Screenwriting: Should aspiring screenwriters hire a script consultant to help develop their work?

Yes, definitely! If you are serious about your work I suggest you hire a script consultant at least once for at least one project. They can be costly but if you pick the right one it is a good investment. A script consultant can help you focus and fine tune your screenplay into a marketable project. It’s not just about spelling and punctuation. None of the consultants I have worked with have wasted my time in pointing out trivial detail that can be corrected via a spell check. They are more concerned with the story, structure and execution. They give valuable insight into how the story can work effectively, your target audience and genre. Consultants have a professional perspective on your work and highlight issues where family and friends would fail. A good script coach will make viable suggestions and provide clear techniques of how you can fix what is not working. Family and friends may sometimes give good opinions and alternative ideas, but will not be able to assist in how to apply them.
In order to be taken seriously by industry professionals you must be willing to listen to their feedback and be prepared to revise your work. As a writer, one could argue it’s your story and you should be able to write anything you desire. True, but as long as you are happy that your audience will only ever be your family and friends. So be clear on who you target audience are. Is it just you and your posse, or the movie boffins?
Finding a good script consultant can be a bit of a dilemma. Generally, you don’t know if they are any good until after you have paid them, received a critique and development notes. Warning! Reading what is wrong with your script is a painful process. You will hate the script coach. Here, I suggest a measure of Buddhism, a little detachment from your work to gain a heightened perspective. Then re-read the notes again and again, and you will see that the script coach is on your side and there to help, not an enemy seeking to demean you or your work as you had initially thought.
If you are interested in developing your project then you can try one of the following sites that offer script consultants services.

Screenwriting: My Work Critiqued by a Playboy Pin Up Model

Before I started to get connected with real industry people, like most novice writers I got caught up in a disingenuous web of lies, weaved by a particular Writers Literary Agency. They promise to represent aspiring screenwriters by mailing query letters on their behalf to production companies. The only requirement they have is that your work has been professionally critiqued before they can help you. They require proof that your script has undergone a development process, or alternatively for a fee you can hire a script coach via their agency.

Martha Smith was the script coach assigned to me. I was exceptionally pleased at the detailed notes she had compiled, which was a great help toward developing the script. I absolutely loved her email address which went something like this, ‘2tastyladies@blahblahblah’. Curiosity got the better of me and I wanted to know more about this lady who had a great knack for providing brilliant development suggestions. It turned out that Martha Smith was an ex-playboy centerfold girl. She was chosen as Playboy magazine’s Playmate of the Month for July 1973 issue.

Ironically, the script I had sent to Martha was based on the various levels of hell as described in ‘A Divine Comedy’ written by Dante Alighieri an Italian poet of the middle-ages. And of course, the premise of my work was sex, lust and loose women, so to speak. Why I wrote this kind of stuff then? I have no idea. Although, I must confess it was really good writing practice…

A Lesson to Remember: Don’t Argue with Hollywood

It was 9.30am and many hopefuls gathered at the Pitchmart event.  After registration I sat with other anxious writers around a table making small talk, when the quietest member of the group decided to share his experience.  He adamantly stated that Hollywood lived up its own rear and unless you are willing to oblige to its way of thinking you are doomed to fail. We all fell silent and listened intently. He went on to explain his angst.

Somewhat ten years ago when he first arrived in tinsel town he was hopeful like any other novice. After pitching his ideas to industry experts he was immediately on the defensive when they gave him feedback. He showed no sign of adapting his script or being flexible. Instead, he was argumentative and stubborn. The word quickly spread about this aspiring screenwriter who thinks he knows it all, and he was quickly tainted by a terrible reputation of aggressive behaviour.  For almost ten years he had not been able to infiltrate the industry or even get a job as a cleaner. It’s a small town he exclaimed and there is no getting away. A decade later, he hoped that no one would recognise him, or if they did, they were at least willing to forgive his past transgressions. His voice began to croak as he warned us newcomers not to get into battle with industry personnel. It will never be worth it.

