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Blame It On The Reader?

The Stackmeister often says it best and this is how the system works when you send your baby off:

– You send a script to exec/producer/prod co.
– It’s received and logged.
– A reader gives it a once-over.
– The reader writes a script report.
– Exec/producer reads the report.
– A rejection is sent in the post, with thanks.

[From “Gimmick Submissions“]

It might to be a trifle depressing, but it’s a fact: you’ll get rejected far more than you will ever get accepted. What’s more, this will never change. Even Tony Jordan, Quentin Tarantino, *insert big name screenwriter here* gets rejected. No one gets the automatic green light, barring those lucky people who have SO MUCH of their own money they can afford to write a script on the back of a thoroughbred pony and make it whilst stirring their coffee with their silver spoon.

Lots of writers have trouble getting read. It can seem like an impossible hill to climb and it’s very easy to focus on this notion:

“I need an agent to get read (at that place). I can’t get to that place without an agent… But agents won’t take me, so I can’t start my career”

I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard this personally from writers or seen it lamented on message boards, forums and the like. I always smile when I hear/see it too, because I know those writers are simply blaming their own misfortune on something that isn’t their fault. And maybe that’s a good idea – after all, if it’s not THEIR fault, it’s the reader’s and therefore it doesn’t matter how good the script is, they were doomed from the start. They are, in a sense, protecting themselves and their own feelings of self esteem/worth and no one can deny THAT’S a bad idea, especially in this business when rejection is so rife (take it all personally and you really ARE doomed).

But it’s not true. You CAN get read without an agent, sometimes even by places that insist “no unsolicited material”. Hell, you can get MADE without an agent. You can do whatever the hell you want, when you want, how you want, as I outline in this post, “I’ve Written A Script. Now What?”.

There are no rules here. Some of the most successful writers I know don’t have an agent; some of the least successful I know (in terms of monetary gain, I might add), DO. Writers seem to be twigging this more and more, perhaps because of the blogs, Twitter, Facebook, etc, so instead you might hear:

“Readers only want to please their bosses, that’s why I can’t get ahead.”

Really? How likely is that I wonder… I read for various “bosses” at funding initiatives at the moment and guess what: I’ve only actually met one of them in “real life”. ONE. Out of four. In my entire reading life, I’ve spent hundreds (if not thousands) of hours on reports and reading said scripts, yet I’ve perhaps spent five or six hours TOTAL in the company of the various people I’ve read for, barring the first literary agent I ever worked for. REALLY. Most script readers are freelancers – or people that work in the office that have other jobs as well as reading the scripts (often making the coffee, taking minutes, etc – again, they’ll spend very little time with the Boss).

So, what’s more likely: that the reader judges the script right there on the page in front of them, or skims it and writes something they *think* their boss *might* want to hear (despite having spent very little time with them, if at all)?

Gotta be the former, surely.

Readers spend perhaps two hours with your script. Sometimes, you WILL get your report and think the Reader is mental – God knows I’ve had enough of those myself – but guess what: your work will not appeal to everyone in the known universe, no matter how good it is, the same way it wouldn’t if it was ACTUALLY MADE. There are loads of films and TV in the world viewers hate, yet we can conveniently forget this when we get a script back with a rejection letter and/or negative feedback.

But in this biz, if you consistently can’t get read, it’s not wise to blame it on the Reader. If you get script after script back, unread, just a “with compliments” slip with it, you’re doing *something* that doesn’t work. Readers WANT to find good stories, they want to be hooked by good characters, they want to be engaged by your arena, entertained by your sparkling dialogue. If you can’t do that – at all, anywhere – then you need to ask yourself WHY. What are you doing in your storytelling that is “out of step” with expectation? Because there ARE certain expectations of how stories work, even if there are no “rules”. It’s definitely worth thinking about.

What’s NOT worth thinking about however: sometimes other WRITERS won’t be charitable and say things like: “S/he’s had nothing made, s/he must be crap”, “s/he keeps getting rejected from [this initiative/company/whatever], s/he must be crap” or EVEN, “s/he hasn’t had anything made that’s done well/is any good, s/he must be crap.” This is utter, utter dross. Don’t even worry about these people. Chances are they are just jealous, cynical wretches who feel frustrated about their own chances and are making themselves feel better by running down other people.

What’s important is the story and how you tell it. Tell it well and people WILL get on board with you, even if that means the script you love ends up in a drawer and you end up on working on other stuff. Tell it badly and all the wailing and gnashing of teeth makes no difference; your script still ends up in the drawer. Might seem like the same outcome, but there is no “other stuff” to work on. Nuff sed.

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2 thoughts on “Blame It On The Reader?”

  1. I whole heartedly agree. I don't know how this weird notion of readers not wanting to find a good script came about. My heart soars just a little bit when I find a good one, or read something new, or just discover a new technique of doing something in a script.

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