Coverage / Script Analysis Service

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It can be difficult getting good coverage on a screenplay when the analyst, reader or coverage provider has no interest in woman-driven drama. You won't have that problem here. Besides evaluating the primary elements of a high-concept premise, engaging plot, well-crafted characters and adherance to three-act structure, The Film Springs uses the following criteria to evaluate scripts:

Making Film Sense - Sets, Locations and Payroll

It's a standing joke in Hollywood that a grip stands a better chance of selling a screenplay than a bestselling author. That's because production crews understand how a film gets made. They travel to a location and spend hours or days setting up the shoot. Once everything and everyone is in place, the scene is shot several times. Then the crew strikes the set and moves on to the next location listed on the script supervisor's list.

Consequently, each scene in a script, especially if it's shot outdoors, must be worth all that effort. If you have too many scenes, locations or characters, then your story will be unshootable.

Making Film Sense - Time and Pacing

As a film moves from scene to scene, a clock is always ticking. Day and night interchange. Winter turns to spring. And years go by. Amateur writers often forget to account for these intervals when developing their plot progression.

Also, if a character communicates with urgency in one scene that an important event is about to transpire, that event shouldn't be delayed ten pages. While it may sound like a no-brainer, this mistake frequently occurs even in films that get produced, leaving viewers dangling.

Then there's the problem of a lot of time passing between two scenes. Here, a sequence of short scenes or montage or some other type of transition is needed to smooth the way. Such transitions can be added by the director later, but it's better for a writer to incorporate them at the outset. Watch the movie Little Women (1994) to see how such transitions add depth and interest to a film, while at the same time bridging major time gaps.

Pacing in a film is another overlooked element by rookie scriptwriters. How quickly the action unfolds can be handled in different ways, depending on the story and genre. Most of the time, however, the pace moves at a quick clip at the start of the movie, slows down in the middle, picks up again through the course of the climax, then slows down again right at the end. Imagine a roller coaster ride and you'll get the idea.

Dramatic intensity and tension

Although it's usually left unmentioned in screenwriting classes, understanding the basic tenets of drama is key to generating a great screenplay. In the typical Hollywood film, suspense and tension are created using two primary devices. The first is to deliver the plot as a ticking time bomb. Movies as diverse as Thelma and Louise and Die Hard put this device to effective use.

The second approach is to create characters whose emotional intensity represents a ticking time bomb all by itself. The TV show The Closer was a big hit because its quick-tempered Deputy Chief Brenda Johnson was always smoldering like a lit fuse. With that kind of roiling protagonist driving the action, you don't need gunfights or car chases, let alone a looming deadline.

The script for the movie Troy is a more traditional example of how a "clash of Titans" can keep the tension at hair-trigger level. Even though it took a mighty long time for those walls to fall, viewers were thoroughly immersed in the character confrontations that transpired throughout the film. If you've ever wondered why Greek plays have survived the test of time, this is one reason.

Naturally, whatever you use to create dramatic tension, it has to be organic, not simply contrived for the purpose you want it to serve. People who go to movies, even in Uruguay, know the difference.

Scene structure is complete

If you've read The Stanislavski Method, then you know all about how a good scene develops. There's a beginning, middle and end (or climax), just like the play or movie itself.

Films are only different from stage plays in that the action of one "master scene" may play out over the course of several sets. (On a DVD, these master scenes are referred to as Chapters.) In fact, many screenwriters use the device of "20 Ideas" when developing a plot. Each idea represents one chapter or master scene in the film.

Moreover, when writing a scene, avoid fragmenting (i.e. a scene missing a beginning, middle or end), as well as "obligatory" scenes you think are needed to connect up plot points. If any scene is not entertaining, complete or compelling on its own merit, cut it out or make it better.

Story through-line maintained

As a rule, each scene should set up the next one. "Setting up" refers to things you do in your script to foreshadow or allude to upcoming events, new locations or the introduction of characters. This is especially critical at the start of a film, when the audience is like a blind man groping through the dark. You have to make the plot easy to follow, or viewers will get frustrated and give up.

For example, when a new set of different characters appear in the film who have no connection to the ones you've met previously, the through-line (or narrative thread) of the story is broken. That's why setting up the next scene in the one that precedes it is often essential.

Flashback scenes are more tricky. By their nature, they break the story through-line. Regardless, for some films flashbacks allow you to better convey a plot that doesn't stand up well in chronological time. The Usual Suspects is the standard example given for the correct use of a flashback. However, the 1977 movie Julia took this device to another level and should be studied by every screenwriting student. In Alvin Sargent's script, the flashback scenes were carefully set up by the present-day scenes. Moreover, they provided depth to the emotional development of the Jane Fonda and Vanessa Redgrave characters by tying childhood events to what happened to these women as adults.

