What should expect from a script consultant? Creative Screenwriting Magazine gets into the weeds with our friends at the International Screenwriters’ Association to help elevate your screenplay to a marketable level and strategize your career.
When your car needs repairs, you seek a mechanic to help you fix the issues that need to be addressed, right? Then why wouldn’t you seek out a professional for your writing issues?
Because you don’t have to, right? Wrong. The truth is, screenwriters – especially those starting out – need to seek out professional help for their film and TV scripts.
Here’s why. Hate to break it to you. Your script is just okay. You might think it’s awesome and that it purrs like a kitten, but chances are…it’s not. Because you’ve lived and breathed it for such a long time, you can’t see its dents and scratches. You can’t even detect that it might need an oil change or a complete transmission overhaul.
So how do you know when it’s ready to be sent out and which changes you should make in order for it to shine brightly and run smoothly?
You seek out a professional script consultant who can offer you precise and critical feedback on your screenplay and who can help develop your writing to its highest potential.
This is why places like the ISA (International Screenwriters’ Association) exist. To help scriptwriters write their stories in the most brilliant and beautiful way.
Creative Screenwriting Skyped in with ISA’s Director of Development Felicity Wren and Max Timm, ISA’s Director of Education and Outreach, for an in-depth conversation on the importance on receiving feedback on your film and TV scripts, as well as why it’s almost vital to a screenwriter’s career to invest in a professional script consultant.
If you’re a screenwriter who’s been toying with the idea of feedback, we’ve got the answers to your most common questions.
Why Do I Need To Seek External Support for Feedback?
Wren likens the need to seek a professional consultant to psychotherapy.
“If you talk to your friends about your problems over and over again, there’s only so many times they can hear them or can help you because they’re your friend. They don’t really have a broader view of everything,” she says.“Whereas if you go to therapy and you have a psychotherapist, they can look at you from a different angle. They don’t know your history, they don’t know your background. And I feel like giving out your screenplay for feedback is kind of like that.”
If you keep giving out your screenplays to your mom and your friends, chances are you’re not going to receive the kind of criticism you need in order to improve. However, feedback from a professional consultant “takes you out of the picture and they just look at the script for what it is and what you’re bringing to the table,” Wren says. “They can help you see what the good things are as well as the bad things that might need addressing.”
How Do I Know When I Need to Consult a Professional Consultant
Timm believes there are many different reasons why a writer needs feedback, but he believes the number one reason why you should seek out feedback is not for a pat on the back, but to figure out what you’re not doing well.
“If you’ve written three or more scripts over two or three years and you’re doing relatively well in contests, but you’re not winning them then you need to find out why,” he says.
Wren adds that, because screenwriting is a solo occupation, receiving feedback will also give you a good sense of just where you’re at in terms of craft and skill. “It’s not about validation but getting a feel for your place in [the craft]” she says. “You might be brilliant, but you’re too shy to show somebody your work, and meanwhile you‘ve been hiding your light all this time. And what a shame to have not tried. It’s about being brave. I think it’s about being willing to accept criticism. I think it’s putting yourself out there.”
How Do I Find a Professional Consultant for Feedback?
Besides the wonderful world of Google, Wren and Timm (not surprisingly) recommend their services at the ISA. Timm also runs The Story Farm, a story consulting and development program through the ISA in which writers work with a coach every single week. Screenwriters get at least one call per week, where you’re getting full notes on the ongoing development of any project you’re working on.
The pair also points out that many reputable screenwriting contests also provide excellent feedback and notes for your script.
“Craig James, the ISA founder, did a video about contests and he actually suggested submitting to three different contests that offer feedback, and then see what the feedback is like from those contests,” Wren says. “If you like the feedback you received, then maybe that’s a service you would like to return to for more extensive notes.”
Facebook groups are another option. There are a number of writing groups online that would be beneficial to join as a new writer, many of which will have members who can recommend a reputable feedback service.
When in doubt, don’t hesitate to reach out to a consultant for a cold call. “Most consultants allow for an initial phone call just to see if you’re wanting to work with together,” says Timm.
How Do I Know Who’s a Good Fit?
Like with anything, not everyone is a good fit, which is why it’s important that you should comfortable with a professional consultant on your script.
“I think trust is a big part of it,” says Wren. “If you think about a mechanic, you hand them your car which they drive around and if a wheel falls off, you’re going to feel really bad about it. And with writers, their script is like a child. They love it and care about it, so you need someone who cares about it but is going to help you tell the story better. So you need someone who you can trust to work with and guide you.”
Timm points out that there are different needs depending on the writer’s experience.
“For someone who’s just starting out, I’m more careful because you don’t want to kill somebody spirit,” he says. “And it’s not like I’m talking down to them either. It’s more of just ‘here’s why I am being critical.’ So there’s a piece of education behind that. I think that’s another big part of it — that the person who you’re working with has to be an educator. Otherwise it’s just someone saying, ‘I don’t like this.’ You need to know why so it can help you.”
But Do I Really Need to Invest in a Professional Screenplay Consultant?
In short, yes. Especially if screenwriting is more than a hobby for you – it’s a calling.
“If you know that this is something you’re going to dedicate yourself to for 10 years or more, you really do have to be able to commit yourself and so it does make sense to bring on somebody for the long-term because then you’re going to grow with that coach,” says Timm. “And your screenwriting is going to grow as well. It’s just needing to have a level of managing expectations. It’s going to take some time to not only develop your craft and ability but also your voice and your intentions and you know who you are personally and spiritually. It’s all part of the growth process.”
Wren adds, “Receiving feedback from a professional is also part of your commitment to yourself and your art to get noticed. Get feedback, get some help, get better at it. You know, it’s kind of interesting. We don’t think that we can learn ballet teacher, but somehow we think we can write without going to a teacher to improve our skills. You’re doing a unique practice and you need someone who’s done it and is good at helping with your craft.”
You can submit for a Development Evaluation through the ISA. If you rate high enough, you’ll be invited onto the ISA Development Slate. 54 of Development Slate writers have had scripts produced or optioned! Many others have received representation.