I saw genuine repentance in his eyes, but I wasn’t sure if that was enough for Hollywood to forgive and forget.  Remember to put your ego aside before you embark on such a venture. If you make it in Hollywood you could always revive your ego and give as good as you get.  

However, a smart electric attitude is quite different. If you don’t get your script sold you will certainly get noticed for the right reasons, and make some friends.  Just remember that when your work is critiqued by an industry person, don’t react, instead take a moment to think, and then respond, demonstrating a flexible approach.

The Pitchmart in Hollywood

My abode at the Super 8 motel on North Western Avenue was cheap, clean with friendly helpful staff. In the evening I prepared my pitch, quite sure to impress Ken tomorrow. The following day outside Ken’s home, I knocked on the door and waited. The bark of a little dog prompted me to go and stand outside the gate. A few moments later, the door opens and it’s Ken accompanied by his lovely wife Connie. They stare at me, bemused. “Who are you?” they enquired. “Amrit Bains from London” I replied, ever so professionally. “Oh, I was expecting a young man” said Ken. Later, he explained the confusion; according to my name and the script I had written, he was expecting to greet a guy.

In Ken’s office; I sat opposite him, eager to absorb the knowledge he was about to share with me. Ken got straight to the point and asked me to pitch my screenplay to him, which I did ever so zealously. He stopped me after a few sentences, and went on to explain that the most successful pitching technique is to be able to have a conversation about your story. Instead of trying to sell, be the producer’s friend, relax and crack a joke. They need new material and talent just as much as you need them. It’s a partnership. The important thing is to have fun and make friends.

One consultation with Ken boosted my ego. With my mindset recalibrated I was ready to party. The following week I was working the room pitching to producers like it was second nature. I must admit it was one of the most exhilarating experiences. Ken was my first positive contact in Hollywood. Age wise, he is one of my oldest friends with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. And he gives the most robust life squeezing hugs I have ever encountered. If you want to learn the art of pitching then Ken’s your man. For further information check out his website:
The Writers Expedition 001

In the Beginning…there was darkness

It was the dark night of the soul. Things didn’t kick off or should I say ‘kick me’ until I got my first rejection letter from the BBC. I was outraged and inconsolable at the lousy explanation that my story was a wonderful idea but unfortunately it was incoherent. It was like a bullet between the eyes. I could barely breathe as I hastily began to read the pages of the returned copy to reassure myself that the readers at the BBC were stupid, and that my very first draft of my very first script was nothing short of a masterpiece. Slowly but surely death was becoming me as I struggled to make sense of my…graffiti. Was I drunk when I wrote this? The characters all suffered from the Houdini syndrome as they randomly disappeared and reappeared. There was no structure; it was all over the place, a technical disaster. Everything about my script made me cringe. How did I manage to overlook a ninety page catastrophe? That night a part of me had died a shameful reclusive death.

About a fortnight later, I was a sober zombie when I got a second rejection from the UK Film Council for the same script. Embittered to the core, I was sure these people were not equipped to recognise raw talent such as mine.
The initial thought that attacked me was to do a Masters in writing. This notion was promptly replaced by a lethargic mode of imagining a boring classroom environment. Surely, learning to write for movies could not be possible in a humdrum atmosphere. After all, I knew that imagination could not be taught.

I easily convinced myself the best place to learn screenwriting would be in Hollywood. But I did not know a soul in Hollywood and I was terrified by the prospect of facing agents, producers, and pitching my ideas to them. It was one of those moments in my life where I knew I had to exercise my faith and take a leap forward…toward my laptop where I clicked onto Amazon and searched for books on pitching. I purchased the bestseller ‘The Perfect Pitch’ by Ken Rotcop. It was an enlightening read. I immediately contacted Ken and posted a script to him for coverage, and then booked an airline ticket to Los Angeles…