a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


When I first started reading scripts for pay, for New Line Pictures in Manhattan way back in November 1991 (a gig that didn't last long, but which paved the way for others), it occurred to me to log every script and book I got into a little notebook, just so I'd have a record of it.

I'm not particularly hyper-organized -- at all -- but in this respect I was.

And it's a handy thing. It helps with billing, and with being able to track when I might have read something in the past, both if I get a rewrite of the same script from the same company, or the same script itself from a different company.

It also, by it's very nature, leads to quantifying my reading. X number of titles on a page, X number of pages in a notebook, Right now, I'm on notebook number five.

So though I am usually content to round to the nearest thousand when asked how many paid coverages for scripts and book that I have written, I have the easy ability to figure out that number. Today, I sat down and figured it.



(And that's just paid reads. That doesn't count the several hundred plays I read for Circle in the Square in exchange for theater tickets. Or the scripts I've read for friends for free, or the pro scripts I read just for the hell of it, or any number of books I read in the days when I actually had time to do things like read for fun).

Nine thousand, nine hundred and twenty-three.

That's a lot of plots. A lot of stories, good, bad and mediocre. A lot of cliches, that pop up again and again. The same old typos and misunderstood words, over and over (note to all: It's Times Square, not Time Square. And your character is "fazed", not "phased").

That also means the big 10,000 is coming, probably around the end of August. I once promised myself that I'd sell a script before that happened, and manage to avoid that magic number. It doesn't look like it's going to happen now.

Actually, I guess it is going to be a race now, between me and that large-headed Barry Bonds guy, to see who is going to hit their milestone first. The way that Bonds has been struggling lately, the 5 homers he needs could stretch well into next month.

I'm going to beat you, Barry.

Seventy-seven more scripts to ten thousand. Doesn't sound like much. And again I love my job. Most of the time.

But by the time I stop professionally reading (which could be next year, or at age 80 or 90, who knows), I hate to think about what that total might be up to.


At 6:15 PM, Anonymous Joshua James said...

Scott, of those nine thousand and change scripts, what were the best, unknown titles you read . . . did you ever read a script and go - BANG, this is it, this will be big . . . and it was?

What scripts did you see early that fulfilled their destiny, I guess I am asking . . .

At 7:05 PM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Don't play bean counter with your career. The beans will always win.

At 7:05 PM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

I'd like to know if any of the 9,000+ got produced.

P.S. I have to take a look at my budget, but I'll probably be hiring you to read my new spec, so on the one hand I hate to pile on, but on the other hand at least I know it'll be in good hands.

At 7:38 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I used to read for HBO, and for some reason they got in a lot of indie stuff that they would never make in a million years.

But I read a lot of stuff for them that got made elsewhere, including Being John Malkovich, Hard Eight, Short Cuts, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Muriel's Wedding and The Truth About Cats and Dogs, among others.

I know this because back in the 90s I made a list. I never made a list for the ton of stuff I read for Miramax, a lot of which got made elsewhere (and some of which was made there despite my hating it), but I should.

I read Saving Private Ryan before it came out, as a writing sample, and I had a pretty good sense that it might do well. And the script is better than the movie.

At 9:43 PM, Blogger shecanfilmit said...

Wow. That's a daunting figure.

Did you ever read a script that you said, "No way - this stinks." And then it went on to critical and/or box office success?

At 7:27 AM, Blogger Fun Joel said...

Dude, my hat is off to you. I've probably only read somewhere around 1000 (I'm guessing -- I save all of my coverages on my computer, but when my laptop died last year, I lost a large chunk, so I'm not sure). But I don't only read, full time. Which is why my hat is off to you. I've really only been able to keep doing it for so long because I was also doing other jobs to make money. I'd get burnt out if I read that much. So congrats in advance of the upcoming milestone, and keep up the good work!

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know whether to congratulate you or console you. Either way, that's a whole lot of reading.

Did you ever write an article about the numerous cliches you see over and over again? If so, could you point us in its direction? If not, it might make a good column *wink* *wink*.

At 11:18 AM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, you ROCK my world! Hearing the fact you read "Saving Private Ryan" before the script was made into a movie BLOWS MY MIND AWAY. "Saving Private Ryan" was one my favorite movies of all time. And to hear it was a someones spec. at some point!? WOW!!

Can you elaborate how it managed to get in Steven Speilberg's posession? Thinking of Steven you'd think he'd never even dare to look at the spec. market. (I have the phobia that all Steven does are movies that he originates at the concept level)

Anyway, I ADORED that movie, "Saving Private Ryan," would love it if you elaborated on how the spec. was different, and even better in your opion, at the initial script level.

9,923 and counting, you're my hero Scott. Keep up the good work. You'll always be bigger than Barry Bonds in my book. Someone get that man a cape!

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 11:57 AM, Blogger Josh said...

Having read and done coverage for a pair of indie producers a few years ago...probably coming out to about 75 scripts, maybe 5 of which I actually liked enough to recommend...I'd love to see a breakdown in percentages of great to awful scripts. Being a reader was simultaneously the most gratifying and horrifying experience I've had as a writer--gratifying because the number of bad scripts gave me much more confidence in my own writing; horrifying because quality seemed to have VERY LITTLE to do with whether a script might get made. Not that I'm saying anything new here...

At 12:21 PM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

I did a post of cliches sometime last year, I think. I'll have to revisit it sometime, or just start making a new list.

I've been pretty lucky in that I read a lot for HBO and Miramax, two companies who were getting in a lot of solid stuff at the time -- most of it came from solid agents and producers, so I was getting a higher-quantity of solid stuff than someone reading for an indie producer was probably seeing.

Still, a lot of it was bad, there was a solid swath that was good, but most of it was landed in the wide bog that marks the in-between -- good pieces of writing with no story, stories with potential but poor execution, or scripts that just didn't have that undefinable something.

Now that I'm reading for prodcos that are getting more of a steady diet of things that other people have already passed on, the quality level is dropping.

At 12:23 PM, Blogger annabel said...

I can't imagine reading 9,923 scripts! That is a lot!

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous EDDIE said...

And to think you did it without the aid of banned substances. :-)

At 2:54 PM, Blogger Emily Blake said...

That's borderline OCD.

Just don't start washing your hands obsessively.

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Dante Kleinberg said...

You've read more screenplays than have EVER been submitted to They've had 9,906 according to the site.

You alone have more screenplays than everyone on Zoetrope combined. Freaky!

At 8:35 PM, Blogger Ross Pruden said...

Fantastic blog, really -- but if you're going to talk about misunderstood words, make sure you don't confuse it's (a contraction) with its (a possessive). :)

9923? Wow!

At 8:19 AM, Blogger Tom said...

Oh man, take it easy on the brother! Four uses of "it's" and one of them turns out to be incorrect and you call him on it?

This is the one grammatical blemish I've noticed you make, Scott, I'm gonna give you a pass.

At 3:22 PM, Blogger ScreenwriterJ said...

Scott, you're amazing!

You should feel so proud. Each script you read gets you that much closer to knowing what works in this industry, which must help in your own writing.


At 7:11 PM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

Hopefully I can help you on the way to 10K. What a number.

At 10:26 PM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

[hot-summer thoughts I]

And who's gonna be remembered down the generations for all the eons to come-- Scott the Reader-- or Scott the Writer?

At 10:30 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

My eyes bleed for you, my friend.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger kiwidebra said...

So will number 10,000 get an automatic "consider" in celebration?


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