What most people won’t tell first-time writers in Hollywood is that readers, executives, interns and most people who say they will read your script will really only read the first 30 pages. I know, right? You put all that work into this labor of love script, only to have it rejected after 30 pages.
Unfortunately, you’re left in the dark about the reality of the situation in Hollywood. Readers, interns, managers, agents… they get a lot of scripts. I mean a LOT. And they usually only have time to read scripts on the weekend. The time they’d rather be spending with their family or at the bars trying to find someone to establish a family with. The last thing they want to do is read your probably…let’s face it…awful script.
I don’t say that as a negative, I say that as a reality of the industry. For every good script that’s in this town, there are a hundred bad ones. That’s not me being hyperbolic; it’s a fact that has been documented. There are companies that have hard numbers to back that fact up. I know, I’ve talked to them.
With that in mind, you HAVE to, I mean REALLY HAVE to… make sure that you’re putting in the effort to keep them interested past those first 30 pages.
Time for some real chat. You want to have as much information on your side to better your chances of success.
1. It only takes us about 2-4 pages to tell if you can actually write a script.
I’m not talking story or character development, I’m talking straight up technical skills. Do you have the right format? Can you write a sentence? Can you write interesting dialogue or is it flat on the page? The sad fact is, we read SO many bad scripts that a great script, written by a good writer, sticks out like a sore thumb. It doesn’t take much to sour the taste in our mouth with horrible writing.
2. The good news, and I’m using the term “good” VERY loosely, is that a poorly written script won’t get tossed in the trash.
By poor I mean “slightly good,” if it’s just really bad writing, it’s going to be a pass. BUT, if it’s just poor and you can work on it, then the next step is being able to tell a story. That’s the true killer.
3. By page 5, we should know what this story is roughly about.
I’m not talking major plot points, but we should at least know the main character, the world this character lives in and there should be some forward motion. If by page 5 you’re still rambling on the intro, you’re not doing it right.
4. By page 15, we should know where this story is going.
Often referred to as the inciting incident, this is the critical moment in which we need to know what the problem is that the main character or characters need to solve. If I get to page 15 and still have no idea where this script is going, then you’re just losing points in my book. And you’re losing my interest.
5. By page 30, there should be absolutely no more setup.
Now we’re moving forward to fix the problem that you established 15 pages ago. If I get to page 30 and you’re still rambling… yup, that’s it. I’m out. And most others are too. We don’t have time to read a bunch of ramblings. We have a desk full of scripts left and kids who want to play or beers that need to be consumed.
If by page 30, you have maintained my interest, shown that you can write AND your script still resembles the pitch that got me to want to read it in the first place, then congratulations: you are truly destined to be a screenwriter. If this one doesn’t hit, keep at it because maybe the next one will.
I should note that PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE ensure that, if you fall into that category, that the last 60 pages are just as good as the first 30. Sure you can have third act issues, but make sure it doesn’t fall off the rails completely.
If they passed and didn’t ask to read the next thing or if they passed by telling you “yeah, I just didn’t really connect with it,” then it’s time for you to go back to the drawing board. NOT GIVE UP.
I’m NOT telling you to give up, I’m just telling you to learn the lesson, get better and try again. Put in your 10,000 hours like everyone else has and become the screenwriter you want to be.
Cool? Okay, cool. Go do that.
Manny Fonseca is an optioned screenwriter and author. With a master’s degree in screenwriting, he’s mainly worked in development during his time in Hollywood. He’s now a full-time writer. He’s currently working on his second book, which will be on the subjects of screenwriting and navigating Hollywood. His first book, Burst!, is the story of becoming a caregiver after his screenwriting partner suffered a ruptured aneurysm in her brain and nearly died.