3 Rules for How to Survive Working with a Script Doctor
You've spent years working on a script, only to have a producer tell you that you need a script doctor. What does this mean for your screenplay?
But once the meetings start, expect them to bring a lot of notes into the room. Which notes do you take? When should you stick with your instincts? At a recent panel at SXSW, Braga tackled just these questions.
"Script doctors do not exist to help writers, but to give producers the illusion that they are protected from risk."
Rule #1: Don't react
"You have to let them speak, because that's how they show they've done the work," said Braga. "The most important rule is to not react. If you react, you’re overreacting; you’re being emotional about your work and therefore incapable of having a rational discussion about it."
Rule #2: When it comes to "risky" scenes, stick to your guns
Braga says that most of a doctor's advice will be gold, but at some point you'll start deliberating about scenes that you love or that take personal risks. "There will be scenes that are risky and you know they are risky," he said. "The reason you wrote those risky scenes is that you feel there is something dramatically surprising that will make a difference and will leave a special quality to the story. But the script doctor will come and tell you to cut it."
All writers have been through this moment before: To cut or not to cut? It seems so easy for someone to come in from the outside and tell you to cut something. But according to Braga, these moments are an opportunity to show someone why you know your story better than anybody else.
Rule #3: Don't take B.S. from Aristotle
If a script doctor defends himself by citing a 2,500-year-old tradition, you know he is afraid. "One thing script doctors will always do when they are really desperate is bring Aristotle to the table," said Braga.
It's understandable for a script doctor to be conservative in the high-stakes world of filmmaking; if something tanks, nobody wants to take the fall. Just remember to stand your ground (but pick your battles), respect the script doctor, and don't take things personally.
No Film School's coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by SongFreedom.