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Readers reports

If you’ve been involved in screen writing in Ireland, then no doubt you will have interacted with the film board and if that’s true then you may well have found yourself at the sharp end of a reader’s report. I came across this little piece of wisdom and, it speaks for itself.


“Before attempting to evaluate a work of drama, before even starting to read it, the reader must bear in mind three basic points.

1. Firstly a screenplay is not an administrative document but a venerable artifact that needs to be handled sensitively. It is the fruit of an artist’s labour, one in which he has invested a part of his soul. This is true even in cases where the resulting work appears terrible. A text and its writer should be approached with the greatest respect.

2. Secondly, a text should be regarded as a work in progress whose potential needs only to be unlocked for it to flourish. A work of drama is too often read as if it were the finished product, incapable of improvement before going into production. This is indeed the case with the classical theatre, but it is not so with a newly written drama. The reader must look for the possibility of  hidden treasures in the text. Remember that to write is to to rewrite and that a writer can often hone his skills on his own handiwork. Let’s not forget the first draft of “Some Like it Hot” was a mess.

3. Thirdly, and this is an extremely important point, we cannot compare a script (and even less so a pitch or a synopsis) with a finished work. At one of my workshops one day a participant pitched an idea, an outline that came to a few lines. Another participant, a producer-director said the idea reminded him of “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” and added that he preferred the latter! This is hardly surprising – the movie came with added sound, images and actors playing out the roles, not to mention the fact that in all likelihood the screenplay was worked and reworked before finally going into production, with further final touches being made during the shooting and the editing or mixing process.

The reader’s report must think seriously about the things in the text that make it work and are likely to please. As in business and marketing, it is best to start with the benefits before going onto the concerns.As I have noted earlier, it is too easy to criticise others. Writers urgently need to know what people like about their work. This has less to do with sensitive egos than with motivation. Where critical comment can point out ways a text can be improved by rewriting, positive comment can provide the drive to rewrite.If a reader really cannot find something positive to say, it may be that he needs to try a little harder. It is sometimes the case that the reader is a writer manque and that he is unconciously prone to twinges of frustration, jealousy and even bitterness. When he was a producer, Frantisek Daniel had an unusual way of reducing the chances that personal motivation might affect his reader’s judgement of other people’s work: he paid more for reader’s reports that were positive.

There is another tendency that reader’s must resist at all costs, and that is the assumption that, if they like a text, it must be “good”, whereas if they do not like it, it is necessarily “bad”. Pascal famously wrote that “egoism is hateful” – a warning against narcissism and self regard. He did not say that “speaking of oneself is hateful“. On the contrary, to speak of oneself and not to take one’s personal view for universal truths is to display humility. Who are we as readers, to decree that such and such a project is worthless and that the writer should look for other ways of earning a living? Hailing someone immoderately as a genius is not terribly helpful to a writer either, though it does at least send out a positive signal (while raising standards to intimidatory levels). By contrast, demolishing a writer’s work can be extremely damaging to the writer”.

Excerpts from Yves Lavandier’s WRITING DRAMA

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  1. […] little while ago I wrote a post about readers reports and views of drama analyst Yves Lavandier on the subject. These notes from Script Pipeline are a […]

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