SHOULD YOU READ SCREENPLAYS IN ORDER TO IMPROVE?
Often I have read or heard people say, if you want to get better as a screenwriter, you need to read great screenplays. I honestly don’t understand this way of thinking. What’s the point? What exactly am I supposed to get from reading someone else's work? What am I supposed to be looking for? Could it be that this notion is incorrect?
I’ve read a good screenplay in the past, enjoyed it and walked away no more informed than I was prior. If I was meant to gain some sort of wisdom from this process, I clearly missed the mark. The script was Juno, it was amazing, but it didn’t show me anything I didn’t already know. I know what essential elements should be in a script, when they should be there and why. I know how to format a script and write character descriptions. Anything more I need to know, I can find on Google.
So again, what the hell is the point?
The only thing I can possibly think of, as a benefit to reading a great screenplay, is the story elements in the script. You can look at how the story opens, the inciting incident, what happens at the 50% mark and how they jump into act 3. You could break down the character growth and see how the writer conveys this to the audience.
This all sounds great but couldn’t you just watch the movie? In fact, wouldn’t watching the movie give you more education than the script? You can break down the story in itself and also learn some filmmaking on top of it. Learn a little cinematography and perhaps an editing technique or two. Why the fuck would I read the script?
Continuing to dig deeper, in order to find a reason for why I should read great scripts to improve as a writer, another thought comes to mind. What makes a great script, great? Isn’t it an individual opinion? I may think The Breakfast Club is great and you might disagree. It’s not your cup of tea. You may think The Fast And Furious is great and I’m on the opposite side of the fence with that one.
Here’s where I stand, there are plenty of movies out there that miss the mark in some way or another. Good stories come out, accompanied by a slew of bad ones. It happens all the time and you’ve seen them on NETFLIX, Amazon and HULU to name a few. I have seen movies and thought, I can’t believe someone read that script and paid money to make that film. It seems a good script is a non factor in today's content driven world.
So why the fuck would I read a great script if it’s a non factor? Am I supposed to get new story ideas from these pieces of work? If that’s the case, we’re all fucked.
If the intention of reading other screenplays, is to get story ideas then we’re all fucked. This will do nothing more than give someone information on how to do something that’s already been done. This will do nothing more than to cripple creativity and un-inspire writers to walk their own path.
I stand by the notion that, in order to do something great, you need to do something different. You need to be vulnerable and bold. Be nervous that people may talk about what you wrote. This is powerful. This is how you turn heads. If you want to be a cog in the Hollywood machine, writing the same shit as everyone else, then I guess you should read great scripts and copy how they do it.
Everyone has a story to tell. Reading someone else’s script does not help you tell that story. You can’t find YOUR story in someone else's work. So don’t fucking read someone elses script. If you’re considering, you’re looking for something and you’re not going to find it in there. Be brave, be bold and be original. Walk your own path, write with passion and tell YOUR story.