How to tell if your script is good enough
So you’re thinking or writing a play. Or you have already spent a year working and re-working your script. Either way, you’re missing something; some tough love, a reality check, a cheerleader. Kate Bassett, professional script consultant and theatre critic for The Times (UK) tells ARTERI readers how scripts benefit from a second, experienced pair of eyes.
What is a script consultant?
I would define a script consultant as someone who is a freelancer rather than being exclusively attached – as a literary manager, dramaturg or editor – to a specific organisation like a producing theatre or script-publishing house. A script consultant acts as a discerning advisor, looking closely at new scripts, weighing up how successful they might be if produced, pointing out their strengths and weaknesses and how they might be beneficially redrafted, if that is needed. As a script consultant, I additionally advise theatre companies and producers on what classic plays they might most rewardingly revive.
Kate Bassett, theatre critic and professional script consultant, in KL for the Cooler Lumpur Festival, 2016
How is a script critic different from a script consultant?
I’d say the two are broadly synonymous, but “script critic” sounds peculiarly mean and niggling (due to those repetitive “cri” “cr” “ic” and tutting “t” sounds). It doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily, which seems a shortcoming if you’re supposed to be linguistically astute about such matters!
Who needs a script consultant?
Well, a writer might employ one if he or she wanted some expert feedback before submitting their script to theatres, directors or producing companies. Directors, producers and theatre companies also use me as an assessor and advisor of scripts that they have commissioned or been sent.
At what stage should a playwright approach a consultant? (i.e. Idea? Outline? First draft? When they can’t bear to look at their own writing anymore?)
They could do that at any stage in the creative process, so it could be early on when they have various ideas or outlines of possible scripts and want to discuss which ones might be more likely to succeed. But obviously more detailed feedback can be given on a first draft, or on a redraft that still has further room for improvement. Sometimes it’s hard for a writer to see the weak points in a piece that they have been poring over, so a script consultant can be very useful in casting a fresh and more objective eye over it.
What kind of feedback does a consultant give?
A consultant needs to give expert, thoughtful, astute and pragmatic feedback. That advice can cover a whole range of elements, from the styling of the dialogue through characterisation and narrative structuring to suitability regarding the medium (theatre, film, television, radio).
In this weekend’s session you have one hour to comment on 5 scripts. What do you expect to accomplish in that time?
I hope to make some key overarching observations that apply to more than one script as well as zooming in some specific details, because concrete examples can make things helpfully clear. Reading the scripts closely beforehand enables me to identify the main points and discuss them concentratedly in a relatively short time.
Do consultants typically look at a script once or might they work with the playwright over a longer time?
When you work closely with a playwright over a considerable time – particularly if it is a play going into production – you are more often referred to a ‘dramaturg’. You’d also tend to be working with the producing company and director in that case.
When you consult, do you prefer to do it face-to-face or do you work with some writers remotely?
I have done both with writers, directors and producers.
What are the differences between in-person and online work?
If I am giving a writer some suggestions about redrafting, it’s certainly nicer to talk rather than correspond via emails because the humane tone of voice is less apparent in emails! If you are a consultant for directors and producers, that’s less of an issue as they definitely want scripts’ potential weaknesses flagged up. However, talking it through with them also means you can mutually finesse your opinions and discuss possibilities more easily. Meeting for a cup of coffee is much favoured in the UK, but there are also the options of phone conversations and Skyping.
How do I find a script consultant?
Ask other writers/directors/producers, or look on the web. People often contact me via my Twitter handle @katebassett001
How do I get the most out of our time together?
Discuss solutions with the consultant, if it’s in person. Try and step back from what you’ve written and, as objectively as you can, weight up what the consultant says. Follow their advice, if you feel they are right.
Are there script consultants in Malaysia? There will be this weekend when Kate Bassett speaks at The Cooler Lumpur Festival 2016. Supported by The British Council Malaysia, Kate will also review five scripts by Malaysia playwrights. One of these scripts could be yours. To find out more, visit: http://www.coolerlumpur.com/reindependence/