By Derek Rydall
WORKING WITH ANOTHER SCRIPT CONSULTANT
Many of the greatest artists and entrepreneurs had masters to apprentice under. Most champion athletes had a great coach standing on the sidelines. And in indigenous cultures, it is often an integral part of the tradition for wise elders to pass on ancient wisdom to young initiates.
But in our modern, hi-tech, low touch society, the role of the mentor has gone sorely missing. And in the entertainment industry, an entity created to make money off creators, where there are so many apprentices in need of masters, the role of mentor has been reduced to a catchphrase. Instead of the regular guidance, direction, and training of a seasoned professional who has walked the path you are on, most ‘apprentices’ end up instead getting some ‘friendly advice,’ enrolling in an ‘industry network,’ and receiving a monthly newsletter. This is an often painfully slow approach to learning one’s craft in any ‘real world’ sense, and likely to be filled with pitfalls that could have otherwise been avoided. And while this book is meant to serve as a sort of surrogate mentor, there’s just nothing like real-time, face-to-face, in-your-face guidance from someone who will hold you accountable and point out your blind spots.
In this vacuum of real mentoring, Master Mind groups have popped up. In these gatherings, peers on relatively the same level (but sometimes of varying stature) help each other brainstorm goals, hold each other accountable for achieving them, and generally offer support and encouragement. This is a good thing. But it doesn’t replace the experience of working one-on-one with a master (or at least someone who has been where you want to go). Unfortunately, finding someone who is both a working professional and has the time to mentor is a difficult task. But I have found it the least difficult in the arena of script consultants. The very nature of giving and receiving feedback on an entire script (and the subsequent rewrites) forces both parties to slow down, become more methodical, and often leads to something that resembles mentoring energy.
So when I went searching for a mentor in the arena of screenwriting, I hired a script consultant. This was a pivotal stage in my growth as a writer. But it also ended up becoming a crash course in becoming a script consultant myself – although I didn’t realize it at the time. You can read and hear all the theory in the world. But that can never compare to actually sitting down and spending dozens of hours pouring over your work with a professional who’s already proven themselves, then reworking the material, only to have it torn apart again and again. It not only strips the material down to its bare essence, it begins to strip you down as well. You are refined even as your material is. But what’s more important, is you not only learn to write better, you learn – even if by osmosis – how to judge material, how to analyze, ‘diagnose’, and ‘treat’ it. You also develop better ‘bedside manner’ for your own writing ‘patients.’
So that’s why I think it’s important that you invest in getting a mentor. If you can find a professional screenwriter or story constant who will work with you for free, who will mentor you in the ways of writing and/or consulting, that’s great. But it’s rare. (These people have to pay their mortgages and feed their kids too.) So if you can’t find that benevolent soul, I urge you to hire one. Anyone at first. In fact, some of my greatest lessons have come from working with bad consultants. I learned very quickly what DIDN’T work, and have (hopefully) never repeated those mistakes.
If you’re interested in getting some real hands-on support and training, check out the The Script Consultant Institute (if you want to learn how to make money as a script consultant), or The Write System (if you want to make money as a screenwriter). Both can be found at www.scriptwritercentral.com. In these programs, you can participate in powerful processes that will guide you, step-by-step, along the path of honing your skills, finding your niche, marketing your services, and building your business – as a 6-figure script consultant or 6-figure screenwriter! Graduates of The Script Consultant Certification Courses can become ‘interns’ and train for a possible staff position in the mentoring program or script consulting firm, The Script Clinic.
FINDING A SCRIPT CONSULTANT
In the past, when I tried to find a qualified script consultant that met my unique needs, I would struggle for hours, searching internet sites and screenwriting magazines, compiling a stack of disparate data that had to be sorted and cross-referenced before I could even begin to make a decision. It was a frustrating experience, to put it mildly. And I know I’m not alone. That’s why I created The Script Clinic at www.scriptwritercentral.com, where you’ll find highly qualified, pre-screened and trained script consultants and studio readers – at a reasonable price.
