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How to Piss Off a Script Reader

These are things you probably want to avoid when sending out your script.

We all know that film is a collaborative process that starts with a read. And that first look at your masterpiece boils down to one person: the reader – that special someone who must believe in your script before all others for it to ultimately receive that Academy Award. And yet so many writers don’t seem to take this into consideration when putting their baby out into the world… as they are most likely too busy writing their Best Picture acceptance speech. 

You get one shot. And if that special someone doesn’t see the magic in your masterpiece, that next special someone isn’t going to see your masterpiece at all. 

Regardless of who’s reading it – an actor, producer, Brad Pitt, or Brad in the mailroom who reads for a big agent and isn’t paid enough to do so – you want to make your special someone feel… well… special. Invite your reader in. Sit them down in front of a cozy fire with a soft blanket and slippers on their feet. Make them a nice cup of tea – spike it – then tell them the most brilliant, thought-provoking, emotional, and engaging story they’ve ever heard. Keep them hanging on your every word, and make those words come to life. Entertain them.

Too much? Forget the slippers? The point is, you want to welcome your reader to the read – not drive them away. But if for some weird reason you do want to piss them off, here are five sure-fire ways to do so:

Leave a Ton of Black on the Page

Ask me my favorite color. In fact, ask anyone who reads lots of scripts, from studio heads to grips. They will tell you white. White is the color we want to see on the page – and lots of it, because black can only mean one thing: overwriting. Huge chunks of text or, god forbid, the dreaded page-long wall of text generally function as information dumps, and there’s no way this can be good. Either you are “telling” as opposed to “showing,” over-describing, hitting redundant beats, or putting in prose that don’t translate to screen.  

Break out your beats of action. Only give us what speaks to narrative and/or character. Then cut the rest. Because if you don’t, and we see too much black, it’s going to piss us off.

Change the Font Size

Yes, font size matters – as in, 12-point Courier. Changing the font size or type to something smaller in order to squeeze in more words is classic, so don’t think we don’t know it when you do it.

Not only does this tell us you’re a sneak, but it also tells us you’re probably a beginner. And for those who engage in copious amounts of daily reading, even one point of font shrinkage can take its toll. So, don’t try to trick us, because it never works… and will piss us off. 

Leave Large Margins

We see that, too. If margins aren’t 1.5 inches left, 1-inch right, and 1-inch top and bottom, again, you’re trying to squeeze in more words. Further, it tells us that not only are you a sneak and a beginner but probably not too confident in your work, because if your script was super-good, it wouldn’t matter how long it was. Just ask Herman Mankiewicz or Quentin Tarantino.

So, put those margins back where they belong. We aren’t stupid. And when you treat us like we are, it pisses us off.

typewriterPutting Banners Across the Page

To us, they look like big, flashing neon signs that block out the words we are trying to read. But to writers, they are watermarks… so we don’t steal their ideas. 

The problem is, we don’t want to steal your ideas. And we definitely don’t want to see your name blazing diagonally across every page of the script. Or worse, your agents’ name. Or worse, the name of the agent that doesn’t pay Brad enough and takes credit for his work.

There’s something about a watermark that feels passively accusatory and a watermark on a spec script from an unknown writer can kill a read. In truth, watermarks tend to do nothing to protect your story. If you are that worried, then register it with the WGA and the Copyright Office, email it to a friend, snail mail it to yourself without opening it, then take it into your escape room, lock the door, and never come out. That’ll show those readers!

In short, avoid the watermark. They are distracting, tend to hurt your chances of being read… and they piss us off. 

Send Me Flowers

Your screenplay is the seed from which your Academy Award-winning oak will grow. It’s not the roots or the trunk or the branches or the leaves, and for sure it’s not the blossoming buds colored like the sparkle in her eyes as she gazed longingly at the mane of golden hair cascading down the back of his neck – the neck that called to be kissed (aka flowers).

Keep things simple by cutting all instances of “purple prose,” the flowery, overly ornate, fussy writing that belongs in a novel, or the trash, but for sure not a script. To a reader, it means you are trying to show off your intelligence, or you want to pull attention away from your script – as in, you think it might suck and you’re trying to get this past us. Don’t. Your efforts are better spent fixing your script.

Remember how we like white? Then go opposite of purple. Peel away the layers of that blooming onion until you get to the meaty essence, then spell that out concisely and with emotion for a swift and engaging read. Because flowery prose does not translate to screen, and it takes too much time to translate… which pisses us off. 

And While We’re At It…

Do us a favor and avoid distractions like spelling, punctuation, grammar, tenses, and formatting snafus. Spellcheck, proofread, have a friend proofread to check your proofread, then another friend to check that one. Pack up those banners, big margins, chunks of dialogue, and small font… Then pluck those flowers from your flowery writing, put a ribbon on them, and send them to me.

Preferably roses, no carnations please… they piss me off.

Write on!

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