Should You Pay for a Script Consultant?

Should You Pay for a Script Consultant

The short answer is no, you shouldn't. Or, if you do, don't expect to get your money's worth.

This may sound overly skeptical, but it's unlikely that the advice you receive from a script consultant will be worth the price. If you want to improve your screenplay as best as possible, there are far cheaper alternatives.

Paying upwards of $300 for someone's advice is fundamentally a little desperate, even if you have the money. It's true that using a script consultant will be a good learning experience. A least, for example, you'll learn how easy it is to be ripped off bypeople claiming to help you write better.

Consider for a moment the ever-growing industry that hopes to profit off would-be screenwriters. Even the best intentioned script consultants secretly laugh all the way to the bank as they provide generally obvious advice to eager novices.

Before you fork over a bunch of money to a script consultant, werecommended that you first:

Fix Your Script Yourself

Be your own best editor by putting the time in. Write a number of scripts (say, at least five), and edit each one as if someone were paying you $300 to do it.

Anecdote: A friend of mine worked for several years at Apple's in-store help desk. Most of his customers were middle-aged women who were educated and intelligent, albeit not terribly tech-savvy. After determining the nature of the problem, my friend would ask, "What would you do to fix this?" They would respond "I don't know," but he would push them to do the thing they thought most logical.

Nine times out of ten, they would end up fixing the problem themselves when forced to take some action. This is to say, they knew the answer all along, they were just too hesitant to take the corrective action because they didn't consider themselves to be "experts."

Take this to heart when editing your screenplay. Sure, an expert could help you fix your third act issue, but I'd be willing to bet that you already know the answer yourself. After all, you've already trained for this moment by watching countless films and probably even by reading Robert McKee's Story or other screenwriting books.

Cheaper, Better Alternatives to Script Consultants

If you need outside advice from somewhat non-partial people:

1. Join a screenwriting Meetup group. If you live in a big city, you can probably find one. If you can't find a Meetup group in your area, start one. From my experience, random people at screenwriter Meetups are more than happy to tear a script to pieces, even more brutally and expertly than high-priced consultants.

2. Sign up for a screenplay workshop or a class at a local college. Screenplay workshops often cost a decent amount of money, but, unlike consultants, they're worth the cost. Rather than being handed down notes from a single person, you'll receive feedback and support from a number of peers and also an instructor of some kind. These exist even outside LA. For example, in San Francisco, a quality screenwriting workshop is hosted at The Grotto.

3. Find low-cost script analysis services. By searching around online, you'll find a number of alternatives to high-priced consultants. For example, SellingYourScreenplay.com by screenwriter Ashley Scott Meyers offers a script analysis service starting at only $67 bucks per script (or less, if you sign up for having three scripts analyzed).

If you still decide you'd like advice from a full-priced industry consultant, proceed with caution. Start out by listening the the consultant's podcast (see: Best Screenwriting Podcasts). If the consultant has written a book, check that out, too. If you decide you that don't share similar aesthetic values with the consultant, then you probably won't fully appreciate--or grow from--their advice.

Essential Books on Screenwriting

If you're serious about writing screenplays, the best book for you is the one that gives you inspiration rather than fear or some other negative reaction. It’s possible you’ll pick up Story and think, “So much for screenwriting! I’m going back to writing free form poetry!”

It's good to find your own favorite screenwriting book, but it's probably a good idea to read or at least skim through them all. There are nuggets of wisdom each of these:

1. SCREENPLAY: The Foundations of Screenwriting by Syd Field. This book isn't exactly cutting edge, but it's solid. You may not be enlightened by Syd Field's classic, but you won't be disappointed, either. If you've written screenplays for a while, you probably already own this.

 

2. STORY by Robert McKee. If you don't want to spend thousands of dollars attending the famous McKee conference, pick up his book. Although a little dry and perhaps unnecessarily detailed, it offers such a wealth of info that it's easily worth the price.

 

3. CREATING BLOCKBUSTERS! by Gene Del Vecchio. Although this isn't a standard classic for screenwriters, it offers a perspective that is rarely addressed. Namely: it helps you develop story ideas that are genuinely marketable -- and it does this without completely devaluing the fact that stories are important cultural artifacts (works of art).

 

4. THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING by Lajos Egri. While focusing on the construction of plays, this highly regarded book is valuable to all types of storytellers, including screenwriters. If you've ever taken any screenwriting classes workshops, you'll know that this is a favorite among teachers.

 

5. THE HERO WITH A THOUSAND FACES by Joseph Campbell. Want something a little more academic? This is it. This book has probably had more cultural impact than all the other screenwriting books put together. In fact, it's the basis for many of the others. It's a bit dense but highly recommended.

 

6. SAVE THE CAT by Blake Snyder. If you've heard of only one screenwriting book, this is probably it. Some people swear by it; others hate it. I'd say it's a little overrated and the thrust of the book has been so widely disseminated that's it's almost unnecessary to read. Then again, there are those who swear by it...

 

7. WRITING MOVIES FOR FUN AND PROFIT by Thomas Lennon & Robert Garrant. The title and cover image say a lot about this book: it's a bit over the top. It's also surprisingly well written and includes a bunch of common sense hints and tips that I haven't seen anywhere else. If you just slogged through Joseph Campbell's writing, this light-reading masterpiece may be just want you need to read next to cure your aching and overloaded head.