If and when to seek a script doctor?

What is a script doctor anyway?

As the name doctor implies, a script doctor does exactly this, doctor a script.

When do you go to the doctor? When you’re really sick (late), or have the feeling something is off (early). I know, some go to the doctor to seek general wisdom on life, but first, I will be concentrating on the other two scenarios.

 A script doctor can do the following things for you:

  1. give you a neutral feedback on the state your screenplay is in
  2. help you shape and develop your story ideas into a script
  3. give advice on your craft
  4. help you evolve your writing, as well as your personality as a writer

So basically, it’s:  Read, teach and fix.

Is it necessary to seek a script doctor, when you want to know if your story is working? 

NO. Establish relationships with other writers and seek their opinions.

If you aren’t sure your story is working at all, it would be a waste of money to contact a script doctor. When your gut feeling already tells you  that your story needs work, then it probably does. If it’s not a matter of, how can it be better, or, I know I have something great, but somehow it isn’t working, or, I reached a plateau where I just don’t seem to get over, than there is no need to contact a script doctor just yet.

What does a script doctor do?

What you want from a script doctor is to get you unstuck. You’ve been spending years, months, whatever time, developing your story. You have told it various times over and over again, but you just lost the perspective on it. What a good script doctor does is, he/she tries to understand where’re you coming from in the story, asks where you want to go and then sits down and comes up with ways to get you where you want your screenplay and story to be.

The way I see it, a script doctor is someone that comes in, same as a writer, who either does a rewrite or helps you rewrite your own story, by addressing the issues and by helping the writer to get a new perspective on things and by that, learn new skills. It is basicly a game of: What ifs. The script doctor makes suggestions which hopefully lead you to a new draft. BUT not by taking the story away from you and making it ones own, no, by providing the tools, so that you can rewrite your script more efficiently. A lot of script doctors are writers themselves, which is a combination you want to look for, because these people have not only the analytic knowledge that is necessary, they also know how to adapt it into the script.

How to tell if it is a good script doctor? 

This is probably the most tricky thing. One who works for you, might not work for another writer, which doesn’t mean that he/she is a bad script doctor. It is a matter of chemistry. Most of the times, hiring a doctor means spending time together discussing the one thing that is really precious to you: your screenplay. So you want to trust this person. Trust is something that needs to be established. A good script doctor is someone who can teach. Who has the skill set to explain the craft to you in a way, that you not only get it, but that you can use it. Knowledge is as important as didactical comprehension.

When do you know, you found the right script doctor for you?

Before you seek out anything in life you need to determine your goal. Like in the screenplay, the hero needs a clear goal and so do you. Write down, what you want to achieve: Do you want to get better at the craft? Do you want to elevate your second draft? Do you want to understand and overcome writers block? …

Whatever it is, you need to understand your needs first, before you seek advice. Because the advice you get is always just as good as the question you are asking. A good script doctor will want to know, what it is you want. A not so good one, will just read through your script and hand you some notes, which might or might not help you.

I don’t have the money to pay a script doctor, I’m just someone who is starting out.

Valuable things have their price. By that I don’t just mean money. Things that hold great valuable, are the things that without them your life wouldn’t be as good. So it is always a question of, does it make my life better? Imagine the following scenario. You can spend endless hours, rewriting your script, taking notes from friends and family, yes, even fellow writers and still evolve, but it will burn away  lots of your time and effort. So in order to cut back on the time aspect, you can seek outward help. Then there are two ways. Attend a film school or get right into it, by hiring e.g. a script doctor.  Sure you can trawl through the internet and educate yourself, this is absolutely fine, but there might come a day, when you basically have read everything there is (totally over-exaggerated) to read and still haven’t figured out, how to apply all this knowledge to your screenplay. That’s when a script doctor provides the shortcut to your success. If you still just can’t afford it,talk to the doctor and figure out a way to get what you want and still be respectful to the script doctors time and work. Offer him/her something that is of use to him/her.

I feel, that not only my screenplay is of the charts, my personal life is sort of in jeopardy as well. Can a script doctor help?

Now, the second most valuable aspect to determine a good script doctor, besides having the ability to teach, is having people skills. By this I don’t mean that a script doctor can and should exchange a psychologist, but if the doctor is indeed a writer him/herself they can guide you through even the ruffest and most stormy waters of writing. No matter if it’s the time management, quitting the day job, dealing with fears or writers block etc. A good script doctor can and will help you find your rhythm in order to achieve your goal.

To good to be true? Yeah well, I admit, these skills are rare, but they do exist.

How to find out beforehand, if a script doctor matches me?

Ask for a phone call, or skype, or whatever. Get to know him/her, see if the chemistry works. If in doubt, try the next one. Even if the one you just skipped comes highly recommended. He/she won’t help you much. Again, it is a matter of trust. If two individuals trust each other, everything is possible!

Should producers work with script doctors?

Producers have to make sure the movie gets done in a way that justifies the money that was spend. A writer wants to make sure that his/her vision of the story gets translated into a good movie. These two agendas can sometimes collide.

A script doctor can do three main things for producers:

  1. Function as a translator. The doctor tries to understand the producers vision, as well as the writers and tries to merge those two visions together by translating back and forth. The good thing about it is, that the writer can write and the producer can produce, without sabotaging the work of the other.
  2. The script doctor can be the audience. This is a great plus in the development process. Having a pair of fresh eyes looking into a story without the burden of being emotionally involved in it from the scratch.
  3. A script doctors has worked with various writers and normally has some interesting contacts of fresh voices that might come in handy, if a producer has an idea circling around, but doesn’t know what writer he/she can assign to it.

So weather you want to evolve as a writer, or simply get a neutral take on your story without the emotional ballast attached, or a producer wanting to maximize the potential of a writer and/or screenplay. A script doctor can be the one person you want to talk to.

But again, all of this works without the script doctor, but a script doctor can determine the symptoms fast and cure the cause efficiently.

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