Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Script Doctor At Large is in the House

In 2010 I had the pleasure of launching my novel with a group of debut authors known as the Class of 2k10, originally founded with Greg Fishbone and the Class of 2k7 which helped launch the careers of authors like Cassandra Clare, Rosemary Clement-Moore and, well, more. I'm please to say that the Class program is still going strong and the Class of 2013 is already out there getting known in the writing world.

The benefits of joining such a group in your debut year just keep on coming. From sharing our initial publishing experiences, to touring New York City during Book Expo America and physically meeting for the first time, to being supportive our of continuing career highs and lows - there's nothing quite like the Class.

Take, fellow classmate and middle grade fiction author, Rhonda Hayter - you gotta "love" her and not just for her Canadian roots - although she now lives in Los Angeles, Rhonda was born in St. Jean, Quebec. There's her quick wit, the way she can command a crowd of keen bloggers at a book launch, her bewitching way with words, as seen in her novel, The Witchy Worries of Abbie Adams, and now,  her no-nonsense bedside manner as The Script Doctor At Large.

She even graciously agreed to an interview. Here goes:

You worked as a story analyst for a major Hollywood production company and have read thousands of scripts…and you called that your day job….lol…JEALOUS! With all that experience under your belt, what’s the most common flaw you saw in the scripts you read?

Well, Larry Gordon, the producer I worked for, originally got famous with action movies like Die Hard and 48 Hours (although he also made Field of Dreams so he has lots of heart too.) And during my tenure, our biggest hits were the Tomb Raider and Hellboy movies so I read a LOT of tent-pole action scripts. And what I learned, to my extreme boredom and ever-increasing irritation, is that the worst possible thing a writer can do is stuff in a lot of empty action that’s all about the car crashes, or the CGI, or the stunts, without connecting it to the urgent objectives and emotional arc of the protagonist. Because directors and producers love their toys, sometimes the movie may even get made (though not if I have anything to do with it and never by Larry Gordon either.) But it will tank at the box office because audiences just won’t care. The same holds true with comedy. Jokes that aren’t tied into behavior and someone taking an action to achieve an objective will fall flat every time. Any of the great stuff that’s been out in recent years, like the Judd Apatow movies, get all the comedy out of behavior and characters in honest, painful, emotional need.

Great insights. I agree, a film, or series of films (STAR WARS PREQUELS) can have all the fireworks in the world and fall flat if the characters aren't ones we root for.

Personal script / plot pet peeve?

YES! I hate when people make romances between psychiatrists and their patients. I run across it all the time in scripts and it drives me nuts. I went to a screening of 50/50 last year, which I thought was a lovely, lovely film. But there was one horribly false note in it, which is that the young therapist, who’s so incredibly heartfelt and ethical and desperate to help this young man whose case is way over her head, someone who’s trying to do the right thing all the way through the movie…ends up in a romance with guy at the end. Will Reiser, the writer of the film, was there and he gave a talk in which he said that he’d been forced to make a few changes in the script to please the studio and I didn’t even have to ask whether that was the change that was foisted off on him or not. Bogus!

Good to know...and now I'm wishing I'd asked you about screenwriters and egos. Obviously a screenwriter has to be prepared to make certain compromises and to understand that there will be many hands massaging their script.

Can you explain the term “coverage”?

Basically, it’s the reader’s advice to the executives as to whether they should bother to read the script or not. So be nice to the readers, people! Don’t test their patience with typos and over-writing and borrowed plots. Speaking more specifically, coverage is a log line, a detailed synopsis, and generally a page of critique discussing what’s good and what’s bad. And then there’s a final button on it, which is ‘pass’ or ‘consider.’ (There’s a ‘recommend’ too but I think I only used that once or twice in my entire career.)  And I’ll tell you a little secret; if a producer trusts his reader, he’ll look at whether it’s pass or consider and if it’s a pass, nine times out of ten he won’t read more than the log line. But even if it’s a pass, if there’s something about the log line that intrigues him, he’ll bestir himself to read the coverage after that. So it pays to have a concept that can be boiled down into an interesting line or two.

Coming from the publishing world, then coverage is akin to interns or junior editors / agents going through the slush pile and moving manuscripts up the chain of command. Important to wow readers in both industries. Got it, thanks. ;)

Having written a ton of loglines, do you have a formula or method of composing those tough little suckers?

No, I really don’t, I’m sorry to say. It’s a case-by-case thing, in which you really have to get to the kernel of what the movie’s about.

I was really hoping for a different answer on that one. ;) The idea of generating a logline is deceptively simple - condense your plot into one brilliant line of text - yet they are difficult to master. But as we all know, hard writing makes easy reading.

Favourite script you got to read / work on?

I really think it had to be the first Hellboy. I loved it from the first second I read it… and then I read one hundred million incarnations of it as time went on, and I still loved it because it had all the action and CGI stuff and all that, but it was so funny and human and heartbreaking at the same time. He was a boy from Hell, nurture had overcome his nature, and he was looking for love!!! Come on!! And then to see it all come to life, with the great, great Ron Perlman, was really a thrill.

I'm kind of starstruck just thinking about this. I loved the first film - for it's steampunk elements, but also the great writing, the love triangle, the "ah craps", and yes, Perlman. 

You’re going freelance and offering your services. Yeah! Can you explain what a scriptdoctor can do for screenwriters?

I thought you’d never ask. First of all, we all need an outside eye on our work because when you’re face deep in the creative process, objectivity goes right out the window. And they’ll simply tell you what’s working and what isn’t in terms of character, plot, style, structure, and all the other elements and give you concrete suggestions on how to fix it. Someone who knows what they’re doing will be seeing your movie play out in front of their eyes as they’re reading and when the movie stops running the way it should, they’ll know the reason why.

Thanks so much for answering a newbie screenwriter's questions, Rhonda! I know patients will be lined up outside your virtual door. 

Got script? Need some professional eyes on it before you send it off into the world? Contact Rhonda via her WEBSITE.

Follow Rhonda on Facebook. Learn more about her fiction HERE.

1 comment:

  1. Really great interview, Tracy. Rhonda, I'll be picking up your books :-)


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