Script readers are gatekeepers who read and evaluate screenplays.
As a screenwriter, you want to understand what script readers do because their evaluation of your screenplay will determine (in large measure) whether it gets thrown away or considered by decision-makers.
Script Readers – Overview
At MGM, I supervised eight full-time union script readers.
Their job was read the 4000 script submissions we received each year.
The script reader’s recommendation is typically: Pass, Consider, or Recommend.
Typically, if your script gets Consider or Recommend coverage, an executive will read it.
If script readers don’t like your script and give it a Pass, it’s unlikely that it will be read at all.
One Of The Top Freelance Script Readers
Julie Gray is a story consultant and an elite script reader. Gray runs the website Stories Without Borders, blogs at the Huffington Post, runs the Tel Aviv Writer’s Salon, and published a book: Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas.
Stephanie: How do you define script “reader?”
Julie: Script readers are generally freelancers who work for various production companies and agencies and their job is to vet and analyze movie scripts that come in, sorting the PASS scripts from the CONSIDER scripts. It’s a really great job if you are a writer; you can learn quite a bit about how to write a screenplay by analyzing screenplays every day!
Stephanie: Why do writers need to get their screenplays read by professionals?
Julie: Professional reads for a writer are really important because you need the objective feedback of someone who has already analyzed thousands of scripts. It’s one thing to get friends or other writers to give you feedback but in an industry as brutally competitive as Hollywood, you want someone who can view your script through the same lens it will be viewed when you submit. A pro script reader or consultant not only has the same standards as a production company, for example, but the ability to articulate and show you how and where you can improve the script.
Stephanie: How did you “break in?” How did you become a reader?
Julie: To become a script reader, it helps to take a reader course from someone. I teach one and I know others do as well. Then you need some samples of your coverage which are your resume, so to speak. In my class, you come away with three samples. Then you need to cold call various production companies and ask if they need a reader and even offer to read for free for a short while in order to build up more samples and a reading resume. Choose production companies that have made movies that you really liked, that way you’ll enjoy the job more.
Stephanie: What makes your book different from other screenwriting books?
Julie: Just Effing Entertain Me: A Screenwriter’s Atlas is a complete book about screenwriting and it’s written in a very entertaining, fun way. Many books on screenwriting can be these deadly serious tomes (you could knock somebody out with McKee’s book, god bless him) and focus on one area or another, whereas my book contains everything from tons of how-to information about every element of screenwriting to information about the way Hollywood works, to how to write a logline, a query letter, and what silly mistakes to avoid. And it contains a good deal of encouragement leavened with reality and some laughs.
Stephanie: How long do you think it should take to write a script?
Julie: I think less than 3 or 4 months is too short, but over a year is too long. I look at it this way – writers should have several projects in various stages going on all the time. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. You should be developing ideas, outlining a project, and working on pages of another at all times. Again, it’s a very competitive industry and other writers are doing exactly that – multi-tasking and constantly coming up with ideas. It serves two purposes to be constantly working on a few projects at various stages of development; it makes you as hungry and competitive as other writers and it builds your body of work more quickly, which is impressive and quite desirable to agents and managers. One script is not enough. A couple of ideas are not enough. One competition win is not enough. Always be writing.
Stephanie: How might a writer go about finding a writing partner?
Julie: Writing partners can be a real blessing – but it’s not for everybody. I talk about this in my book. I had a terrific writing partner for some time and we optioned a script at FOX. But over time, we had different needs and working together became frustrating. Make sure if you do get a writing partner, that they are a writer who is equally as skilled as you are, I can’t emphasize that enough – but who maybe has a skill set that is slightly different from your own. That way, combined, you are one super writer! You can find potential writing partners in writing groups or online writing forums but I would caution writers to take it slow and don’t get too invested right away. Work together a little bit first. See how you work together, don’t make any promises right away.
Stephanie: Why did you move to Israel, and how has it been to work “in the business” from outside Hollywood?
Julie: I moved to Tel Aviv in 2012 because I just loved the slower, (hotter!) Mediterranean lifestyle of the Middle East and I knew it would give me life experiences that I could not have had otherwise. I saw an opportunity, a window of time in which I could live abroad and I snatched it, lol! Plus I’ve gotten to know a lot of Israeli filmmakers and writers and have been exposed to the stories and art that comes out of this area. Several Israeli television shows have gone on to become hit shows in the US – Homeland is the best example. Tel Aviv a real hotbed of creativity, and it’s exciting to be a part of it. Living here, I also have more access to EU and UK writers; I teach at the London Screenwriter’s Festival each year, for example, and that exposes me to more writers and story as well. I love Los Angeles and lived there for ten years but I am enjoying a change of scenery and some creative fresh air. Also, I had done so much networking in the ten years I was in Hollywood, that by the time I came to Tel Aviv, I had well-established relationships and especially in today’s online world, it’s easy to stay in touch.
Stephanie: If you could only give one piece of advice to an up-and-coming screenwriter who hasn’t sold their first project yet, what would it be?
Julie: If I could only give one piece of advice to a new screenwriter, one who has not yet sold a script, it would be to have fun in the pursuit of this crazy screenwriting thing. There are no guarantees you’ll ever break in or get sold – and even if you do – there are no guarantees you’ll continue to sell. It’s all rather competitive, so the best way to approach it is with joy and enthusiasm! Making stuff up and writing stories is wildly fun, and there are many venues and avenues for your writing, whether it be Hollywood, or a book, or a blog. I really want writers to throw the net a bit wider and yes, pursue screenwriting if that’s your passion but not at the exclusion of expressing yourself through other forms of writing.
In terms of recognition, validation, and sheer statistics, screenwriting is probably the hardest format to write in. You can labor away for years and not come up with much, even if you are improving. But if you are doing other sorts of writing at the same time, you CAN get the validation and recognition all writers need and crave which might be enough to fuel your screenwriting pursuits as well. And sometimes writers are just really suited for a particular format of writing more than another. I’ve seen unwieldy scripts become great YA novels. I’ve seen so-so, not very marketable scripts become short e-books that are SELLING. So you know, be wide open. Writers write.
Stephanie: Tell me about your new website, Stories Without Borders.
Julie: I like to keep things fresh and I thought it was time for a new look and a new brand that better reflects what I do – work with screen and fiction/nonfiction writers. I worked exclusively with screenwriters for a number of years but over time, I’ve ghostwritten four books and took on a number of fiction clients, so Stories Without Borders is meant to be a site that welcomes all writers who are interested in putting the best story forth that they can. And have fun doing it. ☺
Editor’s Note: Getting a script reader job can be beneficial for aspiring writers as they are working their way up through the ranks. If you’re interested in getting a script reader job, here’s some advice from The Bitter Script Reader and Amanda Pendo of The Aspiring TV Writer & Screenwriter Blog.