Proper grammer and speling is important for writers of all ages and levels if they want to be more better writers. If you aspire to be a professional writer and didn’t notice the errors in the previous sentence, you’ve got a problem (or you better have a good copy editor). This week’s blog entry is not so much a lesson in grammar and dusting off your copy of Strunk & White; it is more about the importance of proofing your work before turning it in to someone who can either make or break your script.
I gained some perspective on this topic when I was asked to help teach the basics of screenwriting to an English class at a local high school as part of our Young Filmmakers Program. The students were required to write a short screenplay for us to review and narrow down to one script which the kids would later produce. The goal for the program is not only to help improve the students’ writing skills but to also provide them a real world experience similar to that of a working screenwriter in the industry (of course on a much smaller scale, not as ruthless, and without illegal substances). Many of the kids submitted brilliant stories that were unfortunately marred by distractingly bad grammar, punctuation, spelling, and not to mention poor use of present progressive. What we asked the kids to think about was: “Would you feel confident submitting this script to a studio?” We gave the kids another opportunity to proof and refine their scripts before making our final decision. In the studio system or a screenplay competition, there are no second chances like this once you’ve submitted a script.
Even in this age of text messaging and auto-correct, this is something not unique to today’s youth but to amateur writers in general. I’ve come across many scripts in the competition with great stories but with poor grammar and spelling. This is not necessarily a deal breaker for a script to advance in our competition; the quality of the story and writing always come first but the last thing you want to do is annoy your reader. Your words should flow easily for the reader as if they’re going to fly off the page. There is such a thing as spell check but it’s always best to have a new set of eyes copy edit your work before submitting it somewhere. So just like those kids in class, ask yourself, “Do I feel confident submitting this script to a studio?”
Bad grammar may or may not make or break your script but, in an industry where thousands of scripts are passed around, why not make yours the most polished it can be? The last thing you want is for your first impression to be the last impression. Even though some Hollywood producers may still act like they’re in high school, it doesn’t mean you have to.
--Matt Dy, Screenplay & Teleplay Competition Director