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Hollywood Script Readers Checklist

















Scriptwriter Magazine

I could quite easily spend this whole page expounding the wonders of ScriptWriter Magazine and the brilliant articles they produce on all areas of scriptwriting. I highly recommend any person that is interested or involved with any aspect of film and television scripts to subscribe. I say this as a current subscriber and someone who has found most of their articles of great help. See their website for more information. The site also provides a great set of Frequently Asked Questions, which includes legal issues. I have permission to reproduce the checklist, but not the full article. If you want to read the article by Jonathan Sendall, you have to buy the magazine: March 2003 issue




1. Imagine the trailer. Is the concept marketable?
2. Is the premise naturally intriguing - or just average?
3. Who is the target audience? Would your parents go to see it? Would your children?
4. Does your story deal with the most important events in the lives of your characters?
5. If the story is a fantasy-come-true, does it quickly turn into a nightmare-that-wont-end?
6. Has a strong ‘need to know’ hook been built into the story early on?
7. Is the concept original?
8. Is there a goal? Is there pacing? Does it build?
9. Begin with a punch; end with a flurry.
10. It is funny, scary, or thrilling? All three?
11. What does the story have that the audience can't get from real life?
12. What is at stake? Life and death situations are the most dramatic. Does the concept create the potential for the characters’ lives to be changed dramatically?
13. What are the obstacles? Is there a sufficient challenge for our heroes’ weaknesses?
14. What is the screenplay trying to say and is it worth trying to say it? In other words, does it have a theme?
15. Does the story transport the audience?
16. Is the screenplay predictable? There should be surprises and reversals within the major plot and also within individual scenes and subplots.
17. Once the parameters (otherwise known as a story bubble) of the films reality are established, they must not be violated (burst). Limitations call for interesting solutions.
18. Is there a decisive, inevitable ending that nonetheless turns out unexpectedly? (This is not easy to do and is vital to generate interest!)
19. Is it believable (even if not realistic)?
20. Is there strong emotion - heart - at the centre of the story? Avoid mean-spirited story lines.
21. Does the second act drag? This may mean a lack of a well thought-out central character and how his/her flaws relate to the antagonist.

22. Is it properly formatted?
23. Proper spelling and punctuation? Phrases instead of sentences are okay.
24. Is there a discernible three-act structure?
25. Are all scenes needed? No scenes off the spine, they will die on screen.
26. Do screenplay descriptions direct the reader’s mind’s eye rather than the director’s camera?
27. Begin the screenplay as far into the story as possible.
28. Begin each scene as late a possible; end it as early as possible. A screenplay is like a piece of string that you can cut up and tie together - the trick is to tell the entire story using as little string as possible.
29. In other words: use cuts.
30. Visual, Aural, verbal - in that order. The expression of someone who has just been shot is best; the sound of the bullet slamming into him is second best; the person saying ‘I’ve been shot’ is the least effective.
31. What is the hook, the inciting incident? You have ten pages (or ten minutes) to grab an audience. With some people in the business, even less.
32. Does the screenplay allude to the essential points in the story two or even three times and hit the key point very hard? It shouldn't be obtuse.
33. Repetition of locale. It helps to establish the atmosphere of the film and allows audiences to ‘get comfortable’. Saves money during the production.
34. Repetition and echoes can be used to tag secondary characters. Dangerous technique to use with leads.
35. Not all scenes have to run to five pages of dialogue and/or action. In a good screenplay, there are many two-inch scenes. Sequences build pace.
36. Small details add credibility. Has the subject matter been thoroughly researched?
37. Every line in the script must either advance the plot, get a laugh, reveal a trait, or do a combination of two - or in the best case, all three - at once.
38. No false plot points; no backtracking. It's dangerous to mislead an audience; they will feel cheated if important actions are taken based on information that has not been provided or turns out to be false.
39. Silent solution; tell your story with pictures.
40. No more than 125 pages, no less than 110... or the first impression will be of a script that ‘needs to be cut’ or ‘needs to be fleshed out’.
41. Don't number the scenes of a selling script. More's and CONTINUEDs are optional.

42. Are the parts castable? Does the film have roles that stars will want to play?
43. Action and humour should emanate from the characters and not just be thrown in for the sake of a laugh. Comedy that violates the integrity of the characters or oversteps the reality-world of the film may get a laugh, but it will ultimately unravel the picture. Very rarely used, for good reason.
44. Are the characters people who care deeply about something - especially other characters?
45. Is there one scene where the emotional conflict of the main character comes to a crisis point? This is especially important and should relate to both their inner and outer conflict. In other words, the hero has an internal problem that is hidden from him. Then the second act brings it out and then in the third the hero has to act (resolve the plot) to resolve both the inner and outer conflicts.
46. A character’s entrance should be indicative of that character’s traits. First impression of a character is most important.
47. Lead characters must be sympathetic - people we care about and want to root for.
48. What are the characters’ wants and needs? What is the lead character’s dramatic need? Needs should be strong, definite and clearly communicated to the audience. Read 45 again.
49. What does the audience want for the characters? It’s all right to be either for or against a particular character - the only unacceptable emotion is indifference.
50. Concerning characters and action: a person is what he does, not necessarily what he says.
51. On character faults: characters should be ‘this but also that’, i.e. complex. Characters with doubts and faults are more believable and more interesting. Heroes who have done wrong and villains with noble motives are better than characters who are straight black and white.
52. Characters can be easily understood by audiences in terms of ‘what is their greatest fear?’ Gittes, in Chinatown is afraid of being played for the fool. In Splash the Tom Hanks character is afraid he can never fall in love. In Body Heat Racine is afraid he’ll never make his big score.
53. Character traits should be independent of the character’s role. A banker who fiddles with his gold watch is memorable, but cliched; a banker who breeds dogs is somehow a more acceptable detail.
54. All character conflicts should be both internal and external. Characters should struggle with themselves and with others.
55. Character ‘points of view’ need to be distinctive within an individual screenplay. Characters should not all think the same. Each character needs to have a definite point of view in order to act and not just react.
56. Distinguish characters by their speech patterns, vocabulary, sentence structure, revealed backgrou0nd, level of intelligence.
57. ‘Character superior’ sequences (where the character acts on information the audience does not have) usually don’t work for very long - the audience gets lost. On the other hand, when the audience is in a ‘superior’ position - the audience knows something the characters do not - it almost always works. (NOTE: This does not mean the audience should be able to predict the plot!)
58. Run each character through as many emotions as possible - love, hatred, laughter, despair, grief, revenge...
59. Characters must change. What is the character’s arc? Read 45 AGAIN!
60. The credibility of the screenplay world is defined by what the reader knows of it, and the reader gains that knowledge from the characters. Unbelievable character actions imply an unrealistic world; fully-designed characters convey the sense of a believable world.
61. Is the lead involved with the story throughout? Does he/she control the outcome of the story?

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Scriptwriter Magazine