Script Coverage Chronicles – April 2016: Screenwriting And The Importance Of Not Being Alone

Most screenwriters have heard tales of Ron Bass.  Bass, who wrote Rain Man and other well-known movies, was a huge screenwriting machine back in the nineties.  At one point he had an insanely lucrative deal with Sony and was purported to make as much as a million dollars per screenplay for up to seven scripts a year. 

But what may be most memorable about Bass for screenwriters is the way he worked.

He was known to hire multiple writer assistants to give him constant feedback and creative suggestions.  He would send out scenes for mini-coverage as he wrote them, ask questions and generally get whatever help he needed from these writers.  His impressive credits strongly suggest that this cycle of feedback worked extremely well.

Ron Bass – as talented and accomplished as anybody – understood something.  He understood that constant feedback makes the screenwriting process much more efficient and much more likely to succeed. 

While the idea of an ingenious writer sitting alone in a room tapping out a masterpiece sounds great, it’s not actually how most great movies get made.  Most great scripts are born of many revisions based on frequent constructive feedback.

Why is feedback so important?  Here are a few reasons: 

One is that you need to “show” a story on screen rather than “tell” it.  It’s much easier to write a clear essay or even a clear short story than it is to write a clear screenplay.  It’s often tricky to guess how much to show in order for an audience to understand what you’re trying to get across.  With a second set of eyes on your pages, you don’t need to guess what’s clear and what’s not.  You can find out right away.

Another reason is that comedy and drama are tricky subjective beasts.  It’s not always easy to predict how others will respond emotionally to a story.  And I’ve read work from many writers who, while absolutely capable of writing funny stuff, sometimes have trouble guessing which of their comedic bits are working the best.  Feedback cuts to the chase on these topics, helping you make quicker decisions earlier in the process, so you can finish your scripts much faster.

A third reason to seek feedback is that it’s like having a coach.  A coach is incredibly helpful in many arenas.  A coach can remind you of the fundamentals, help you keep your discipline and motivate you to stay on track. 

The big difference between a screenwriting consultant and a coach is:  Unlike, coaches, script consultants aren’t in charge.  They’re more like assistants.  The writer is always in charge. 

That’s why Ron Bass’s scripts didn’t end up feeling like scatter-brained committee affairs. He was at the helm making all the final decisions and maintaining a consistent vision.

Because a process of constant feedback provides so many benefits – and because a number of writers have asked me about it – I now offer a service beyond traditional coverage.  For an hourly rate, you can be Ron Bass with me as your virtual writer assistant.  I provide constant revolving feedback on whatever materials you send me: scenes, outlines, notes, etc.  I never take over the creative process; I only offer feedback and suggestions.  It’s up to you the writer to make all the final decisions.  So far it’s been a positive experience for all involved, and I look forward to working with more writers in the future. 

Please see my Services and Rates page for more information.