Thinking about our for upcoming weekend screenwriting course (May 11-12) with special guest speaker BBC drama script editor ESTHER SPRINGER, something I’m often reminded of is that a lot of people (and some writers!) don’t actually know what a script editor does.
So I thought I’d try to answer this from my POV.
In my experience a script editor has several different roles, depending on whether they’re working in development or production.
Above all, a script editor’s currency is knowledge of screenwriters, and their relationships with screenwriters. When working for a broadcaster or independent film or TV company, executive producers and producers will look to script editors for their knowledge of the available screenwriting talent and to come up with appropriate and exciting suggestions when they are looking for a writer for a particular project or when they are looking to initiate some new development projects.
So a major part of a script editor’s work is finding out about the current and available writing talent. As a script editor, this means reading script after script, actively looking for new writing talent – also developing relationships with literary agents, coming to a view about the literary agents whose taste concurs with your own, forging these important relationships with agents – who are also doing a similar job of talent-scouting you should be doing as a script editor.
This part of the job is made a lot easier these days by the fact that nearly all literary agents have extensive websites with all their clients’ CV’s \ biogs (the notable exception being Independent Talent).
It also means watching TV, going to feature films, watching short films, going to the theatre, keeping abreast of as much of the good work that’s out there as possible. Nowadays this part of the job is both easier and harder. Easier – because there’s so much more easy access to the shows being made – through the numerous TV channels, internet services like BBC iplayer, ITV player, 4OD, youtube, vimeo etc, subscription services like Netflix and sky movie store. And harder because there just aren’t enough hours in the day to watch everything you’d like to watch (and have a life).
As script editor, you should have a constantly evolving database of the writers you would like to be working with – and you should be talking to as many of these writers as possible.
The 2nd big part of a script editor’s currency is IDEAS. Like writers, script editors should be constantly on the lookout for exciting new ideas – and trying to match those ideas up with the right writer. And – even more – meeting up with writers and getting them to talk about their ideas – and trying to find a home \ commission for these new ideas.
The script editor acts as the interface between the writer and the production. The script editor will be a key part of the decision-making about the hiring of a writer (with the producer) and, once the writer is on board, a script editor will be the writer’s main point of contact on a production. In an ideal world the script editor will process all notes and input for the writer into a single, coherent and consistent set of notes on every draft of outline, treatment and script. (And if you’re working on an episode of a series like ‘Waking The Dead’ or ‘Silent Witness’, this writing process – from initial pitch to shooting script can sometimes last many months.
One big question often asked of the script editor is – whose side are you on? Producer or writer?! The reality in my experience generally is that you’re on the writer’s side – you’re the writer’s supporter through the production process. And the writer will expect no less from you!
But as script editor you also have to acknowledge the practical truth that it’s the production paying your wage, not the writer. Ultimately, as script editor, your responsibility is to the show you’re working on – and making that show the best it can possibly be. So ultimately you’re on the side of the show, which is about the writer but more than just the writer.
It’s the script editor’s task to both creatively energise and motivate the writer to do the best job they possibly can, and to develop strategies to enable the writer to do their best work. Both writer and script editor have to take on board the many vicissitudes of production – the realities of limited budgets and time, location and cast availability, difficult executive notes etc etc – and make a virtue of all the challenges thrown up. And on a series, it’s a huge part of the script editor’s job to communicate to the writer the serial, continuity and ‘house-style’ considerations they need to acknowledge in their scripts.
‘The Authoritative Guide To Writing And Selling A Great Screenplay’
Finally this week, without trying to turn this newsletter into a Dave Scullion-fest, I wanted to point you in the direction of this rather excellent (but very gory-you’ve been warned) short horror film, penned by Dave (who is one this year’s 4screenwriting writers).
And his equally excellent, thought-provoking blog touching on some of the less happy events of the past week. Being a marathon \ running masochist myself, I really responded to what Dave says here…
Until next week,
All the best
April 19th 2013