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SWF Scriptmarket: An Insider’s View

I was a reader for the Screenwriters’ Festival’s Scriptmarket initiative this year. It was open to all those who purchased a four day ticket and thirty places were up for grabs. I was very happy to read for the SWF and for Kenny (who delivered everything he said he would, & on time – thanks!) and the scripts I read had some interesting ideas and even some excellent elements, including arena, character and dialogue above others.

For the thirty lucky participants, they received a free 5 page script report from a reader like myself (I didn’t read all thirty!), plus they got to attend a Scriptmarket workshop on June 11th before the BAFTA launch; they will also be going to other meetings actually at the SWF in October. Not bad for an entry fee of £0!!

Here’s what one of the participant scribes (who wishes to stay anonymous) had to say about the process:

“The script I sent in was written in 5 days …. Yep, read that again – 5 days!!! So I didn’t think it would get anywhere in the comp, but hey-ho, it got chosen on its logline and synopsis … Oh shit! Therefore, my meeting about it followed the Orange Ad, ie “You’ve written this, when it should be this/ Err no, that wasn’t what the story was about, that wasn’t what moved me to tell it …..” You know how the scene goes …. I found myself having *that* conversation: “You have to write for a long running series to get a job as a screenwriter in this country and the likelihood of this single drama getting taken up is pretty small…” They mentioned BBC Scotland for it, which was who I wrote it for in the first place, lol. My score for the script was dreadful (each script was scored out of 50 – L), but hell, what do you expect for 5 days’ work? Once they knew about the 5 day thing the meeting was v. quickly concluded. I felt I was wasting their time and of course, I was.

So, my biggest piece of advice for the Scriptmarket is you must send in a script you have developed over a long period of time and got to a place where it will achieve a minimum of the 40+ score out of 50 in the reader’s report because the meetings you get at Scriptmarket are based solely on that report – they do not read the script. So the commandment for the Scriptmarket goeth like this – ‘if your reader’s report is shite, so will thy meeting be.’

However, in saying this those that got the big scores got pretty tough meetings too in the sense of reality checks – a reflection of how our industry is. The 3 scripts that are most developed with me at the mo I couldn’t send in: 2 didn’t fit the criteria and 1 is with a Producer who is considering optioning it and asked me not to send it in …. So it was the 5 day script or nowt.

However, one area where Scriptmarket succeeded for me was in the talks from the industry bods in the afternoon. Great stuff. Some of it was so brutally honest it was beautiful. Paul Ashton – BBC – told us that they get 2 kinds of scripts into the beeb – those from the writers they know and work with (have been produced), and those from aspiring / new writers (the unproduced masses) and they read them in 2 totally different ways. The first group gets a read in the sense of ‘will this work’, the 2nd group gets a minute, detailed craft read – can they even write? Bish up on anything in the 2nd group and the script is immediately filed under b for ‘bin’.

Ashton then went on to tell us about the first draft of Shameless from Paul Abbot – it was the worst script he had EVER read. All over the place, crap dialogue, no characterisation ….. BUT it was from Paul Abbot so they stuck with it, began to develop it. One of its saving graces was that Paul had done such a great job in pitching it to them (well before they got the script) that they hung onto that forever and ever ….. Paul’s pitch for Shameless was ‘The Waltons on acid’ …. Eventually they gave it up cos it wasn’t getting anywhere (after years of developing the script!) and C4 picked it up – changed it around – and bingo Shameless was born. Would we get anywhere near this process, even if our script is a corker ….??

One other MAJOR success of the Scriptmarket was the scoring system for the scripts. Bloody marvellous. You could see at a single stroke where the script was weak, what you needed to work on. As a writer I would LOVE all my feedback to be itemised this way, makes it so bloody easy!!”

Thanks for the honest account O Mysterious one! Bad luck on the meeting, but then I know only too well the sometime horrors of script meetings as I’ve mentioned before on this blog… Very enlightening stuff on the afternoon seshs, particularly interested to hear about Paul Ashton’s thoughts on that original Shameless script. If you were there too, let us know what you thought.
UPDATE: Thanks to another Scriptmarketer, who just emailed me this:

“I concur with ‘mysterious’. Fortunately my script got a great report and I have high hopes of the meetings they’re hoping to organise for me in Cheltenham.

