Take Your Screenplay All The Way -- Constructive Coverage From A Nicholl Fellow

I've gotten to know dozens of writers who've achieved success.  Major contest wins.  Options. Paid writing assignments.  One thing these writers have in common is this:

They’ve all revised their screenplays based on constructive feedback. 

The key word here is “constructive”.  The feedback you get from the industry is often harsh and unreasoned.  You hear things like, “It just doesn’t work.”  

That’s not helpful.   You need the kind of feedback that recognizes potential.  The kind of feedback that usually comes from other writers.

In 2004, I won a Nicholl Fellowship.  Since then I’ve worked with numerous Hollywood producers and executives, including the Oscar-winning producer of the film Crash.

I will tell you this:  Before I got quality feedback from experienced writers, I got nowhere.  After I sought out that feedback, everything changed.

Unfortunately, not everybody has access to writers who know what they’re doing.  Free coverage-swapping websites usually get you the random suggestions of anonymous newbies.  And most pay-for-coverage sites rely on undisclosed readers with unknown credentials.

I'm not anonymous.  I will personally read your script and thoroughly respond to it.  I won’t tick boxes on a formulaic coverage sheet.  I’ll offer my supportive and constructive ideas, to help you write what you set out to create – the kind of story that wins contests and gets you paid.  

Sincerely,

Doug Davidson
todoug@optonline.net


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Script Coverage Chronicles – July 2017: “Commuter Exposition” And Other Things Your Script Doesn’t Need

Writers often ask me how they can possibly manage to shorten their scripts when everything they’ve written seems absolutely necessary.  Having read thousands of screenplays, I can assure you, there are always elements in your script you don’t need.  I’ve offered some thoughts on this in the past.  Here are a few more:

DO YOU NEED ALL THAT EXPOSITION?

There have been many articles on how to handle exposition well, but not enough of them talk about determining whether a piece of exposition should be included in your script in the first place.  If you don’t need it, why are you working so hard to get it into your scenes?  More importantly, why are you letting it take up space?

One example of unneeded exposition is what I call “commuter exposition”.  This is one character telling another character how he or she got to the current location. 

“Yeah I took a flight out yesterday, then hopped on a bus.” 

I see this a lot actually. Sure, it’s natural enough.  People do often state how they got places.  They mention whether they hit traffic, etc.  But what story purpose does it serve? 

If you’re not sure you need a piece of exposition, ask yourself some questions.  Do you need it for the plot to make sense?  Does it reveal something relevant or moving about your character?  If not, is it funny enough to exist for humor alone? 

When it comes to commuter exposition, the answer to these questions is almost always no. 

DO YOU NEED THAT PAGE-LONG MONTAGE?

Montages often work in movies.  They convey the passage of time.  They typically include engaging music.  And on screen, they tend to move quickly enough. 

As a reader, however, when I see a long montage, I die a little inside.  On the page, montages are usually long and painful.

So am I saying you should take out all your montages? 

No. 

I’m saying that they don’t need to be so detailed on the page.  If you’re trying to shorten your page count, shortening a montage is a great way to do it, and it will improve the overall pace at the same time.  You don’t need to include every visual detail in your montage.  Just indicate it’s a montage and convey the basic idea of what’s going on. 

You can be a bit vague.  It’s okay.  I never heard anyone pan a script due to a vague montage.

DO YOU NEED ALL THAT STUFF AT THE END?

When I was a young attorney, a senior litigator said to me, once you’ve made your point in a memo, stop writing. Don’t summarize everything you just said.  Don’t point to future issues.  Just end the memo.

The same thing is largely true for screenplays.  Once the big moment has happened, it’s pretty much time to end the script.  Yeah, you want a moment or two showing your leads in their new reality.  But once you’ve wrapped up the plot and major subplots, the screenplay should be over.  Don’t show where every character is headed.  Don’t spend several pages hinting at a sequel.  Just end the thing.  You’ve presented your climax.  You don’t want to be anti-climactic. 


Chopping out the three or four “extra endings” in a screenplay can really lean out the page count in one swoop and improve the overall structure of a script.