CHOOSING THE RIGHT SCRIPT CONSULTANT
So how do you choose the right script consultant for you? There’s no hard-and-fast rule to apply. It’s like choosing the right medical doctor. You look at their credentials then make a decision based on your head, heart, wallet – or a combination of all three. Some, like Linda Seger, cost thousands. Others cost hundreds. And, while Linda Seger is worth every penny, some consultants who charge high prices aren’t anymore competent than those who charge a fraction of that. So do your research. Talk to them. Get a sense of their philosophy. Find out exactly what you will get for your money. Request a sample of their work if they have it available. Then sleep on it -- or whatever process you need to go through to make an informed decision.
PREPARING YOURSELF FOR FEEDBACK
There’s some work you can do on yourself before you submit to a script consultant’s criticism. We don’t need to go over it in detail, since we’ve already covered it in the sections dealing with your client’s reactions (and in the above-mentioned guide). Nonetheless, here are some things to consider when you’re in the hot seat:
• Check defensiveness at the door.
• Let go of your ego
• Be open to new ideas
• Be willing to kill your babies
THINGS TO BE WARY OF
In choosing a script consultant, you want someone who is qualified, someone you feel a rapport with, and someone with rates you can afford. But there are some things to be wary of. If the consultant guarantees they can get your script to the right people in town – for a price – really consider whether or not this is a legitimate set-up. While it’s true that some script consultants, and script consultant companies, do have connections and do pass along outstanding material – many of them don’t have any better connection than you do. If this is a service they offer, make sure it’s a separate service.
First and foremost you are going to them to get their advice on how to improve your material. Then, if you both agree it’s sellable, you can talk about using their services to help you gain representation or a sale. If you do choose this option, make sure you get a list of the people and places they are going to submit your material. One reason for this, which we’ve already discussed, is that you need to know where your material has been, so that you (or your agent) don’t take it to the same place. Also, by having the consultant get specific, you make them accountable.
GETTING THE MOST OUT OF YOUR SCRIPT CONSULTANT
Okay, so you’ve done your homework and picked a script consultant to work with. How can you maximize this experience?
• Write the best script you possibly can. Don’t give it to a script consultant if you know you can make it better. Only after you have exhausted ALL of your efforts should you hand it over.
• Ask tough questions and be prepared for tough answers. Ask the questions about your script (and writing in general) that you really want to know but might be afraid to ask – because of the answers you might receive.
• Don’t let the consultant get away with ambiguity. If you don’t understand something, ask for clarification until you do. If the script consultant seems to be sugarcoating the feedback too much, ask them to give it to you straight.
• Don’t chitchat. When you get a chance to talk to them, use the time wisely. Get to work, ask questions, pick their brains.
• Utilize everything they offer. If they allow you to follow up, either by e-mail or phone, DO IT. It’s amazing how many writers never take advantage of this.
• Give them feedback on their service. If there are things you are genuinely dissatisfied with, don’t keep it to yourself. How else are they going to be able to serve you and future clients better?
I hope this article has helped you in moving at least one step closer to achieving a successful screenwriting or script consulting career. Please feel free to e-mail me with your thoughts and suggestions. And don’t forget to check out our exciting programs at www.scriptwritercentral.com.
We look forward to helping you achieve all of your writing and consulting dreams!
“As a screenwriter, Derek Rydall has sold, optioned, or been hired on assignment for over 20 film and TV projects. He has developed projects for the producer of Ghost, RKO, U/A, Miramax, Saturn (Nick Cage), and many indie producers, as well as worked as a staff writer for Fox, Disney, and Deepak Chopra. As a story consultant/script doctor, Derek has helped writers, producers, actors, and directors turn books into screenplays, secure millions in financing, make six-figure script deals, get hired to exec produce, direct, star in their movies, obtain major distribution, and win awards. And as an author, Derek's book, I Could've Written a Better Movie than That!: How to Make Six Figures as a Script Consultant-- Even if You're Not a Screenwriter, is due out October by Michael Wiese Publishing. For more info, you can check out his site, www.scriptwritercentral.com, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (661) 296-4991.”