by Terry Rossio
For those who don’t know what Wordplayer is, it’s a web blog created nearly two decades ago. It was written by the screenwriters of Aladdin (1992), Mask of Zorro (1998), and the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise (2003-2000 4ever): Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio (ampersand intentional). It contains exactly 100 “columns” as they were called before the word “blog” took favor. The blog covers an intense amount of knowledge from working writers in the industry. At the time these blogs were written, the duo were working on re-writes of the Mask of Zorro and providing thoughtful insight into the film without revealing the name of the project they were working on (the site is copyrighted 1997). I have found it to be an invaluable resource and a source of motivation in writing a screenplay. These guys like the same type of film I like: epic swashbuckling hero films!
Column #5 Death to the Reader provides a checklist that “readers” use to evaluate an unsolicited script sent to a film studio. A reader is someone who reads an unsolicited/spec screenplay and provides coverage of that script to their boss (typically a producer who works for a production company). A spec screenplay is one that is written on speculation that it will be produced by Hollywood once someone has read it. Spec screenplays are written on the writer’s dime and time and there is guarantee it will ever be made. Coverage is a summary of the spec script with its pros and cons and why the studio executives should pass on the script or read it themselves and consider it for production. Having readers filter the good and bad screenplays for their bosses is a necessary evil. Without them, the studio executives would have no time for anything but reading screenplays, instead of making them. Unfortunately, many times it means your script will be read by college graduates instead of studio executives and the life of your script depends solely on the coverage these readers write about your script.
This Wordplayer column (“Death to the Reader“) provides the checklist that readers use to screen/filter the thousands of screenplays a studio can receive. If your spec screenplay beats this checklist, then your screenplay may be considered further.
No matter what stage of your screenplay you are in, there is extreme value in double checking your script against this checklist. It may save you years of effort and rejection. It may also inspire you to write a better screenplay too. Whenever I read this list, I remember why I like movies and why I like Ted Elliot & Terry Rossio.