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?

Felipe Braga has tons of respect for script doctors. According to the director and screenwriter (TrashB1), script doctors are your best readers; nobody else will read your work in such detail.

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. 

For more, see our complete coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival. Listen to our podcasts from SXSW (or subscribe in iTunes):

Video is no longer available: soundcloud.com/nofilmschool/sets/sxsw-2016

No Film School's coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by SongFreedom    

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Rule #4. Know the rules before you break them. There is a reason why the three-act structure and the Hero's journey concept works. However, for short films, the rules are a lot more blurred since it is quite challenging to follow the three-act structure in 10 minutes or less. Most important - if you can break the rules and conventions and still tell a great story, go for it!

March 13, 2016 at 11:43PM

Willie Bouwer
Lecturer / Cinematographer / VFX Artist

That was cool advice

March 14, 2016 at 1:02AM

Sameir Ali
Director of Photography

Excellent article. Question: I sent my script to three script consultants. After reading the feedback, I realized they have different opinions. An example "I love the ending" or "Maybe you could change the ending". What can I do? Follow my instincts and pick the advice I like?

September 6, 2019 at 8:54AM

Claudio Martinez Valle
Creative Director