Thirteen Signs of a Promising Spec Script

I review scripts for a London-based production company. Fortunately, I only have to review one script at a time. Many script readers aren’t so lucky. They have five or six scripts to review almost on a daily basis. They are so pressed for time that they immediately eliminate scripts that are too long, too short or use the wrong font. You get the picture. If a reader discards your script, it’s done. If a reader actually reads your script but passes on it, there is little chance it will go on to the next step. If a reader recommends a script or thinks it’s worth consideration, you’ve jumped the first of many hurdles yet to come. 

As a screenwriter, there is nothing new to you in the above paragraph. What I want to do here is share what I look for in a spec script. 

Script readers are normal people just like you. They have lives, families and favorite sport teams. As a screenwriter myself, I used to think that script readers were my enemy. Now, as a script reader, I kiddingly tell myself that I have become the enemy. 

My advice to you: find a production company that will let you read scripts. You probably won’t get paid but this is not about money. It’s about understanding the craft of screenwriting. Reading scripts entails analyzing the plot, writing a logline and the story concept. Also, you might have to estimate the budget, figure out who the audience is for this story and share your personal comments on the script – which is the fun part. You can’t buy this kind of knowledge and that’s your payment.  You will probably be asked to send a sample of your own work. If the company takes you on, you can feel good about being “credentialed.” You have been validated! And remember: the more scripts you read the better you become at separating the wheat from the chaff. Your own writing will become stronger. 

So, what does a script reader look for in a spec script? Here it is:

1. The script is between 90 and 110 pages.

2. The front cover is free of WGA registration numbers.

3. The first page contains a lot of white space.

4. The reader knows who the protagonist is by page 5.

5. The premise is clearly stated by page 10.

6. Something interesting/entertaining happens in the first 5 pages.

7. The first 10 pages contain plenty of action.

8. The reader knows what’s going on.

9. The dialog is short and to the point.

10. The script doesn’t begin with a flashback.

11. No camera directions, shot descriptions or editing instructions.

12. The only font to use is courier – no exceptions.

13. The protagonist appears in at least 90% of the scenes.

The above represents some of the things a reader looks for when reviewing your script. Reviewing is not reading. I can review your script but not necessarily read it. I can review a script, look for the above 13 signs and then decide to read or not to read.

As an added caution: remember who the protagonize is. I see too many new screenwriters fall in love with a secondary character and make him/her stronger than the protagonist. This love affair with a secondary character is the kiss of death for your screenplay. It doesn’t matter if you hit the mark on all 13 signs. 

A spec script is your calling card. It is who you are as a writer and could lead to paid writing assignments. 

That which you write is an illusion. That which occurs in the mind of the readers  is what they will remember.

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