Ask a Getting-Down-to-Brass-Tacks Script Consultant!

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The latest in a series of interviews with script readers and consultants who would be worth your while to work with if you want to get your script in shape. Today’s spotlight is on writer-consultant-contest reader Jim Sarantinos.

Jim Sarantinos is the writer of Gideon’s Way, a highly popular and acclaimed screenwriting blog which he started in 2009. He’s guest blogged for MovieBytes and other sites, and placed in various high-profile screenwriting contests including Scriptapalooza, Fade In, and most recently, Happy Writers with a TV sitcom pilot.

Jim has also read for various screenwriting contests and is currently developing several film and TV projects.

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

I’d have to say Nightcrawler, and I’m still mad it wasn’t recognized at the Oscars. TV-wise, I just watched my first episode of The Americans. Riveting stuff.

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

Going through film school, it was considered vital to our training; perhaps even more important than watching films themselves. I decided to consult because I was getting too many random scripts flooding my inbox demanding/requesting I read them and provide feedback within 24 hours.

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

You can teach the basic building blocks of screenwriting, but recognizing good writing is learned from experience, intuition and taste.

4. What are the components of a good script?

Style and character. I love deeply flawed characters that straddle good and evil simultaneously. There’s so much scope for them to grow and interesting places to take them. I also love worlds I’m not familiar with; not necessarily fantasy or supernatural. A wonderful story can be set in an abattoir, a funeral home or a country club.

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

Lack of story focus. Know exactly what you want to say before you start writing. Sure there is some discovery during writing, but know your theme and central message early on.

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

Car chases, explosions, shootouts. Give me a cop disarming a criminal solely with his/her mind and wit any day. You can only paper over the story cracks with CGI for so long.

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

-Know yourself.

-Know your story.

-Know the audience.

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

I can’t give you a logline, but I recently read a contained thriller about a heist gone wrong. Two-thirds of the movie was set in an office where the hostages and criminals were barricaded in. It was so vivid and real, which made it easy to visualize it.

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

They’re a double edged sword for me. I’ve heard of success stories which have launched careers and also stories of writers winning major contests and not getting anywhere. There are also too many cash cow contests with dubious readers. If you enter a contest, go big or go home. Preferably enter one that gives notes, so you know the reader has actually read your script. Practice due diligence.

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

My blog Gideon’s Way is at www.gideonsway.wordpress.com and Script Firm Consultancy is at www.scriptfirm.wordpress.com

11. Readers of this blog are more than familiar with my love/appreciation of pie.

What’s your favorite kind? Humble. Preferably organic, sugar and gluten free.

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