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Let's face it, most script readers - or as they like to call themselves, story analysts - are not Happy Campers. Since they work on commission, and since they're not paid very much per assignment, they have to slough through a ton of material just to earn a living. Worse yet, most of this material is usually pretty pitiful on an aesthetic level (i.e. formulaic, implausible, just plain sucks), making it almost a Sisyphean task to read.

So it's not surprising that story analysts everywhere are a burnt-out, bitter bunch. (The only exception are Union readers at major studios who can make anywhere from $24 to $37 an hour depending on how detailed the coverage is. Unfortunately, these readers are a minority, numbering less than 200.)

OK, so now that I've laid out the psychology of your average story analyst, you're probably asking, "That's great, but what does this have to do with me as a screenwriter?"

It turns out it has everything to do with you as a screenwriter. That's because story analysts are the gateway to Hollywood. You need to get past them with a Consider or Recommend if you want their bosses (i.e. agents, managers, producers, studio execs) to even take your material seriously.

So how to you get past this Hollywood firewall? Again, remember that story analysts are bitter and burnt-out, so they are looking to pass on your script as soon as they read the words FADE IN. The trick is to keep them from doing that.

But how? The best way is by hooking that story analyst in the first ten pages, first three even better. If you can hook him in these opening pages, he's more likely to keep reading beyond them to the end, giving your material a better chance at receiving that vaunted Consider or Recommend.

Hook him like BASIC INSTINCT did, with some hot and heavy sex and a brutal ice-pick murder -- all on the first page.

Hook him in the opening sequence like THE DA VINCI CODE did, with a murder in the most unlikely place imaginable -- the middle of The Louvre.

Take a page from the James Bond franchise, and open your script with a thrilling, action-packed "teaser" that grabs the reader by the throat and won't let go.

Of course, this doesn't mean every script has to open with the world blowing up to snare a story analyst. You can use slowly-building tension and mystery to lure a reader as well, as the forthcoming Liv Tyler-Scott Speedman starrer THE STRANGERS does. In the opening of that script, two boys in an isolated area discover an empty, burning car parked in front of a home. When the boys approach the home, they discover that the front door's been caved in and splintered by an ax. When they enter the home, the interior is dark and no one is in sight...Scenes like this certainly lack exciting, over-the-top action, but they still produce enough gripping suspense to keep one breathlessly turning those pages to find out what happens next.

Again, I can't stress this enough -- reeling a reader into your script from the get-go is the most important thing you can do as a new writer. Jaded, bleary-eyed story analysts want to read good scripts since they cover so many bad ones, so if you open with some nail-biting suspense, some death-defying action or some surprising twists, you'll make them so happy they're finally reading something worthwhile you'll have a much better chance of winning their favor, and a much better chance of selling your material to Hollywood.

Responses, comments and general two-cents worth can be E-mailed to gillis662000@yahoo.com.

(Note: For all those who missed my past reviews, they're now archived on Hollywoodlitsales.com. Just click the link on the main page and it'll take you to the Inner Sanctum. Love them or Hate them at your leisure!)

A graduate of USC's School of Cinema-Television, Tom McCurrie has worked as a development executive, story analyst, screenwriter and teacher of screenwriting. He lives in Los Angeles and is finally finishing up a really awesome novel.


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