An Epic Rundown of the LSF365 Live Script Edit Pile

LSF365 Live Script Edit 2020

So, it was the B2W LSF365 Live Script Edit last night! I have been doing the Live Script Edit for the festival for years now. I’m never failed to be impressed by the plucky writers who offer up their pages for dissection in this session! Seriously, let’s all be upstanding for them … Round of applause!

LSF365 is the first time I did the session virtually. This year, I got 52 submissions. This is not the most I’ve ever received for this session, but it’s definitely up there. This gave me a crazy idea …

‘What if I could discuss ALL the submissions this year??’

With this in mind then, I decided to do a ‘first sift’ of every submission to LSF365’s Live Script Edit. I actually attempted to deliver my thoughts on every single submission last night and also delivered short, written feedback to everyone who submitted and/or watched the session. To catch up with my LSF265 session, CLICK HERE or check out the app. (You need to be a delegate, but there’s still time … It’s all year round!).

The First Sift

Most writers know they have just ten pages to grab a script reader’s attention to get a full read. The reality is far scarier … You probably have just ONE page!

That’s right … There’s so many submissions out there, readers frequently do a ‘first sift’ of the submissions. This means they check out the first page, THEN  the first 10 pages. Only after that do readers, interns and assistants (and beyond!) read the whole thing.

Unfortunately I wasn’t able to read all 52 submissions in their entirety, but but I did read every page one at least twice, with some advancing to the first 10 pages.

From there, I grouped the issues I identified in this first sift under four main headings …

  1. Format/ Miscellaneous issues
  2. Visuals and Teasers
  3. Starts with ‘The Familiar’
  4. Dialogue

My reasoning for the above, next.

Why I Chose These Categories for LSF365

I chose these headings as I felt they are the most relevant to the ‘first sift’ approach I took in assessing the screenplays in the LSF365 pile. Here’s more details …

i) Format

As we all know, format is ‘the least’ any writer can do, but it’s also the element of screenwriting new readers focus on the most. This is why B2W always recommends ‘reader-proofing’ scripts of any obvious ‘pet peeves’. After all, 9/10 it cleans up the page and avoids any pain-in-the-ass pendants out there!

ii) Visuals & Teasers

Screenwriting is a visual medium, so we need to invest in our scene description. This year visuals were at an all-time high, but there was quite a lot of ‘misfiring’ scene description that made me go ‘eh?’ Teasers are great for setting the tone, genre and storyworld too, but they frequently ‘misfire’ as well. With this in mind, I grouped them together.

iii) Starts With ‘The Familiar’

Lots of writers don’t believe that lots of samey, familiar things crop up again and again in the spec pile. I thought I would take this opportunity to illustrate how they DO … and why it’s always a great idea to avoid writing familiar stuff in the first ten pages.

iv) Dialogue

Most screenwriters love to write dialogue, but can have blind spots on the issues dialogue can create for their writing. I decided to pick out the scripts that had familiar problems like dialogue taking over, or characters saying what they mean ‘too much’.

Finally, on to my feedback for real … Ready? Let’s go!

The Write Stuff

The LSF365 pile was one of the most diverse in the history of B2W’s involvement with the Live Script Edit … in more ways than one! There were lots of characters of colour, plus stories of all types. These included short films, features and television, plus also nearly every kind of genre as well as drama. There was high concept and character-led stories too.

Here are the scripts that grabbed my attention as I was reading, plus I found myself thinking about afterwards too. Congratulations to those LSFers who made this list, which makes up the top 30% of the submissions.

Commiserations to those whose work didn’t … Don’t be despondent if yours doesn’t make this particular list. Never forget that a reader’s personal response/preferences always has to play its part too.

