Ask a Nicholl-winning Script Reader!

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The first in a series of interviews with some script readers who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape.

Today’s spotlight on: Doug Davidson!

Not only is Doug Davidson a Nicholl Fellow, but his script LETTER QUEST has the distinction of being the only animation script to ever achieve that honor.

1. What’s the last thing you read/watched that you thought was incredibly well-written?

DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES. The most compelling character to hit the movies in a while is an ape. Caesar is a textbook protagonist. An extraordinary individual doing extraordinary things under extraordinary pressure. When you can end a movie by zooming in on the lead character’s face, and not have it feel cheesy, you know you’ve done something right.

2. How’d you get your start reading scripts?

I started in a screenwriting group, a large group that lasted several years. Early on, we agreed on always giving each other formal written feedback, because if you don’t have to write your feedback down, then you don’t think nearly as hard about it. When you put your feedback in paragraph form, you realize you have to make sense, you have to be consistent and you have to justify what you say. It gave me the discipline to write constructive, reasoned feedback instead of just tossing out opinions.

3. Is recognizing good writing something you think can be taught or learned?

Recognizing perfect writing is easy and intuitive. Anyone can do it. Recognizing the potential in a promising script that isn’t quite working yet, that takes more experience. And it takes a writer’s mentality. You need to study the craft for years. There are rules that are easy to memorize, but how to apply them, that’s much more difficult. Blindly applying the rules doesn’t lead to good writing, or good feedback.

4. What are the components of a good script?

The craft has to be there, and then there has to something else, a plus one. It could be funny comedy. It could be insight. It could be a new idea. That’s the “talent” part. You might think it’s this “plus one” that’s missing from most scripts, but I find the opposite to be true a lot of the time. Often a script has this amazing unique element, but the nuts and bolts of the story just aren’t in place yet. That’s when making the extra effort to put all the craft elements together really pays off.

5. What are some of the most common mistakes you see?

One of the most common mistakes I see is writers thinking a plot point (or character trait or thematic element) is clear on the page when in actuality it’s really not. At least not clear enough. It happens all the time, even to seasoned writers. That’s why feedback is so important. It’s not about saying your vision is wrong. It’s about saying your vision isn’t quite visible. Yet. The trick is to make sure everyone can see it.

6. What story tropes are you just tired of seeing?

Just about any story idea could work with the right execution. That said, I’ve come across a surprising number of scripts about screenwriters writing screenplays. Autobiography finds its way into most scripts, but it really helps to disguise it just a little.

7. What are the 3 most important rules every writer should know?

(1) Don’t (2) Give (3) Up.

8. Have you ever read a script that was an absolute, without-a-doubt “recommend”? If so, could you give the logline?

Nothing is absolute, but I’ve read more than a dozen really excellent unproduced scripts that I would recommend. I won’t go into the loglines here, but they’ve spanned just about every genre. I love to stay in the loop with the scripts I’ve read, especially the great ones. Several are optioned, several have placed very well in major contests and two have well known actors attached. Many of the writers of these scripts have secured representation as well. It requires some grit, but first-rate work will eventually get you places in this industry.

9. How do you feel about screenwriting contests? Worth it or not?

Screenwriting contests are absolutely worth it. It’s not the only path to success or a guarantee of success, but I know a fair amount of writers who have benefited greatly from contest placements. If you get an opportunity to read for a contest, I recommend that too. I’ve done it and learned a lot from the experience.

10. How can people can get in touch with you to find out more about the services you provide?

My website is www.fourstarfeedback.com. I have a screenwriting blog there based on my experiences in the industry (and the numerous mistakes I’ve made). I’m also happy to answer specific questions via the email listed on my site.

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie. What’s your favorite kind?

I love pie too! I like to bake my own key lime pies. They’re pretty easy to do. I also love coconut custard, blueberry and anything with peanut butter. But my favorite would have to be . . . pecan. A great pecan pie has a sludgy quality – an intensely sweet sludge – balanced by a nutty crunch. Thanks for thinking of me, Paul! We’ll have to get together sometime for some coffee, and pie.

2 thoughts on “Ask a Nicholl-winning Script Reader!

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