The first audience for your screenplay (besides yourself) is a reader. Certainly, this reader can be a friend, a partner, a spouse, your mom -- all put-upon by your request to read your script, by the way -- but eventually, your script will find its way to a professional script reader. These script readers are the gatekeepers to the agents, managers and producers who may actually be able to help a screenplay become a movie. And one of these script readers recently created an infographic listing 38 recurring problems that keep screenplays from being recommended.
You can find the complete infographic here at its high-resolution, thanks to its creator, script reader and Reddit user profound_whatever. To make it (somewhat) more readable within the confines of our NFS post, I have split the infographic into two pieces. This first side gives you the overall demographics of the 300 scripts covered by this reader. Because this reader worked for five different companies, I assume the genre numbers were most likely affected by the preferences of each of those companies. Nevertheless, 300 scripts still covers a wide variety of genres (click for larger).
A few key data points jump out at me from the information above. First, not surprisingly, only 8 scripts out of 300 received a "Recommend," which translates to only 2.67% of scripts read. Keep this in mind as you rewrite your current script and ask yourself if you think your script is better than 97-98% of the other scripts out there. Then make your script better than 99% of the scripts out there.
Also, female screenwriters make up only 10% of these 300 submissions, and that includes male & female writing duos. We've seen similar data before, but we really need to see more women writing screenplays, because these numbers are disheartening. Most likely as a result of such a male-dominated sample, a whopping two-thirds of these 300 scripts have male heroes.
More interesting to me than these demographics, however, are the recurring problems that this script reader found throughout these 300 scripts. Below are 38 problems that the script reader found repeatedly in scripts, listed in order of frequency (click for larger):
Let's take a look at the 3 most common problems listed above.
The story begins too late in the script
As screenwriters, we don't have much time or many pages to get our stories started. People don't tend to watch movies for the setup, they watch movies for the story. The same is true for readers, a screenwriter's first audience. Readers want to be engaged in a story from the beginning. They don't want to wade through 50 pages before the story begins. I'm always looking for ways to work on those early pages to engage my reader in the story immediately while simultaneously laying the groundwork for what's to come. It's a tricky balance, for sure.
The scenes are void of meaningful conflict
This is a great way to determine if a scene needs to be included in a story. If a scene has no conflict, how are the characters challenged or changing at that particular moment of the story? Without conflict, a scene is most likely expository. One of the challenges I know I constantly face -- and I imagine many other writers face, too -- is weaving the exposition into a scene that is full of conflict without the audience feeling like they were just spoon-fed some exposition. Without conflict, though, a story can't move forward.
The script has a by-the-numbers execution
This is one of the biggest reasons I am not a fan of so-called screenwriting gurus that believe all scripts have to fall into a specific formula. Yes, I agree that screenplays follow a specific structure, but hitting very specific beats on very specific pages can start to make screenplays feel like they are merely paint-by-numbers exercises. And if your script reads this way, not only is the reader bored, but the reader (and the audience) is already way ahead of your story because they have read or seen it all before.
As you can see, several other problems occur frequently among the 300 scripts covered by this reader, and I'm sure all of us screenwriters have dealt with several of these problems in our own screenplays as we rewrite them.
Thanks to Reddit contributor profound_whatever for taking the time to create and share the infographic about the 300 scripts, and for giving us permission to repost and discuss the infographic here on NFS. You can check out the original discussion thread on Reddit to hear directly from profound_whatever regarding this infographic.
Which of the 38 recurring problems listed above do you find when rewriting your own screenplays? What strategies have you developed to avoid running into these problems with your screenwriting? Share your experiences with us in the comments.
- "I've covered 300 spec scripts for 5 different companies and assembled my findings into a snazzy infographic" -- Reddit
- Infographic on 300 spec scripts by Reddit contributor profound_whatever