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How to hire a screenwriter.

So you’ve written your screenplay. Maybe it’s your first screenplay. Perhaps it’s your ninth. But you’ve got this film script and now you need to know how good it is. Or not.

It’s time to face the music.

This can be a moment all screenwriters dread. Feedback on their screenplay. Film script notes. Or just a chat with a buddy who’s read your magnum screenplay opus. You want them to say your script is amazing. Of course you do. I did, when I was a new screenwriter. As a seasoned pro screenwriter, I still do. Like it or not, we all have an ego attachment to the things we create. Screenplays, script, art, performance, novel manuscripts, poems and lyrics all fall into the same category. Why? Because we put our heart and soul into our creations. We put ourselves into them. They are us.

But now, you need to know if your screenplay (your soul) is ready to totter out into the world on unsteady legs, and take it on the chin. So now you need to hire a script consultant. Probably a screenwriter like me who also covers screenplays professionally. So you hit Google and search.

Shazam! You are confronted by lists of screenwriters trying to persuade you that the are the bees knees. The mutt’s nuts. The real thing. And some of us are. Others are not. How do you tell? You ask for the script consultant’s resume/CV. It looks good. But is it real? Check out the script consultant’s testimonials. These should tell you if this person is real or not. If not, the references will seem fake. They won’t have come from reputable sources. They may be badly written. They’ll seem fake.

The good references will be just as obvious for opposite reasons. They will have been written by people in the film business who have good track records, and quality associations. You may even recognise the names. IMDb is a useful resource when researching people. But all this you know.

So you decide to hire a certain script consultant – ideally someone who’s covered and written a lot of screenplays for prestigious people and businesses. Hiring this script consultant should be easy.

You submit your script to them in confidence (they should be happy to sign an NDA if you are worried about plagiarism – though with a legit script consultant, confidence is taken as a given).

They shouldn’t ask you for money up-front for a script coverage. They will typically bill you after they have written the script report. That said, I bill clients abroad for money up front for script coverage now. I’ve had instances when someone overseas ignores the invoice or makes an excuse. They have likely taken umbrage at the script report. Been hurt. It’s common. It’s incredibly hard to take criticism without blinking. When I write script reports, they tend to be critical. After all, that's what you are when you cover screenplays: a critic. If you don’t find issues in a screenplay you haven’t really done your job as a script consultant. It’s tough on the writer sometimes, and some screenwriters manifest their umbrage by not paying. That’s happened to me twice only, however, in 20 years of script coverage.

The cost of a film or VOD/TV script coverage. Typically, you get what you pay for in life, and screenwriters and script consultants are no different. I know a lot of script consultants out there will charge as little as $50-$90 for a script report. I don’t know how they can do that and make a living.

Writing a script report usually takes me 4-6 hours. I'm fastidious. I read the script carefully, which can take a couple of hours if the script is on the long side. Then I write the script report. That usually takes a couple of hours. I’ve spent 3-4 hours on some of the longer script notes I’ve written – often around eight pages long. The script reports I write for film financiers tend to be shorter. That have set template. I feedback on the script’s story, structure, dialogue, originality, pace, and marketability. The marketability of a screenplay depends a lot on who is attached. Star attachments will of course make it easier to package and finance a screenplay. Stars are good for a return on investment. But only to a degree. Huge numbers of films with big stars involved have crashed and burnt. The screenplay is usually the problem.

And also: If you think that famous people are good judges of screenplays, I can tell you that they often aren’t. Script assessment is a highly specialised thing. It’s not what actors do. They do that amazing thing called acting, and frankly I’m in awe. Acting is tough. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So … hiring a screenwriter or script consultant is pretty easy. Choosing the right one can be tricky because there are so many script consultants, however. Google pages after Google pages of script gurus. Don’t just go for those that Google shows you first. They are listed high up on Google’s results pages because the people behind them have linked up their websites well and are probably using some kind of pay-per-click system or similar. I know I do. I’m also an SEO expert as a copywriter, so that helps.

Hiring a good script consultant and taking what they say about your screenplay positively – however much it pains you – is ultimately much harder than finding a good script consultant. Tips? Beware those who charge very little – they likely won’t tell you anything that helps you other than that you need to develop the script. Great, but how, right? That’s what you’re relying on them to tell you. Many script consultants won’t tell you how to fix script issues. Perhaps some don’t know. Perhaps they won't tell. Perhaps some don’t see solutions as part of their job description as a script consultant doing script coverage. I do. My script reports don’t just detail the screenplay’s issues; they suggest ways to fix them.

If you can afford to, commission two or three script reports. Script consultants covering script sometimes say different things. And that can be confusing, even disheartening, for screenwriters – even seasoned ones. So get a spread of opinions. Somewhere in the middle of them, or where they overlap in the opinions Venn diagram, is likely something that you can act on when you then develop the script.

The internet is both your ally and your enemy in all this. It will show you hundreds of experts (and 'experts') who purport to offer film and VOD/TV script coverage as a service. But the web will also blind you with choice. You can but use your smarts and take your chances. Screenwriting is a heuristic endeavour. You try and you fail. You try harder and maybe you succeed. Whatever you do …

Happy screenwriting.


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