Tough Reader, Good Advice

"Mike has a superb knowledge, love and understanding of film. He does his work with integrity and passion."

Kristin Overn
Executive Director
The PAGE International
Screenwriting Awards

"To be honest, the money I have spent on these reports ($50 for each one) has been some of the best money I have ever spent. "

Mina Zaher
Journey of a Screenwriter

"Michael Lee is the most knowledgable, thorough and professional screenplay analyst in the business!"

John Vincent
Executive Director
Hollywood Screenplay Contest

Monday, July 13, 2009

10 Reasons Why Your Script Got Rejected

Whether it's a contest, an agency or management company, a production company or even a studio, one thing is the same all over; there's too many damn scripts. Face it, you're not the only one who dreams of his name in lights and putting words in the mouths of Brad Pitt and Reese Witherspoon. Getting through that first row of defenses, also known as the reader is vital. That's why you have to avoid these common mistakes. I've seen them sink script after script.

1. The Logline doesn't Match the Story
This is a surprisingly common occurrence. That is because writers are often new to the idea of loglines. They make the mistake thinking that it's something they can get to after they've finished writing their script. So what happens is they follow their hearts and their inspirations and write long complex stories. Then they get to the end and try to shoehorn their stories into 25 words or less and find themselves at a loss. So what they end up doing is come up with a 25 word description that they think producers want to hear that vaguely covers their story. It won't work. If a reader really wants to stick his neck out and recommend your script, the first thing they're going to ask him for is a logline. Professionals work on their loglines first, then write their screenplays. It's easy to spot when you try to do the reverse.

2. Typos and Spelling Errors

Proofread. Proofread it a second time. Then get somebody else to proofread it a third. Screenwriters are allowed a certain number of mistakes as long as the story is good. But if every other sentence has a typo it looks like the writer just didn't care.

3. Formatting Errors

Is FinalDraft worth the $200 price tag? Yes if you're serious about becoming a screenwriter. Screenplay format is very important. It determines how long the actual movie will run. A properly formatted page will equal one minute of screen time. Readers see a lot of people trying to sneak by underwritten scripts with a number of tricks, extra spaces between scenes, double spacing, dialogue squeezed into a thin bar. At worst a poorly formatted script will be half as long in screen time so a 110 page "feature" is actually just a 55 page TV pilot.

4. Poor Dialogue
Readers zero in on the dialogue, sometimes they don't even read the action or scene descriptions. They want to see if the writer has an ear, if he knows how people talk. That he can be witty yet not babble for pages on end without getting to the point. People have to able to not just read a script, but speak it and perform it.

5. Too Much Description
Sometimes a reader gets a script that looks like a novel manuscript. Just row after row of ultra detailed description. Pros almost never pack their descriptions into one long block. Most of the time they break it up into several short paragraphs, each dedicated to only the most important elements of the scene. A writer should give telling and important details about the action, but should leave the actual directing to the directors. Writers shouldn't be describing very camera pan and zoom unless they're going to direct themselves.

6. Low or Middle Concept
A lot of stories have already been told. The sad fact of the matter is that a something that's just a coming of age story or a chase movie has no shot in Hollywood anymore. There have already been too many of those. The new writer will study the classics from 50 years ago and try to emulate those stories. Studios today want something more complex than that. They want High Concept, not Low or Middle Concept. They don't want just a coming of age story, they want a coming of age story about a boy who makes friends with a mafia boss in 1950's Las Vegas.

7. Budget Busters
Everything costs money. Even if the story is good it still his be practical. Some scenes are just too important to skimp on. But it's surprising how many first time writers blow the budget without even realizing it. They'll write in locations and add dozens of speaking characters in one part of the script, then discard them after the hero moves on. Those sets have to be built. Those actors have to be paid. A writer has to make sure the producer is getting his money's worth out of those expenses.

8. Music
Beginners are easy to spot because they often include popular songs in their scripts. Songs are a tricky business. Artists sometimes charge an arm and a leg for every use. And there's always a chance that the artist and the producer don't like each other, meaning the song choice is a complete non starter. Pros get around this very simply. They always say "like INSERT SONG NAME HERE." This is usually an easy fix so one instance won't doom a script. But if a writer has an entire soundtrack mapped out, it'll cause people to take pause.

9. The Ending Makes No Sense
Or it was a downer ending. Beginning writers often attack the fortresses of Hollywood full of artistic vigor. They've studied Altman and Sartre and they don't believe in happy endings or endings that wrap everything up in nice neat packages. That's not wrong, but it's not something Warner Brothers or Dreamsworks is going to be interested in. Studios are very up front about why they are in this business. They want to make money. A story that ends with a question mark or with the hero getting disemboweled (unless it's a horror movie) probably isn't going to make the $100 million grossing list.

10. It Just Wasn't That Good In the First Place
Sometimes a writer just has to suck it up and admit that his script wasn't the masterpiece he thought it was. This is a very subjective business. What one person thinks is brilliant another can think is worthless. A writer is lucky if only a handful of people really love his story. The works of undeniable genius are few and far between and if they were easy they wouldn't be that special or worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is where the real writers get separated from the wannabes. The wannabes pout and complain and try to argue their story past the wall. The pros just shrug and get started on the next big project.


  1. I agree with everything you say except for the formatting. There are several good programs available that are free, including Cinergy and Celtx. I have learned formats are different for film, plays and television. Film and plays have a standard; however, some shows have their own format that is specific to their show. There is a general television format that most will be able to use.

  2. True, especially for plays. But movies the standard format is FinalDraft and even in television they're moving more and more to FinalDraft as well. Industries and big corporations like standardization.

  3. Well written. Now I know why my coming of age story that had the kid die at the end of the bake sale in Mississippi didn't take off. Shame though, we'd have saved a bundle by just using the soundtrack to Empire Strikes Back like I'd suggested.

  4. At least you nailed the dialogue Shumina


Recommended Reading and Tools

Script Reading Services Available

Basic - 5 to 7 pages of detailed analysis going over a script's concept, structure, characters, dialogue, plot and marketability

Page Notes - 10 pages or more of in depth analysis from the first page to the end.


The StoryPros