Script Reader Vs Scriptwriter
20 years as a freelancer this year, oh gosh, oh my! Starting out, I did some TV production and script reading to get me in the freelancing groove. I was particularly passionate about script reading as I wanted to learn as much as I could about screenwriting. Looking back on some of my early reports, they have the trademark script reader tone and approach: scathing and dismissive. This type of tone for an industry report gives a clear recommendation for the exec/producer on whether to pass on the script or to take a further look themselves. These reports are NOT meant for the writers to see, but as I developed my own writing, I tried to soothe my script reading tone to be more constructive and sympathetic to whatever (I thought) the writer was trying to achieve.
Over the years, I've seen script reports on my own work, and have ironically smiled at some of the quips and go-to criticisms that a reader likes to offer. However, it seems to me that good script readers stand out not by how scathing and dismissive they are, but how they balance their critique with genuine insight on why a certain scene or sequence doesn't quite work. On one project that I developed, I was given regular feedback from a talented script reader. But he continually framed his reports in the dismissive industry tone, which was surprising as he knew the reports were coming directly to me to develop the project. For him, he was doing exactly as he was hired to do, and providing excellent feedback. For me, his reports were interesting but often demoralising, and lacked the proper insight to help me fix whatever was causing the stumbling block(s).
Nowadays, I see various people advertising their script reading services, and they sometimes proclaim that you 'definitely DON'T DO THIS' or 'definitely DO THAT' with whatever part of craft that they're discussing. I've probably done this a little myself, especially in my old blog, but I've increasingly noticed that the more you write (and ideally, the more you write that actually gets made), the more you become aware of how delicate and deceiving screenwriting actually is in terms of what you're trying to convey and how you can achieve it. There are no definite DOs or DON'Ts; it's more to do with clarity and conviction, and pulling on a screenwriting string to unravel why a thread has become difficult or ambiguous to understand - often down to how close the writer is to their own material or what they've left out from a previous draft or how they unwittingly set up a certain plot/character expectation which wasn't consistently developed for the reader.
It's still very much an ongoing and fascinating learning process for me, as a writer and script reader. The benefits of seeing my own work get produced has provided an extra boost of passion and understanding on how challenging screenwriting really is. Over the last few years, I've strayed away from reading for production companies, opting instead for more personal and constructive script reports/notes for individuals. This way, I can be as balanced and constructive as possible, looking at the script completely with a writer's hat on but with the benefit of how an industry reader might assess or recommend the material. No definite DOs or DON'Ts, just how best to tell the story the way you want to tell it - isn't that all we're trying to do?