Spring is here, and you know what that means – many a young screenwriter’s heart will soon turn to thoughts of contest success.
by The Single Screenwriter
Any moment now newbie writers will start crawling out of the muck, fresh pages in hand, convinced their script is the next big thing. Coverage readers and script analysts will be working overtime, and first round contest readers will be stocking up on coffee, cheesecake, Midol, barf bags, and tequila (and that’s just the men).
The harsh reality is that very few scripts actually have the chops to advance and become great Hollywood material. Some come close, but many – way too many – are better suited for birdcage liner duty.
So here, as a public service, I offer this handy dandy checklist. If your script falls into any of the below categories, please save yourself the mortification of harsh rejection that is sure to come, and save a reader’s sanity by not submitting to contests this year. (And please note that this does NOT mean that you should skip contests and immediately send it out to the open Hollywood market. It means that you should take another year or ten to develop your craft.)
So without further ado, how to tell if your screenplay sucks:
1 – It’s your first script.
I can hear the ‘but… but…’ echo around the world. You think you’re the exception. Everyone does. And there ARE exceptions to the rules, so to avoid confusion I’ve included them.
Exception to the rule: You’re the bastard child of Hollywood royalty (in which case it probably still sucks, but you can get it made.)
2 – Your mother reads it and likes it.
This is a clear sign to throw it out immediately.
Exception to the rule: Your mother is Angelina Jolie
Second exception to the rule: Your mother looks enough like Angelina Jolie to rope in a very rich sugar daddy who will produce your piece of crap.
3 – You wrote it in one sitting.
No, you are not a genius or a god. It sucks. Trust me. Put it in a desk drawer for a few weeks, then read it again. If you can get through it without puking, then it may be worth reworking.
Exception to the rule: Your one sitting lasted 16 days and you were channelling Charlie Kaufman (who isn’t dead, so if you pulled that off, get in touch please.)
4 – You have to explain your story to a reader.
No, this doesn’t mean that your script is too intelligent for them. It means that your vision isn’t clear. And if your vision isn’t clear, it sucks!
Exception to the rule: The reader in question was under anesthetic for a complicated medical procedure at the time of the supposed reading.
5 – You send it to a reputable reader, script consultant, agent, or producer, and they tell you it sucks (or they take out a restraining order against you).
No, the world isn’t against you, and these people do have a pretty good idea of what they’re talking about. Contrary to popular belief, they don’t spend most of their time with their head up their ass, and their opinion, no matter how ugly to hear, is actually meant to help you. They aren’t blind to your genius. Your script sucks.
Exception to the rule: You previously dated said reader/consultant/agent/producer and the break-up was ugly enough to make the tabloids.
6 – Your script has more characters than the population of some small countries.
If you need a flow chart to keep track of them, your script sucks.
Exception to the rule: You actually own a small country, in which case you can do whatever the hell you want.
7 – You have no idea what proper industry format is, and have never actually read a script.
It needs to look like a duck and act like a duck to be a duck. If your script moos, it ain’t a script. It’s bad hamburger. And if you can’t tell the difference, it sucks.
Exception to the rule: You’re living in a mental institution and all they’ll give you to work with is a pack of crayons and a roll of industrial strength toilet paper.
8 – (This is the biggie.) It doesn’t get you laid.
There is no greater booty magnet than a great script. If people aren’t throwing their nasty parts into your face after reading your script, then chances are your pages are the script equivalent of the scrawny pock-marked loser guy with a wet spot on the front of his pants trying to pick up in a bar.
Exception to the rule: Most of the time the get-you-laid rule doesn’t apply if your reader happens to be a blood relative.
There you have it – A handy-dandy guide to gauge if your script is Hollywood worthy, or if it just plain sucks. And if your script doesn’t fall into any of the above, does that mean it’s destined for greatness?
Well, no. There’s also stuff like plot, pacing, number of sex scenes, and all sorts of other stuff that go into crafting a great script.
What it does mean is that readers will take you seriously and give your script a fair read rather than pass it around to all their friends for a good laugh. And trust me, you don’t want to be THAT script. And if you take care of all the other pesky important stuff that goes into a killer script, then your baby may just have a chance for survival against the Hollywood wolves.
And if you do find success, then if you’re cute send me your number congratulations!
Please, just remember, readers are people too, and inflicting them with bad material is cruel and inhumane, so use this checklist wisely.
Break a leg!
-The Single Screenwriter
I am a phenomenal screenwriter and self-appointed guru on all things.
I am here to spread wisdom to anyone stupid enough to listen to me.
Jamie Campbell is an author, screenwriter, and television addict.
Jamie is proud to be an Editor for The Story Department.
Her latest series Project Integrate is out now.