In no particular order then …

  1. Hen Party Massacre by Sam Kurd
  2.  Reasonable Time by Wyatt Lamoureux
  3. Invisible Crime by David Laurie
  4. Blue Notes by Linda M James
  5. The Golden Voice by Daniel Ramirez
  6. Drones & Clones by Rachael Howard
  7. How Heather Survived The Apocalypse by Amanda Graham
  8. Downing by Bobby Stevenson
  9. Diamond Alice by Emily Isaacs
  10. Vital Signs by Richard Osborne
  11. The Republic of Dave by Vladimir Bern and Michael van Koetsveld
  12. Small by Alex Davies and Arlene Leigh
  13. M&M by Jean-Luc Julien
  14. Little White Lies by Ian Masters & Jon Smith
  15. Influencer by Marzio Valdambrini
  16. The Dragon Whisperer by Mel Evans

Now, onto an overview of the rest of the LSF365 Live Script Edit pile.

1) Miscellaneous Format Issues

For a mammoth rundown of the format issues B2W sees regularly, plus what to do about them, CLICK HERE

Script reading is an entry-level job, which means students on work experience are reading our work. Very often these students don’t really understand writing craft all that well, so they may hyper focus on stuff like format or things that are obvious and jump out at them.

Don’t forget either that what’s acceptable for script format may change according to where you’re sending it … for example, US readers have told me they prefer bold, but UK readers have told me they absolutely hate it! 

So, here is a list of the random pet peeves that writers may fall foul of with script readers, which is why it’s always worth ‘sweating the small stuff’ and reader-proofing your screenplay for these tiny things.

Missing Title Pages

So, so, so many missing title pages! Too many were not filled in, or gone altogether. They never count towards the page count, so always include one.

Missing Names

Lots of writers did not include their names on their title pages and one entry had not named their file. Always include your name unless you’re expressly told not to. Plus ALWAYS name your files … I had to do some detective work to find out whose script it was. I would not have done this if I was an intern or agent’s or producer’s assistant. Sobering.

Implied Narrator aka ‘we see’

Implied Narrator aka ‘We see’ (and variations of it) cropped up a LOT in this LSF365 pile. As I’ve always said here on B2W, I don’t care one jot about implied narrator, but a lot of (often new) script readers do. I don’t think it’s worth including on this basis, especially as it is redundant.

Slugline (aka Scene Header) Issues

Lots and lots of underlined and bold sluglines in the LSF365 pile. I have heard US readers profess to *like* this now, but never heard a UK reader advocate for it. Personally, I’d bow to Doctor Format himself, David Trottier and ‘reader-proof’ by taking these things out.

Use of Bold and CAPS Generally

Lots of the submissions had bold all over the place, which made my eyes go funny. Some characters’ names were capped up all the way through some entries – you only need this the first time we meet them.

Scene Numbers

Quite a few of the LSF365 submissions had scene numbers. These are for shooting scripts, not specs.

Credits and Montages

Some entries referenced credits – you don’t need these. It’s rare for a screenplay’s story to warrant a montage ‘upfront’ too.

Parentheticals

There were less parentheticals as standard than in previous years, but there did seem to be a ‘lot’. Try and avoid them for actions in specs and for only the most ambiguous of dialogue.

Copyright Symbols

For the first time, there was only one entry with a copyright symbol. Some readers call the copyright symbol ‘the nutter detector’, so avoid putting it on your scripts!

Demo Software Issues

Some entries were watermarked as being written on the demo version of various software. If money an issue, try a freeware like John August’s Highland screenwriting software.

Notes to Reader

Always, always avoid these. I literally can’t remember a single time I’ve seen one that was justified.

2) Visuals And Teasers

Great scripts need to start scenes with an image. They need to avoid chains of dialogue; or they may make too much reference to stuff we can’t really see. Scene description needs to avoid interrupting the ‘flow’ of the read, too. Great scene description …

  • … Reveals character
  • … Pushes the story forward
  • … Showcases your writer’s voice

This was one of the most visual piles in B2W memory, which was great to see. Seems like LSFers and Bangers are really running with this now!

However, lots of the LSF365 submissions had very dense scene description. Rather than being illuminating, this often had the opposite effect … I didn’t know what the important bits of the story were!  Sometimes a single obscure word or phrase confused me and took me out of the story.

