This week, an important moment in my development as a writer. A moment I have been waiting for since I tapped out the opening slug line of my first script last year. It may prove to be a huge turning point in my career.
I’ve had my very first savaging.
Receiving professional script coverage reports on your work is an odd experience. What you’ve essentially done is taken off all your clothes, tied yourself to a lamppost, given someone a baseball bat and paid them two hundred quid to whack you as hard as they want for half an hour. Then, when they eventually tire, you smile, thank them for their work and hobble away.
Up to now I’ve swerved any real pummelling’s. I’ve had reports on four of my spec scripts; My family sitcom and my lockdown drama both received positive reports. In fact, my lockdown drama was described by two separate readers as a ‘comedy-drama’, which, after much thought, I decided was a good thing. I mean, I did insert some humour to lull the reader into a certain mindset before delivering a firm punch in the finale. (The best place to aim a punch).
My other two scripts, a ghost story feature and a quantum-entangled fisherman feature, received reports that detailed a number of structural issues, but advised there could be potential if I lop off certain parts and then did some Tetris with the remaining parts. Script readers have that wonderful gift of highlighting problems with your script that the back of your mind was aware of, but the front of your mind had casually waved away.
Remember when Superman used his laser eyes to weld the hull of a ship in Superman 3? Professional script readers have laser eyes too. But they use them to weld your script together. One wonders how much money they could make if they switched to ships hulls, but that’s their business.
So, there I was, floating along in my complacent world. Played four, won two, drawn two, lost none. Any new football manager would be happy with a start like that.
My fifth script is a ‘fish-out-of-water’ comedy. Rather than send this to a ‘person’, I sent it to a company who take your script and farm it out to one of their readers. Everything is anonymous, the reader has no knowledge of the writer and vice versa. Something quite pleasing about that.
With this arrangement, if the reader doesn’t like your script they can give it to you with both barrels. I guess if you are tied to the lamppost and you have a polite professional relationship with the person hitting you with the baseball bat, they may be inclined to hit you less hard. Or at least aim for the areas of your body with more fat tissue.
I received the report yesterday. The deconstruction of my script was brutal but exquisitely worded, like Niles Crane deconstructing last nights production of ‘Don Quixote’ over a double decaf, medium foam, non-fat latte at Café Nervosa. By the time I’d finished reading the report I didn’t know whether to cry or stand and applaud.
The good thing about being in my mid forties is that, of course, I have received stinging critiques many times before. At the end of my first ever Personal Training session in 2007, the woman I had just trained (who did not know I was newly qualified) turned to me and said ‘…um, no offence but is that the first session you’ve ever given?’. That comment drove me to new heights of self-improvement and I ended up having a successful 11 year career in the fitness industry, ended only by a desire to remain dry during my working day.
Decades ago, my first ever job was knocking on doors in a social housing estate and asking people for their weekly £3.43. I had no idea that I was working for a loan shark. I was just working for a nice guy called Tony who’d placed an ad in the South Wales Echo looking for a ‘Motivated individual with drive, hunger and experience in self-defence’. Anyway, I was so nervous and out of my depth that one old biddy on my first shift invited me in for a cup of tea to ‘calm your nerves’. Several people opened their door, looked this trembling teenager up and down, and promptly shut it again. But did I let these blows stop me? Did I quit? No! Because Tony let me go after three days.
After reading this latest script report yesterday, in the white heat of the initial half an hour when I was pacing around my flat shaking my fists at the walls and railing incoherently at my dog, I could have happily said ‘sod this for a game of soldiers’. Two months of slog putting together this script that I think is funny, warm and topical, and then I pay two hundred quid for some dude or dudette to get borderline ANGRY at my page count, my choice of side characters and my disastrous theme switching? Aw come on!
But of course, the 44 years of experience kicks in. The blows, rejections, knock-backs… You calm down. You understand that every single word of criticism in the report is bang on the money. The script is too long, the side characters don’t interact enough, your theme is all over the place. Just go back to the drawing board. You are lucky enough to have a day job that survived the pandemic so you could have another twenty scripts savaged and still afford to pay the rent. Imagine if writing was your full time job?? Imagine putting your heart and soul into a script and you NEED it to be good cos your savings are running out and you gotta get a gig soon or you won’t be able to pay the rent… and THEN having it savaged?
If that’s you… I take my hat off to you.
Anyway, if there is a ‘theme’ to this blog article, an underlying message, let it be this…
When you’re losing confidence in your writing, or doubting you’ll ever make it in this crazy old game… just keep taking off your clothes, tying yourself to a lamppost and paying someone two hundred quid to hit you with a baseball bat.
I’ve got a couple of script competition results due in the next fortnight, so tune in on May 14th for more tortured soul searching/complacent bragging (delete as appropriate).