My friend Lena made a snide comment about script reading yesterday over coffee.
“Any monkey can be a script reader.”
So I slung poo at her.
But what I did do was to immediately step up into the role of defense attorney and proceed to destroy her case against script readers, with a slew of points and observations I’m now phrasing into a more easily digestible list, in the hopes that future generations of Lena’s could grow up in a world where the talents of script readers are not only so caustically slandered, but perhaps appreciated more than they are now.
A great script reader requires five elemental traits:
The Eyes and Ears of a Filmmaker
First and foremost, the great script reader must be highly adept in the language of cinema. And not only on the written page, but in all aspects of production, post-production, pre-production, and everything in between.
The screenwriter’s craft is just one pursuit in a curriculum of related pursuits that all add to the sum total of making a film.
Knowing the screenwriter’s craft is vital, but so is knowing the screenplay’s place within that continuum.
If a potential script reader doesn’t speak the language of physical cinema, and can’t understand how to translate text on the screenplay’s page into a workable, entertaining film, that script reader will never be a success.
The Mind of A Mechanic
Script readers must also possess a keen mind when it comes to the nuts and bolts of the text on the script’s page.
They have to be able to see the composite parts of that screenplay, from how the entire story flows from beginning to end, to how all those parts interlock to pull the story forward, to all the tiny component blocks within those parts such as how characters speak, how action is related, even how to properly format a parenthetical or dialogue margin.
Without being able to see how the parts interlock, and without being able to separate out those parts and examine them in detail, the script reader is just a “tourist with a typewriter,” to quote the Coen Brothers. (Total hacks, they!)
The Objectivity of a Scientist
When a blogger pops open his WordPress account and rants about the latest Michael Bay reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or his reboot of the television show Good Times starring Shannen Doherty (strictly rumored), he’s allowed to totally GO OFF.
As a blogger, as a movie reviewer, he has license to completely rip that film a new one. He can attack the writers, the director, the CG house; anything and everything is fair game, and it doesn’t matter how caustic he is.
But when a script reader reads a script, a good chunk of his credibility goes out the window as soon as that script reader deviates from being an objective analyst of that script, and leans more into being an angry, subjective movie reviewer.
Filmmaking is an art, but it’s also a science. Don’t believe me? Ask Industrial Light and Magic how they transformed cinema with their technological breakthroughs.
Or ask the head of any major studio why they’re putting more and more money into proven film franchises, instead of taking chances with new formulas and new filmmakers.
A script reader simply can’t be a movie blogger. She has to be a credible, thoughtful, objective observer and critic. And the more objectively she can frame her subjective viewpoint of the script she’s reading, the more credible her critique will be.
The Pen of An English Professor
And by “English” I mean whatever language you happen to be reading scripts in.
This trait consists of the ability to be able to phrase your thoughts on paper while being as free from errors of punctuation, grammar, spelling, and usage, as possible.
Nobody takes a script reader seriously when that script reader can’t spell. Or use a comma, correctly. (I jested right there.)
If you’re not a complete master of the language, you will not be a successful script reader. Or it’ll at least be a very difficult row to hoe.
Many keen minds are free of the restraints of proper grammar and spelling, but without the mastery of the written and spoken forms of language, you’re facing an uphill battle if you’re trying to be a credible script reader.
The Patience of A Monk
And finally, patience.
I used to throw scripts I didn’t like.
Just chuck ’em across the room.
“What the hell!?” I’d scream, hitting some idiotic story point by page 3, or finally becoming overwhelmed with the sheer stupidity or unoriginality of the screenwriter.
But not anymore.
Because I’ve reached a monklike state of zen, for lack of a better phrase.
Once you can see that the spec script universe consists mostly of terrible, terrible screenplays, you attain a sort of peaceful tranquility. Oddly enough.
Acceptance that 95% of the scripts out there are total, irredeemable dog poopoo may seem like a defeat, especially for those of us who want to see cinema restored as a credible art form, but this acceptance is far more of a victory.
Because it gives the script reader an incomparable sense of inner peace.
And that inner peace only leads to higher understanding. That is, by chilling out about how much most scripts suck, it frees you up to be more of a script expert, and come off less like a ranting, angry Howard Beale type.
Put down your anger, pick up your thinking cap. That’s the best way to be a successful script reader.