Last weekend I read nearly 300 scripts in two days and I learned…
…Just how important the concept is.
…Over and over again my notes were “needs tightening or cut dialogue”
…The need to get into the story fast. Surprising how I could get bored even after one page.
It was a lovely day, one of those fresh English spring days. The blue sky contrasting with the flaking white paint of Ealing Studios, as I walked in on the Saturday morning.
But enough of the slushy romantic description.
We didn’t get to see much of the sun, as nine of us spent the whole Bank Holiday weekend crammed around a table in the offices of the London Screenwriters Festival, reading hundreds of scripts from thousands entered for the Impact50 competition.
Impact50 is unique amongst script competitions, in that the winners get the opportunity to have their scripts made for the big screen.
I first got involved a few years back with the earlier 50 Kisses competition ..not as a writer, but as a filmmaker. I loved the fact there was a wonderful pool of highly vetted good scripts available for me to film. So I picked a story set on a bus in London ..asked the writer if he minded me filming it on the Underground instead.
….and cutting a long story short, ending up with a 50Kisses award and going to festivals in New York and Rhode Island. It transformed my life as a filmmaker.
So when I was asked to help with the final selection of Impact50, I was pleased to repay the favour. If a little ..a lot ..daunted by the scale of the task.
Nine of us assembled at 10 am on Saturday with 16 hours to select 50 scripts from hundreds of shortlisted scripts.
50 scripts that needed to be high quality, engaging …contrast & compliment each other. ..and filmable.
We were provided with a tempting supply of unhealthy croissants, pastries, plus a supply of coffee and headache pills.
…and a daunting pile of script printouts. These had already been voted on and numerically shortlisted by 7 previous readers.
This was the process. The 9 of us were given 12 scripts to all read, we wrote yes or no on the front page, with reasons if necessary. 20 minutes later the voting was read out, discussed and if successful a relevant post-it note was put on the board. Non successful ones could also be selected as Maybe or a Gem.
Then we read another 12 scripts ..and another. Several of us readers had writen scripts for Impact50 and got through to the finals. So if one of ours came up then we just didn’t vote or comment.
Though a script selection process can never be perfect, it is extraordinary that the final scripts were read by over 16 readers!
We read more …and more …and more. 50 ..100 ..200 scripts. Time began to blur.
This continued on into Sunday, with occasional breaks for toilets, food, exercise and an impromptu conga.
I think we were becoming a bit mental by this stage.
Some time on Sunday we had completed the re-reads of the preselected best scripts. We still didn’t have 50, so we dived deep into the remaining scripts, to see if the previous readers had missed any gems.
Finally, we again went through all 60 + scripts on the board, as many were alike.
I was amazed to find so many with very similar storylines and scenarios. I remember two which were effectively identical – the same story just different words. I remember whooping out loud on the final day, when I read a story with an unexpected scenario.
So even with two really great scripts, if they were similar, we then had to select one, because we weren’t just choosing the best. We were creating a feature storyline.
…and then we also had to go through again looking at the writers names, as the rule was that each writer could only have one script in the film. So several great scripts had to go.
Though it was a really hard process with intense concentration over that number of hours, it was unexpectedly fun, working with a bunch of people who were voluntarily giving up their time through a common passion for writing.
So did I get anything from the process?
Apart from a headache?
I found it an intensely educational experience to read so many scripts. I learnt –
- Just how important the concept is. I was always looking for something different.
- Over and over again my notes were “needs tightening or cut dialogue”
- The need to get into the story fast. Surprising how I could get bored even after one page.
I also found it unexpectedly inspiring. So even though exhausted on the long train home afterwards, I started writing a new feature script.