CONFESSIONS OF A SCRIPT CONSULTANT
By Craig Kellem
I love my work! I may not get rich but it feels important,
challenging, and usually satisfying.
And that's a lot!
I'm always aware of how vitally important the materials
are to the authors and writers out there. It really gooses up your sense
of responsibility when you realize that in your hands you're often holding
a person's life's work, their little dream etched out while others sleep,
their hoping-to-be ticket out of one life and into another. Indeed, there's
always a sense of underlying passion and drama when hanging around this
neighborhood, and an awareness that it's about the possibility of dreams
Writers seem to crop up from the most unlikely places.
Great ideas and art, humor and passion coming out of the living rooms
and kitchens of so called soccer moms, docs who'd rather tell jokes,
and lonely kids who are bursting with important things to say. How strange
it is to be invited into their lives. Me an almost faceless stranger
involved on such an vital and intimate level. Talk about an honor as
I get to be the anonymous stranger who hopefully hears them loud and
clear, feels their passion, catches their voices, and can often do something
about making the material better, while being ever so careful not to
mess it up. And then there's always that juicy prospect that this will
be the one that you can hook up.
What fun and how exciting!
In the work that we do, what a wonderful and rich potpourri
of experiences and people we run into. Here's a taste--
--The L.A. pro
who drives you nuts, wants it fast, wants you now and
yet is so devoted and tenacious that it makes you understand
why she's winning.
--The ladies in Nebraska who reflect their solid midwestern
sensibilities in their American historical drama, so precise in protecting
the historical integrity. How sweet it is when they so quaintly appreciate
a good note and how amusing it is to hear them whisper to each other
as they confer in your ear.
--The writer to whom the extent of the problems with
any initial draft matters not. He understands the game.
And with dogged patience and persistence he keeps making it better, cheerfully
in until the material reaches the point of critical
mass, which it always seems to do.
--Calls from panicked contest winners who now, flooded
with requests to read their scripts, are truly learning
the meaning of, "success
is when you trade in one set of problems for a better
set of problems."
--The woman with whom you hit the groove, where you
got into that amazing creative zone which felt like good dancing, but
who never came back.
--The writer who almost had it all together except
for one friggin story thread and how he kept needlessly changing the
ENTIRE script to correct this one thing. How you tried to close the gap
on this one.
--The contest winner who finally had a great script,
got real action on the first round, but when things
slowed down, he seemingly gave up on writing. Try explaining to him that
he's only just begun.
--The satisfaction you feel when a "novice" finishes a piece
of work which has quietly entered the hallowed chamber of professional
writing but who has not yet realized the implications of this momentous
--The previously ignored and isolated writer who finally
pulls off a really promising script and is now calling me to complain
about the problems with his agent.
--The writer who writes very adequately but has never
grasped the notion that all scenes must contain intrinsic
magic, who, after prodding and pain finally "gets it," comes
up with a "small" twist
in a scene which completely raises the level of the
entire sequence and, in its wake, changes her screenwriting philosophy
--The writing team who argued with each other throughout
the consultation, while I calmly sipped my coffee waiting for an opening
to give the next note.
--The first time writer to whom I gave enough notes
to keep William Goldman busy for weeks who called me five hours after
the consultation to proudly announce "I have completed my revision."
--The attorney, wannabe-writer, who thought his stuff
sucked and you got to tell him how wrong he was.
--And the many writers who, having hit that moment
after working their tushes off, where they're ONLY ready to hear that
it works but who will stick to the program when you tell them that it
Being a script consultant is also a constant form of
creative challenge. Although many scripts have obvious flaws (and these
kinds of "calls" can be easy) others are much more subtle,
and solutions require the same kind of creative exploration that it takes
to write a script in the first place. For example, it is easy to become
enamored with characters and texture, and yet a story that's not strong
enough can be a fatal flaw. But when you're in love with the magic in
other departments, it sometimes takes time to realize the story deficiency
and figure out how to tweak it up without upsetting the applecart.
In other cases, you can find yourself totally admiring
a piece of work, respecting its integrity but somehow just not loving
it. And it sometimes requires extra contemplation to figure out why.
Toiling in our developmental end of things, a.k.a.
Works in Progress can also be very satisfying and occasionally frustrating.
The frustration can come from well-meaning writers who have the universal
and usually dysfunctional expectation that the touchdown can be attained
on our own hurry -up wish-list schedule. I recently conveyed this to
a writer who was a bit too hungry and way too early for the desired tears
of joy and giggles that come with creative satisfaction. I asked him
to forget the tears and giggles and to please get back to work.
Our society can make success look so easy, keeping
the behind the scenes agony, trial and error gymnastics, and general
schlepping a professional secret.
On the other hand, developmental harmony can be a joy
and it's dandy when you hit a groove with a writer who has never written
the "big one" and when you both suddenly realize you're in
the orbit always dreamed about, but you're both afraid say anything that
might jinx the no-hitter.
And then there's the script that comes in from time
to time which scores the bullseye, knocks your socks off. Oh my, what
can we do with this? Good things, I assure you. Because all good things
begin with material that truly works.
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