We are still plowing our way through Get Repped Now scripts. In the meantime, we wanted to give you a quick rundown of some common problems we found.
The Inactive Protagonist
Let’s remember that your protagonist needs to work hard at achieving their goal. They can’t be the bystander in their own story. They are the character that needs to make things happen and stumble over the obstacles that are in their way.
If they’re trying to solve a mystery, they need to be the one doing the investigation as opposed to sitting around waiting for others to give them the necessary information. If they’re trying to change their life, then they have to take whatever action they believe is necessary to do so (change jobs, get a divorce, go back to school, see a shrink). If they want to get out of jail, they need to do whatever it takes from representing themselves in court to digging a tunnel with a spoon.
Always, always make sure you have an active protagonist.
And the main thing that activates the protagonist is…
This person should not only be stronger and better equipped than the protagonist, they also need to be a fascinating character in their own right. Make sure your antagonist isn’t simply a walking, talking cliche. They should be fully human and three-dimensional. Every character should have a life beyond the plot of the story. Even bad guys may have a medical condition, alimony, a special needs child, and so on.
Why people do what they do is important and helps make a character relatable – yes, even bad guys can be relatable on some level. Remember, the bad guy is the hero in their own story. There is no better example of all of this than Wilson Fisk in Netflix’s “Daredevil” season one. A wonderfully complex character, he genuinely believes he is doing what is necessary to save his beloved Hell’s Kitchen.
Don’t set your story in a period other than the present unless you absolutely need to. (And, no, “but I really like the ’70s” isn’t reason enough.
Also, “but it’s a horror film and I want to make my life easy and set it before cell phones” isn’t a good enough reason either.
The reason for this is BUDGET. Even relatively recent history can be far more expensive to shoot than contemporary, due to the need to rent period cars, furnishings, dress a room full of extras in period clothing and hairstyles, and so on. If you can tell your story just as effectively in the present, then do so. If not, and you need the specific period, then you need to make clear why.
This is the most basic advice of all, but it must be said. Please spellcheck and proofread your script before sending it out. You’d be amazed at how few writers bother to do either of these things. Come on, folks. Running a spellcheck takes less than five minutes. As for proofreading, hey, we understand that grammar may not be everyone’s strength. That’s fine. If you’re not good at it, there are roommates to be pressed into service, proofreaders to be hired or grandmothers to be begged for a once-over. Coverage Ink has a mark-up service as well.
While a couple of typos won’t kill your chances with a submission, a whole raft of them creates an unprofessional first impression, and for the harried assistant or exec, may be reason enough to pass and move on to the next script. Don’t shoot yourself in the foot for something that can be addressed relatively easily. And in fact, a grammatically perfect, well-formatted script will stand out. Shoot for that.
For features, used to be that 120 pages was a good length for a script. Not anymore. A spec script shouldn’t come in over 110 pages – unless you are already a known commodity. Shorter is even better.
For certain genres (e.g. horror or comedy,) you should aim for a 100 or less. We know some horror producers who won’t read anything over 100 pages. At the same time, unless it’s horror or animation, it shouldn’t be less than 90 pages either, because then we immediately know that something is missing — usually it’s setup, character development – or sometimes Act 3 is only 11 pages and everything gets resolved too quickly.
Remember, the first thing anyone looks at is page count. They form a snap judgment – “Ugh, 124 pages, they expect me to slog through this?” Or “83 pages – probably no character setup.” So aim for the sweet spot. 100 pages is a great length for most genres because it promises the reader an easy, fast read.
Same holds in TV. If your 1-hr pilot is over 70 pages, it’s too long. We are guessing you are not Kurt Sutter or Aaron Sorkin. You haven’t earned the right to go long yet. While streaming pilots can be longer, remember that your goal is to create a positive first impression – and hopefully that pilot will become your calling card. Aim for 60 pages or less.