(Or Why Perhaps You Should Not Pay For Assessments)
You paid good money for a script assessment. You read it, and frustration creeps up on you. The report is well written, it praises your originality (yay!), your use of the English language (hmmm) and your research.
Then there is all this advice on how to ‘make it more dramatic’, change the structure, or rewrite a dozen or more scenes … but none of it feels right.
The assessor clearly didn’t get your story. Sound familiar?
Well, I hate to break it, but you have just wasted your money. Depending on who wrote the assessment, you may have lost anywhere between $300 and $1,000. (Some Americans charge even more – and they’re rarely better). Who is to blame?
No-one is. Of course, some so-called script assessors hide their incompetence behind big words. It sounds as if they are using their own idiosyncratic jargon, yet it is all facade.
I have read 20-page assessments that seem to have been copied and pasted from a screenwriting book and their bottom-line advice would lead the writer to years of aimless rewrites. If you could question these reports, the truth would come out. Sadly you can’t, because all you have is a piece of paper.
Often, however, assessors are not to blame. There are brilliant analysts out there.
My beef is not about the assessors but about any type of written report.
I confess: I have been writing script notes for many years, first as a producer, then a consultant and teacher. At some point, I started feeling bad because invariably the writers would be disappointed – or disappear into oblivion. I believed that it was my fault and my assessments sucked. (Perhaps those early ones did. Get in touch and I’ll refund your $75.)
Then I realised what the hell was truly going wrong.
The terminology used in assessing a screen story is often quite abstruse; many inexperienced writers find it hugely confusing. On the other hand, if you are like most human beings, to protect yourself from intense hurt, you might just read what you want to read…
Unless you are familiar with the development process, you know your strengths and weaknesses, and you fully understand your assessor’s lingo, a written report is your worst option. You may be even better off with no feedback at all because written assessments can simply kill your confidence and your motivation to write. So what is the alternative?
Most writers need a one-on-one conversation, via Skype or in person. Early drafts rarely manage to express exactly what the writer means. This results in entire reports based on flawed perspectives. In a conversation this would never happen. The writer establishes early on what the story intentions are, and the discussion moves from there. This is so much more efficient – and economical.
To help you avoid throwing away your money and to give you an opportunity to familiarise yourself with professional script development strategies without getting hurt, Metro Screen organises the Script Sessions. This is a wonderful opportunity to get real expert advice at a fraction of the cost.
Here are five convincing reasons why you should sign up for the Script Sessions:
1. You are not alone
Reading a damning report, alone in your room, would push anyone to the bottle. During the Script Sessions, you share the pain with three other writers, and you’ll see that no script is perfect. More importantly, you may pick up on other issues from listening to the conversations about other scripts, or learn about problem-solving solutions that would work for you, too.
2. Focus on the priorities
Once key issues have been established, with your permission the analyst will go deeper into the areas that need your attention first, rather than waste time on what is not essential.
3. Everybody can ask questions
The script analyst will tell you how the story reads and what the issues may be. If certain aspects are unclear, the analyst can ask you questions before jumping to recommendations. You may ask about alternative options and together you can devise a strategy that is not only effective but that you feel comfortable with. No written report can ever achieve this.
4. Focus on solutions rather than a snapshot of problems
A written report assesses where the script is at this point (Producer’s script notes may be more prescriptive as to where future drafts should go). In a ‘live’ session with the analyst, you can float new ideas and get instant feedback on whether they solve the problems. You’re already working on the next draft rather than getting stuck in the old one.
5. Constructive and collaborative
The format of the Script Sessions creates a great energy. This is a development meeting in the real world! You will be discussing story ideas in a creative, constructive and safe environment, and you’ll see straight from people’s responses how certain ideas are welcomed.
Once you are familiar with the development process, once you know your strengths and weaknesses and you have had more personal professional feedback, written assessments can be hugely beneficial.
Until then, stop wasting your time and money. Try the Script Sessions.
The Script Sessions – Saturday 7 September 2013
Metro Screen Studios at Paddington Town Hall
Corner of Oxford Street and Oatley Road Paddington
Karel Segers – Story analyst and screenwriting teacher