Other points: on pitching, it was pointed out that in the UK this bears no resemblance to the Hollywood OTT pitch performances as parodied in ‘The Player’. We were told it’s much more like having a conversation – you get two sentences… “my script is about this character in this situation”, hopefully enticing the listener to ask a question, you feed them a bit more with another hook, get another question and so on. “You have to get very good at TALKING about your story – too many writers are too close to it and can’t verbalise the key elements clearly.” So – pitch it to anyone who’ll stand still. Bus queues if necessary. (No, no one is going to steal your idea.)

The other exercise I found very revealing was we had to pair up and pitch our film to our partner in two minutes, then swap, and then pitch THEIR script to the group. It soon became very apparent that no one can retain nitty gritty detail, you have to have very clear, broad strokes.

Also, the speaker from the distributors was very clear that you have to know your market or the film will never get made in the first place. Who is the audience? (NB cinema still mainly 15-25 year olds) How are they going to sell it? Does it have international appeal? Will it attract stars? Genre is King – where would it sit on the Blockbuster shelf?

Re sending in work which isn’t really up to scratch – be really careful about this. I met someone recently who’s judged lots of competitions and he said if you send in substandard work people will remember your name and it’s a small world out there.”

Fantastic stuff — especially the “no one is going to steal your idea”: I am so bored of that conversation – “I can’t tell you”, blah blah blah. Fair enough if you’re NDA’d because it’s in development and/or you’ve signed contracts or even if you’re superstitious and believe it’s “tempting fate” putting it on blogs etc (guilty of that myself), etc but if you REALLY THINK you have to keep it to yourself *just in case* of theft?? It’s just amateur IMHO, since it basically sends the signal you’re suspicious of others’ motives. What’s more, I have never heard a credible case of this happening, even after all these years of script reading. Really good advice too about telling your story in “broad strokes” so others retain it. Excellent.

Anyone else?

UPDATE: Here we go…

“I was also lucky enough to have a very good reader’s report, so when it came to my meeting there was zero chat about improving the script – it was all about getting it sold. Give it another quick pass and get it out there, was the message from my two interviewers. They both had very useful contacts that they were more than willing to offer up, we’ve stayed in touch and it looks like doors will be opened as a result of my participation.

A couple of observations: I was stunned at how few people put in for this. Just 45! Where was everyone? I know entry was restricted to four-day ticket holders – but there were 30 places up for grabs. That’s thirty writers ‘winning’ industry meetings tailor-made to progressing their work. Meanwhile, script calls from Red Planet and the BBC attract hundreds of entrants.

I also agree with the previous comments about submitting work that’s been through the wringer a few times. My script had been worked on for a good eighteen months, and I think the clue is in the title of this initiative: it’s about getting work market-ready. Be honest with yourself – if your script needs another twelve months graft you could well be wasting your time.”

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15 thoughts on “SWF Scriptmarket: An Insider’s View”

  1. jazad10:27 am
    I too attended the SWF workshop, and must admit I think it's a little misleading to have a "script meeting" with two people who haven't actually read your script. So I really can't say that their input was useful in helping me develop my screenplay (it scored in the low 30s). But on a more cheerful note, I just received word from the Page International Screenwriting Festival that the same draft has reached the next phase of the competition (in the top 25 percentile out of 4400 entries. )
    So it can't be that bad – that is, unless American readers are more forgiving than Brits. What do you think, Lucy?

  2. Welcome, Paul.

    Jazad – I think I'm with the last two Scriptmarketers on your point here re: the meeting itself; it's less about development, than actual marketing. And sometimes scripts do get marketed by people who "know" the script's story; that doesn't always mean reading the script, believe it or not.

    Great news about PAGE, well done. In answer to your Q re: readers, I don't think either Americans or Brits are tougher, I think it has more to do with the individual; I've had tough readers from both sides of the pond, personally. A couple of things I've noticed however is Americans seem to prize structure above all other, whereas the Brits seem to love Character the best. Just my limited experience tho.

