NOBODY WANTS TO READ YOUR SCREENPLAY
This is not a cynical point of view, this is a fact. Have you ever read a screenplay? It's essentially a blueprint, not designed to be read for enjoyment. Good screenplays can be tolerated but poorly formatted and boring stories are painful to get through. Can you imagine being a reader and that’s ALL you do, read shitty scripts looking for the one good one in the stack on your desk?
Imagine festival readers in the first round. These poor bastards, usually volunteers with little to no experience, have to tolerate dozens of scripts over the span of a few months. By the time they get to the 15th script, your script, they’re so sick of reading they REALLY don’t give a shit. I don’t know about you but if I’m on my 15th screenplay, it doesn’t stand a chance. I hate it before FADE IN.
Sean, how do you get readers to WANT to read your screenplay?
I’m sorry, did you not read the above? You don’t. Nobody will actually WANT to read your screenplay, EVER. It’s a job. It’s a volunteer position at festivals offering discounted or free admission to the individuals who decide to fumble their way through 20 fucking scripts in two months. Nobody WANTS to read it. Some HAVE to.
CLIMB OUT OF THE HOLE
When a reader picks up your 90+ page brick, you’re already six feet deep. All they have to do is toss a little dirt and you’re fucked. Your job is to limit the amount of dirt they throw. Your job is to climb out of the hole before it’s too late. Your job is to write the best 10 fucking pages you’ve ever written in your life.
10 pages...That’s all you get to try and make a difference. That’s where you can win someone over. Those 10 pages set the tone for what a reader is about to endure. Is this going to be a good story that has my interest or is this another piece of shit I have to navigate through?
So, how do you build this amazing first 10 pages? For me, it’s not by mindlessly introducing a bunch of characters and providing background on them. I can tell you, I don’t know who JESSICA is and I certainly don’t give a shit about her background. Give me something I can enjoy. Something I can sink my teeth into. Run into that first 10, don’t limp.
DON’T LIMP INTO THE FIRST 10
I prefer to start a story in the middle of some drama. It’s exciting, mysterious, attention grabbing, it makes you want to know more. During these scenes, you can reveal a lot about the characters and their relationship, you’re just doing it in a more exciting way. That’s the goal you’re trying to achieve, excitement. Get someone excited to want to know more. Get them past page 10 with some sort of interest for your story.
I’m not talking about an action scene with fast cars and bullets flying. You can certainly use that and accomplish the goal but it doesn't really do much for me. I’m talking about starting with your character already in some shit. Put them into an uncomfortable situation, opposite of their personality, knee deep in shit, right from page one.
Take a look at Juno for a great example of this. The movie opens with a teenager staring at a furniture set, chugging sunny D. We jump to her teenage sexual encounter and next to a convenience store where it’s confirmed that she’s pregnant. We navigate through character introductions as we follow Juno through her day, telling some people and hiding the news from others. Finally on page 10, she tells Bleeker that she’s going to get an abortion.
This is what I’m talking about. Diablo Cody didn’t limp into anything. She put a teenage girl into her worst nightmare and she did it on page one. She sets the tone, walks us through character introductions and holds our curiosity of what's going to happen past page 10. She makes it possible to read past page 10.
Nobody wants to read your screenplay, some people have to. That’s their job. Your job? Make it as enjoyable of an experience as possible. Start with an amazing first 10 pages and let the story flow from there. Grab someone's attention, force their brains to want to know more. Put your characters knee deep in shit from page one. Put them in a situation opposite of their personality. If someone HAS to read your story, at least make them do it on the edge of their seat.