As frequently happens though, I couldn’t always tell what certain beginnings or teasers were setting up. This might be because the teaser didn’t really ‘tease’. Sometimes, it was because it moved from one image or character to another without a ‘link’ I could perceive. There seemed to be ‘a lot’ of LSF365 submissions where their opening imagery didn’t seem to ‘match’ their titles, or didn’t ‘feel’ like their genres in the first instance.

Finally, sometimes the visuals felt very familiar (next section). For more on great scene description, CLICK HERE.

3) Starts with the ‘Familiar’

These are the scripts that begin with visuals, images, moments etc that feel very familiar, sometimes even clichéd. These familiar elements may have been recycled from produced content, or they may be things turn up waaaaay too much in the spec pile. Sometimes it’s both!

The great news is, the internet exists … So writers can research not only what audiences find stale and cheesy easily, they can find out what script readers are sick of too! For examples, CLICK HERE.

With reference particularly to the LSF365 spec pile then, here are the images and moments that cropped up again and again:

Breakfast / Getting Ready / Walking to Work

So, the good news is there wasn’t an alarm clock to be seen in the LSF365 pile. However, there were LOTS of breakfast scenes as characters got ready for the day or went to work. Avoid!

Photographs, radio bulletins and news exposition

Photographs and radio bulletins are ‘oldys but goodys’ in setting the scene – just be careful of overdoing it. There were some good examples of this in the LSF365 pile and some really imaginative updates.

Sky/ weather / cityscape (esp buildings)

These are ‘evergreen’ in that they never go away, it seems! They also appear in every type of story, genre or medium. Veteran author Elmore Leonard said ‘Never start with the weather’. B2W agrees and says, NEVER START WITH THE SKY EITHER!

Cityscapes are often dull, but can work. I did see one cityscape in the LSF365 pile that was justified – The Dragon Whisperer by Mel Evans – because it was setting up a fantasy land. Otherwise, the official B2W advice is, don’t bother.

Characters looking in mirrors

It felt like there were quite a few of these. Characters looking in mirrors is a very common introduction for female characters, too. Extra points if she’s crying and in a bathroom as well! I wrote THIS ARTICLE a whopping nine years ago to say female characters looking in mirrors feels old-hat. With this in mind then, I’d recommend taking mirror intros out in 2020!

“Running Woman, Running late”

Female characters seem to be introduced while they are running late A LOT and very often they’re literally running, too! I noticed this trend starting around 2017-18 and this reared its head here, too. There is a certain authenticity to female characters not having enough time, sure … But the question is always, do we want to write the same character intros as everyone else? For more on how NOT to write female characters, CLICK HERE.

Expositional Joes

Beware of characters whose sole function are to ‘break open’ other characters or ‘set up’ the situation they find themselves in. Parents on their deathbed; doctors and therapists; or teachers in the classroom are classic examples here. MORE HERE.

4) Dialogue

Dialogue was the best I’d seen it in the Live Script Edit pile, which is great. However, common issues reared their head such as various lines feeling like they’re in the ‘wrong place’ or it even ‘says too much’.

The most obvious is so-called ‘on the nose’ dialogue. This refers to those moments where characters say what they feel or mean very overtly, or a secondary character reveals too much about a main character’s inner most issues ‘upfront’.

There were some instances of repetition in some of the LSF265 entries. This refers to characters talking about stuff already said, or literally repeating what we’ve already seen just a page or two earlier. Always try and avoid this.

Lastly, some dialogue went ‘0-60mph’ in that things escalated too quickly, or characters were too static and were just having conversations. There’s ALWAYS ways to make it more visual (even with limited locations and a low budget).

Remember, ‘an ounce of behaviour is worth a pound of words’. Veteran uber-screenwriter David Mamet said ‘pretend your characters can’t speak’, as this forces you to find actions instead. For more tips on dialogue, CLICK HERE.

Don’t Forget To Grab Your Free Course

I am offering Bang2writers a free mini course called The Foundations of Writing Craft. Using video, worksheets and PDF guides, I walk you through what I call ‘The B2W Holy Trinity’ … Concept, Characters and Structure.

So, if you want proven methodologies for working on your writing craft, this course will provide the know-how and the resources you need.  To grab your free mini course from B2W then, CLICK HERE.

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