Character through-line and arc

This is another concept taught in The Stanislavski Method. Basically, it means that a character's behavior must make psychological sense throughout the film or play. We've all seen movies that feature characters whose response to some incident or revelation is totally incongruent, and sometimes downright silly. Luckily, writers who create 3D characters from the outset rarely make this blunder.

Also, characters who don't have any arc in a film (usually the villains) tend to behave consistently, whereas the protagonist will hit rock bottom by the script midpoint, then blossom into an engine running on all pistons by the time the climax unfolds. Once in awhile, it's the villain who has the arc and the protagonist who never wavers, as we saw in Fugitive with the Tommy Lee Jones and Harrison Ford characters. And sometimes all the main characters may have an arc.

As a rule, most screenwriters adhere to the structure laid out in Christopher Vogler's The Hero With a Thousand Faces. This is a tried and true formula employed in storytelling and myth since prehistoric times. Unfortunately, it's sometimes problematic for woman-driven dramas and true stories. Women tend not to be conquering heroes, but rather shine in other ways that are equally moving. The Sound of Music is a case in point. (For more on Vogler's contribution to the craft, check this web page.)

However it's done, a writer better have an arc for at least one of the main characters. Otherwise, viewers feel the two hours they spend watching the movie are a waste, as nothing gets accomplished. A good story is really like a biological organism. It's born, grows up and bears fruit. It must also have a soul or a heart.

Dialog is easy to deliver and specific to each character

Everyone speaks differently, according to age, class background, geographical origin and occupation. But not all screenwriters keep this in mind when putting words in their characters' mouths.

Besides that, writing dialog is not the same as speaking dialog. You have to read the words aloud to make sure an actor can deliver the lines you've written. This is the main reason screenwriting students are encouraged to take acting classes. And while you may need to keep the dialog moving back and forth between characters, there are times when long chunks of verbage are required to convey information essential to the plot. Remember Silence of the Lambs? Another example of the adept use of meaty dialog is The West Wing series. Significantly, in both productions, those chunks of verbage are delivered as the characters move from one set or location to the next. This device is called "walk and talk" and is a staple of most movie scripts nowadays, mainly because it adds some action to otherwise long conversation scenes.

Finally, deciding how long or short the dialog needs to be hinges on several elements of the script. These include pacing, the need to convey facts intrinsic to moving the plot along, character development, and naturally the entertainment value or dramatic expression delivered in the scene.

Standard structure with plot points

As we all know, the average feature movie script typically includes an Act 1 that's 20-30 pages (minutes) long, Act 2 covering 60 minutes, and Act 3 at 20-30 minutes. There's an inciting incident within the first 10-20 pages, and the first plot point unfolds at the end of the Act 1. The second plot point occurs at the end of Act 2. By the middle of the film, the progagonist's personal growth or momentum peaks, and in the second half he or she executes and achieves the objective presented in the first act.

For true stories and novel adaptions, there's some leeway in meeting these structural requirements. However, just like songs on the radio, movie-goers are programmed to respond to a certain formula in feature films. For this reason, your script should try and conform as closely as possible to the general equation and not stray off into the terra incognita of what are politely known as "art house" films.

Page One establishes the tone, genre and world of the film

Scripts like Romancing the Stone, Don Juan DeMarco and Working Girl are notable examples of how to get across your script's genre, period (e.g. present day) and tone in a really unmistakeable way. Generally, there's a big chunk of narrative at Fade In and very little dialog, with the purpose of establishing the boundaries and cues needed for readers to adapt to the fictional world of the film. This is the one place in a script where creative style and colorful prose get to shine, so take advantage.

Script properly formatted

Sad to say, but a screenplay is often rejected when the reader finds a formatting error on the opening page. Anyone who operates on this principle should really find another line of work, since great writers are typically poor editors of their own material. Regardless, it's essential to observe all the little rules of the trade as much as possible, so your work will resemble that of a seasoned professional with three secretaries on hand to clean everything up. Here's a format guide if you need one. (Note: The last paragraph on the sample page provides page dimensions, which are also essential to script presentation.)

Scriptwriting software will go a long way in producing a document suitable for circulating. But many writers are broke and have to rely on MS Word to get the job done. If this is the case, try looking up a script formatting macro online that you can insert into your documents. Otherwise, you should consider investing in one of the many software programs available to screenwriters.

For spec scripts, specifying camera angles (e.g. FOLLOW, CLOSE ON) is generally frowned upon, although use of these instructions every once in awhile is fine, so long as it fits in with the narrative. You can also skip the "CUT TO" at the end of scenes. This reduces the script length by a couple pages. Generally, a feature film should run about 100 pages, but you can usually get away with up to 130 pages.


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