WHAT OUR READERS LOOK FOR
At AFF, story comes first and foremost above all else. We fully acknowledge the hard work and passion you put into your script and, rest assured, your story is in good hands. Our team of readers are an integral part of the AFF family and their contribution over the past 25 years have helped launch the careers of many aspiring writers. On a regular basis, we monitor the progress of each of our readers, give them feedback on how to improve their notes, and provide guidance on what to look for in a script. To give you an idea of our process, here’s some information on what we instruct our readers to look for and common problems they find in scripts.
WHAT IS A SOLID SECOND ROUND SCRIPT?
Our readers in the First Round have the toughest and perhaps the most important job of making the first judgment call for a script. It’s easy to recognize a fantastic script and perhaps even easier to spot one that needs a lot of work. Scripts on the bubble are the toughest ones to decide on. Here are some criteria we ask our readers to look for:
- Does the script at least serve as a strong writing sample that showcases the writer’s talent?
- Is there a strong, distinctive voice?
- Does it rise above the expectations for the genre or other similar stories?
- Does it have at least one strong element that makes the script truly stand out? (Strong dialogue, memorable characters, scene descriptions provide a rich texture and distinctive voice, etc.)
- If you feel the script is strong overall but there are obvious problems, can they be easily fixed in a minor rewrite?
- Do you get lost in the story (in a good way) and forget you’re reading a script?
- Do you think the next reader will overturn it if you give it a NO?
- Does your gut instinct tell you this is at least a Second Round script?
COMMON PROBLEMS IN SCRIPTS
Problem #1: THE STORY BEGINS TOO LATE – Stories don’t begin on page 1 of a script; it truly revs into motion when we reach the inciting incident. The most common problem in scripts is when the writer gets too bogged down with setting up the characters and world and, several pages into the story, you still have no idea what the script is about.
Problem #2: WHERE’S THE CONFLICT? – Conflict is what keeps a story engaging and pushes it forward. Every script has conflict, external or internal, and without it, there’s no urgency to follow along. If you encounter a script without at least meaningful conflict, it may leave you wondering “what’s the point of this story?”
Problem #3: NOT ENOUGH SHOWING AND TOO MUCH TELLING – The golden rule in writing is “Show. Don’t Tell.” A common problem is when characters speak how they feel (“I’m so mad can’t you see that???”) rather than showing it through action and description (“His face turns red and he throws his phone on the ground”). Audiences don’t want to be spoon fed emotions; they want to feel them organically through visuals, action, and subtext.
Problem #4: POOR FORMATTING – Incorrect sluglines or lack of any sluglines, not capitalizing character’s names when they are first introduced, and incorrect line spacing and margins are among many possible formatting errors. If there are only a few formatting issues here and there, it may not be worth mentioning. However, if it’s prevalent enough that it distracts from the reading experience, then definitely mention it in your notes.
Problem #5: READS LIKE A NOVEL AND TOO MANY “UNFILMABLES” – Scripts need to be written in a visual way that can translate to film, television, and the stage. There is a freeform nature in novels that can explore the inner thoughts and emotions of the characters. Scripts can achieve this as well but through a specific style and format that serve as a blueprint for a director and production team. Describing a character as “being an investment banker who graduated from Harvard” doesn’t indicate how this will translate visually, so the script needs to present something tangible for us to get this information.
Problem #6: A COOKIE CUTTER SCRIPT – It looks, smells, and maybe even tastes like a script. Even if it has impeccable structure but doesn’t have the most compelling story and follows the standard formula, the script may not necessarily showcase the writer’s original voice or present a unique perspective.
Problem #7: IT FALLS APART IN THE END – The script has an anti-climactic ending that feels rushed. Every story needs to build to a climax with a satisfying ending. It doesn’t have to be a happy ending but one that helps the script come full circle in presenting the stories greater theme and message.
Problem #8: STEREOTYPICAL CHARACTERS – This is an epidemic of having underdeveloped characters. Stereotypes do not make characters unique, can be offensive, and restrict the characters to being tropes rather than authentic people in relation to the world of the story.
Problem #9: UNCERTAINY OF TONE – Perhaps there are moments of great tension disrupted by scenes of ill-timed comedy or the scene descriptions are written with a playful tone but for a more serious story. Inconsistency in tone can really confuse a reader and really question what kind of story the writer is trying to tell.
Problem #10: TOO MANY UNNECESSARY SCENES – Scenes in a story need to have urgency and ultimately help move the story along to the next scene and so on and so on. When characters interact, daily pleasantries that have no purpose in the story should be left out. Another golden rule in writing is to come in to a scene late and leave as early as possible.
Got any specific questions for us? Feel free to reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org
And don’t forget to SUBMIT your script by May 15!