoping this course could get you some extra income, forget it. The streets of Sydney are paved with script editors. I am under the impression that many highly experienced assessors are scrambling for work. Those with money to spend, i.e. bigger prodcos and government agencies, favor US based assessors over Australians – even when more sensible options are available locally – or keep going back to the people they’ve always worked with.

5. The Jack-of-all-trades in development

The standard script assessment wants to be everything for every script, covering concept, character, structure, dialogue, etc… you name it. Mostly the writer should focus on one thing only and 9 out of 10 this will be concept, then Hero (main character) and structure. By covering everything, writers get confused, or worse: they’ll just pick whichever aspect of the script they like working on, which is hardly ever what the script needs the most.

6. Script Notes should be phased out

Our industry has been very much focused on ‘Script Notes’. If this course is again focusing primarily on written assessments, I truly think it’s a wasted opportunity. After years of experience working with writers and producers, I have just stopped promoting my written assessments in favor of an interactive Script Review. Script Notes as we know them are usually no more than an expensive upgrade from standard Coverage.

7. Are they just taking your money?

The course is advertised for $950 and runs over five sessions for a total of … 12 hours. It costs more than McKee! Unlike corporations, the average writer or producer doesn’t have stacks of cash in the learning department. And remember, this course is really only the start of your learning. If you want to educate yourself in assessing screenplays, it will be an ongoing process. And how much difference will this course ultimately make?

All that said, I’m about to announce my own course calendar for 2011. When I do this, can you please forget all the concerns I have raised above? Thank you.

So, to close, if you had $950 for your screenwriting education right now, how would you spend it? Share it with us in the comments!

– Karel Segers

Karel Segers is a producer and script consultant who started in movies as a rights buyer for Europe’s largest pay TV group Canal+. Back then it was handy to speak 5 languages. Less so today in Australia.

Karel teaches, consults and lectures on screenwriting and the principles of storytelling to his 5-year old son Baxter and anyone who listens.

He is also the boss of this blog.

3 thoughts on “(Not) Wanted: Script Assessors”

  1. Totally agreed!

    The amount of money they are asking for 12 hours is insane! The best way to learn how to both asses better and to write better scripts is to simply read, read, read and read scripts, as much as you possibly can. You will hear that in any film school and from all the great script gurus. And you don’t have to pay any money to do that.

    I think most of the potential students for that course would be better served by using that money to support themselves while doing an unpaid internship at a production company. They will be handed piles of scripts to read daily, and will learn pretty quickly the difference between stories worth developing and stories that belong in the circular file. It’s probably what all the gurus and screenwriters they admire most did with the early part of their careers. And the odds are pretty good they didn’t take a single course to learn how to do it first.

  2. Karel, I agree that a course like this would be best suited to a producer but then you would assume a producer would know how to assess the potential of a script and what it would take to realise the script. A student of film should stay away from courses like this, not just because of the cost, but they should have a sound grounding in the ‘industry’ of film making. Cheers


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