EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SCREENCRAFT CO-FOUNDER
John Rhodes is the co-founder of ScreenCraft. A new site dedicated to helping screenwriters develop their screenplays. Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the inspiration behind ScreenCraft and what it takes to provide writer’s with honest notes and criticism.
Keep reading for tons of insight into the script development process and a behind the scenes look at ScreenCraft.
When did you first become interested in screenwriting?
I became interested in screenwriting in high school. Growing up in Austin, TX I was surrounded with excellent community theater and indie film programs. I remember seeing Shakespeare in the park going to SXSW back in the early days and just wanting to be a part of putting on high quality drama and entertainment. When I moved to Hollywood and worked on DRIVE and the upcoming ENDER’S GAME, I gained first hand experience in the development process of major feature film screenplays. Since then I’ve worked on dozens of mid-budget films in various development capacities – from securing financing to developing the screenplay with the writer.
What is it about the craft that keeps you coming back for more?
Experiencing emotional reactions from audiences is the most gratifying part of creating feature films. There’s something awe-inspiring about sitting in a dark room filled with strangers and seeing them laugh or cry from the work you’ve helped develop on the screen. It’s the enthusiastic conversations and debates that happen on the way out of the theater that are the real validation and reward of screenwriting.
What is ScreenCraft and how did it begin?
ScreenCraft is an independent entertainment content development company. Our network of studio and production company executives help screenwriters develop their scripts. It began as an idea that my partner Cameron Cubbison and I had. We knew so many talented writers and we decided to formalize the way we helped them develop and introduce their content to studios, producers, agents and managers. Anyone is welcome to check out our services at ScreenCraft.org.
Take us through the ScreenCraft process.
We offer a range of services, including coached pitch sessions, screenplay submission strategy, and access to the largest network of working Hollywood insiders. We focus on developing excellent narrative content (film, TV, short form) that is also marketable and attractive to the current (and always changing!) industry climate. Writers expect a level of quality from us that goes far beyond the generic, cookie-cutter notes from many other coverage companies. Our consultants currently work in development and production at the top studios and production companies.
What attracted you to script consulting/development?
Screenwriting is where the magic happens; it’s the purest part of the creative process. This may sound cliché, but the power of story is so elemental to being human. It’s how we learn and communicate truth. And audio-visual narrative in film and TV is the most pervasive and powerful art form we currently have.
What makes a good script note?
Great question. Giving good (read: useful) script notes is an art in itself. So many writers hate the notes process because development executives often don’t speak the same “language” as writers; they’re concerned with separate things. In my experience, the best notes acknowledge what the writer is trying to do (this also allows the writer to clarify if the development executive misunderstands) and offers reasons why it doesn’t work for the development executive. Every development person has their own “pet” criteria that they bring to most scripts. At the end of the day, everybody will have notes on any script (or finished film for that matter). The important thing is to take notes from somebody who a) has a proven track record or b) has the power to get your screenplay produced!
Is it tough reading a ‘bad’ screenplay knowing you have to be honest in your notes?
I read all levels of screenplays. It’s never fun to read a bad screenplay. That said, there is something good in every screenplay. I have no problem pointing out problems. But I also point out at least one good thing – usually the core strength around which the screenplay should be shaped.
Carefully constructed criticism can be tricky. It can be discouraging but it can also inspire writers to improve. Is it hard finding a balance between the two while avoiding either extreme?
Writing is often a difficult process. It can definitely be discouraging. And the fact is, there are few writers who have the stamina and determination to practice enough to “make it.” As F. Scott Fitzgerald said in a letter to his daughter: “All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.“
What would you say is the one thing that keeps a good script from being great?
That’s the million dollar question! It’s never just one thing. Each screenplay has its unique challenges. The most common basic problem I encounter is a protagonist that isn’t interesting or strong enough. A script should make me laugh or cry or gasp or sigh. Without being able to elicit a strong gut reaction from a reader, a script is dead.
What is the most common mistake new writers make before submitting their screenplays?
Most writers don’t re-write enough. Before submitting a screenplay, a writer should have their script read first by friends, then by professionals and then by executives.
What advice would you give an aspiring screenwriter about to submit his/her work?
Get your screenplay read by a development professional. There are plenty of paid coverage services that will give you notes for less than $100. At ScreenCraft we connect writers directly with development executives for notes – so they get a 2 for one: development and exposure to Hollywood decision makers.
In your opinion, what elements make up the perfect pitch?
Pitching is important, but not nearly as important as writing. Nobody is buying spec pitches anymore, unless you have a proven, produced screenplay under your belt. That said, a good pitch is truly an art form which involves the same key elements that a script has: good structure and passionate storytelling. I could write several dozen pages about how to pitch (and how not to)!
Can you tell me about a screenplay that truly inspired you?
I really loved reading the DRIVE script for the first time. The first 20 pages of that script are sensational. I also really love a recent spec screenplay in development called THE DISCIPLE PROGRAM – it’s a great example of a strong, surprising, intriguing protagonist. I had never read something like it.
What’s next for ScreenCraft? For you?
ScreenCraft is shiny and new! We look forward to helping hundreds of aspiring writers refine their scriptwriting technique in the coming months and years. I’m also producing several upcoming panels in Los Angeles – we’ll have top producers, screenwriters, managers and lawyers talk about the changing industry, how new spec screenplays are getting discovered and marketed, and disruptive business models in digital entertainment. We also have a new Horror Screenplay Contest. I also manage a small list of writers and directors. I have several films in development and an exciting project starring John Hawkes in production.
Special thanks to John Rhodes for the interview.