  3. Thanks Lucy. Love your site by the way, as do others in my office, including our editor who has a fanboy crush on you, although he doesn't even know what you look like (sad, I know). I totally agree with you on the US v UK thing, although I hadn't really thought about it til now. The American script analyst I worked with kept drumming in structure, structure, structure, and many of the leading American script gurus, e.g. Hague, believe that people don't want to pay money to see characters unless they're doing something interesting. On the other hand, the British execs often advise writers that plot isn't important. In fact isn't that what Paul Ashton said at the SWF workshop?

  4. "Plot isn't important" — no way! I don't think Brits believe this. There are loads of great characters in the spec pile who are completely aimless; those that are differentiated from the rest then are great AND have a goal. I suspect however a great character in a lumpy plot is forgiven far more by the reader than a lifeless character in a solid plot?

    A fanboy crush tho!! I don't think I've ever been on the receiving end of one of those before… Tho someone once asked me for my autograph! That was strange, lol. I fear your editor may be disappointed, Jazad! Arf. He can test my theory out by looking at my Twitter page, there's a foto of me on there at the min…

  5. I agree about the whole silly fear of idea theft. The chances are so slim and your missing the bigger chance to find out if your idea is really any good. You might think it's the next Oscar winner but if 10 people you know immediately change the subject after your pitch then maybe you've got a turd…

    Anyway, what idea is there that hasn't been done yet?

    It's your skill as a story teller and writer which makes your ideas come to life. If someone stole an idea about a movie I had I don't care. I'm in no fear because they still have to write and tell the story and my skill as a writer is what makes my story (surrounding my idea) interesting and unique. That is something no one can steal.

  6. True that, DJ. As I'm sure Lucy could attest, it's amazing how so many writers can come up with similar ideas at the same time. A couple of years ago, a new screenwriter sent us a screenplay about a washed up wrestler, his family and his struggle to make it back to the top. In retrospect, it was eerily similar to Aronosky's "The Wrestler.' I'm sure the writer was unaware of the Hollywood script – he was just a big fan of pro wrestling. Of course, believing that no one in their right mind would want to see such a boring film, we passed.

  7. Defo on that lads — you wouldn't believe how many times I've read the "same" story by different writers. I get a lot of time travel/alien/dinosaur stories, plus I get loads of psychic detectives, lots of X Men type superheroes, lots of stories about kidnapped women, year on year. Some years there will be loads of similar stories for no seeming reason: got loads of medieval stories one year; another it was vigilantes; another I got loads about unsigned bands. Why? No idea. Interesting though… Must be something in the water!

  8. The world is full of development execs who claim they turned down a hit script because it was shite.

    So Paul Abbot turned in shite scripts for Clocking Off, or the years he spent on Corrie or State of Play?

    I think not.

  9. ED!!! You're back!!!! Good to see you. Yes, gotta admit I wondered how Shameless could be the "worst" script he'd ever read…

  10. Lucy, I have a hiatus between crapping myself which allows me to post. lol

    You know how some writers get accused of having a big ego? Well it can go for go for development execs doubly.

    Here's a guy who can't see that saying he had a script from a top writer for three years [calling it the worst script he had ever read]and couldn't do fuck all with it, but then someone at C4 looks at it and turns it into a hit series, doesn't make him out to be a bit of a divvy?

    I'm guessing that when Abbot gave his brave Bafta speech saying there were some people in TV he would never work with again, this guy was one of them.

    I can say that because I don't intend writing for TV again lol

  11. I know this has nothing to do with the last strand, but I just got word that my script has made it through the quarter finals of Page international screenwriting competition (top 10 percent of entries.) I don't want to sound like I'm bragging or nothing, but it only scored 32 at the SWF market report. Needless to say I quite psyched and have no one else to tell!

  12. ED – maybe! ; )

    Jazad – well done! BTW, "only" 32 out of 50 is pretty good, by the way… And also, it's down to the individual reader. One man's meat is another man's poison, unfortunately… Until we work out a way of getting computers to read scripts!

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