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Paul Buscemi's Column for Monday March 19, 2001. Buscemiarts@hotmail.com

Remember that talking script I mentioned a couple weeks ago? You know, the one that constantly nags you for a rewrite? Well what happens when he's finally ready to be sent around town? What will his journey be like? Imagine if you will, that you take your polished masterpiece, bid him farewell and God's-speed and then place that script onto a conveyor-belt. You watch as our little-script-that-could glides off toward a distant, massive factory on the horizon. The conveyor-belt ends at a hatch opening on the factory's ground floor. The volume of smoke pouring out of the stacks - indicates this place is quite busy. By the time our little script gets to the hatch, he has been joined by thousands of other masterpieces - all on the same journey. Our little script will have many levels to climb before it reaches the top of....

...The script factory.

Over the next few weeks, we'll visit those ?levels' our script attempts to reach as he try's to avoid the giant waste-paper-basket of doom in the factory's basement. We'll get insight from Development Executives, Producers and Directors and find out what they look for in potential script acquisitions.

This week, Ryan Johnson, a Development Executive for Mandalay Pictures offers his insight on how a script is evaluated once it's submitted to a production company. After the company receives a screenplay, "usually readers read the script first," Johnson explains. "If something in their coverage is interesting or given praise, I take a look at (the script)," he adds.

Here are the key areas Johnson evaluates that are "necessary to make a script stand out."

1. Format.

"If it looks unprofessional, it probably is terrible," states Johnson. "There are few exceptions. If you want to practice the craft, learn the craft," he adds. Johnson's other format tips include: "Don't (write) dense. Don't write four consecutive pages of action or your script will fly right into the trash. Keep things moving, constantly move the action, even in character pieces...never plateau. In 100+ pages, there is no room to slow down, keep it moving."

2. Character's Voice.

Developing a character's voice is one of the greatest challenges for a writer, but oh, so important. "To prove one's writing 'chops', there should be really distinct characters that jump off the page," notes Johnson. "Avoid clich?s, but if you do (such as a 'burnt-out New York detective' which is regurgitated constantly) put a different spin on (it) - make it fresh. True, there are characters that fall into a 'stock' category by type of story but if they don't stand as unique in their own right, the script gets written off quickly."

Johnson has this advice for making characters that are unique. "Make them come alive, be completely visual and interesting, make the main character have many layers...it goes a long way. Keep in mind, $20 million per picture, actors are sacrificing months of their life and risking their careers on these 'characters' so they have to be worth their while."

With all this great advice maybe that little script will move along a conveyor belt or up an elevator to the next level...stay tuned.

NEXT WEEK: Ryan Johnson talks about Story, Concept and why writing can be like exercising.


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