What Are Hollywood Readers Looking for in Screenplays?

'Pulp Fiction'
You think you've written your masterpiece, but no one is responding. What gives? 

All of Hollywood is subjective. Some people love new movies and TV that come out, while others loathe the same titles. The key to making it in Hollywood is following your gut and putting all you have into each project. Oh, and have a short memory, because failures can linger, but the only path is forward.

But what if you haven't "made it" yet? What if you're still waiting to get past the industry gatekeepers known as "readers," who seem to be so enigmatic in their taste and wants? Well, Final Draft sat down with a few to get their takes on what they look for in screenplays. 

In this installment of the "Demystifying..." series from Final Draft and the Virtual Mix community, you get a candid look at the script evaluation process from the reader's perspective. Check it out below! 

What Are Hollywood Readers Looking for in Screenplays? 

Before spending my days and nights trying to be the best writer and educator I can be, I was a reader at a production company. The thing I looked for above all else was a script that knew what it was. Were they fun slashers? Serious dramas? Or did they have a fun twist on a heist but still feel slick?

The way I used to sum it up in my coverage and my meetings was simple. When I read the script, can I see the trailer for the movie and know how we would sell it to people? The reason being, we would have to sell this movie to actors, directors, and eventually a studio. 

Readers work at various places, and that will change how they look at a script. Someone at a production company has to see if their producers would make a project. If the reader works for an actor, you are trying to see who would star in the screenplay. A studio is thinking about genre and box office. All of these needs and wants can explain why things get passed on and also why they get picked up. 

In watching this video, I loved hearing about how readers sorted through how to pick a script based on what they knew they needed where they work. If they're evaluating for a contest, they take it all into account. But if they have a specific mission, they chase those ideas. 

I also loved hearing what got them to give an immediate pass, as well as things they loved. They're looking for a voice and a unique perspective on a story they may have thought they heard before. They're also looking for concrete themes that transcend the plot. 

Things that get passes are a lack of character goals, no real story, and episodic scenes that feel like they aren't building anywhere. They also talk about basic script format, which is very important to be taken seriously from page one. 

This should give you a lot to focus on as we go. So if you're writing a screenplay, go back to the characters and the individual scenes. Make sure they're building into something and extricating the themes you want the readers to understand. 

What were your main takeaways from the video? Let us know in the comments.      

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