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A Script Editor's Journey

March 2023 | Tibwa Nzapa

The challenging role of script editor can be found in development and TV drama, both fulfilling different purposes. Want to know more about being a script editor - then read on ...

My name is Tibwa Nzapa. I am a Belgian-based freelance Script Editor. I started to work in Development in April 2016. Before that, I was a struggling production assistant for almost a decade. It had never occurred to me that it was possible to make a living as a Script Editor before receiving my first decent salary. With no one to guide me in the Film Business at first, I had to trust my instincts and be creative in my approach to the business. I hope that the aspiring story developers among you will find this testimony informative. And some of my simple tips will help you to get your first job as a script reader or a script editor.

Working in the bustling world of Film Development is really exciting. Being part of the development process of a script that will ultimately become a film we’ll see online or in movie theatres is absolutely thrilling. The talents working behind the scene - whether you choose to work in features, tv or animation - are so diverse and inspirational that I have no doubt you will find which role suits you the best.

How to become a Script Reader

There are many jobs in Film Development. As a future story developer, you may decide to wear different hats or just stick to one or two jobs. It is up to you. I personally found it useful, when I started to work in development, to have a clear idea of what my ultimate goal was, in order to determine the steps I’d take to try and reach it. 

It’s most likely that you’ll start off by working as a Script Reader. Script Readers are usually employed by film festivals, independent production companies or majors to help them go through their slate and determine whether the submitted scripts meet their standards or not. Script Readers are usually freelancers who write script coverages for their clients.

There isn’t just one way to become a Script Reader. Some use their contacts to get in touch with a specific production company and submit their CV and cover letter. Others, like me, look for opportunities to start working as a Script Reader on serious websites dedicated to the film industry. The MFJF website is a place website to find your first work experience in the film department of your choice. For the French-speaking story developers out there, who like to meet up with people working in the same department, the Lecteurs Anonymes is a renowned and established community of professional Script Readers and Script Doctors in France. It’s a great place to discuss with the other members and get some support.

I must admit that it is difficult to be considered as a professional Script Reader. One of the reasons is that a lot of people are entitled to deliver professional comments on scripts. Professionals such as, producers, financial partners, directors, distributors, etc. Having the notes of such professionals is always interesting as they are involved in the development process of the project. But it will also force you to demonstrate that your input is as necessary as theirs. In other terms: to become a professional Script Reader, you have to know what you are doing. You have to know your craft and be an expert.

Therefore, apart from a regular practice that is mandatory, you also need to acquire a certain amount of knowledge to properly assess a film. The internet provides tons of content on scriptwriting (yes, if you are interested in Script Development, you have to show interest in Scriptwriting as well, in order to understand the process of a writer). Here are two great websites that provide useful tips for writers, and therefore story developers: (by Scott Myers) and (by Lucy V. Hay). 

Once you’ve mastered the basic elements of Script Analysis, you may find it helpful to read a few books about the art of Story Development. Here are some titles (but there are many more): The anatomy of Story (John Truby), Into the woods (John Yorke), Poetics (Aristotle) and of course, Story (by McKee).

Some of these books can be quite dense. Therefore, as a starter, I would suggest you the book of Lucy Scher: Reading screenplays: How to analyse & evaluate Film Scripts.

If you are more into interaction, I would advise you to attend a few Script Reading courses before applying for a job as a Script Reader. Here are two courses that are affordable and not at all time-consuming: Breaking into Script Reading (by Lucy V. Hay) and (by Peter Harris).

Ultimately, experience and getting feedback from established professionals in the industry are going to make you a professional Script Reader. 

Keep also in mind that you may read for free when you start working as a Script Reader. See it as an opportunity to build up your CV and acquire experience.

As a Script Reader, you’ll be asked to write script coverages. The template varies from one company to another. But ultimately, you will have to be able to write a logline (between 40 words and 4 lines) and a synopsis of the story (500 words). Also, you’ll have to deliver a professional comment on the premise, concept, structure, characters, dialogues, visual grammar and pace. But some companies may also ask you to develop your commercial eye and comment on the marketability of the project.

You can see some examples of Script coverages and reports online ( ; But, not to worry, production companies will always provide you with templates and coverage examples, so you know what is expected of you. 

The other roles in Script Development

If you’ve enjoyed working as a Script Reader, you may want to do more and try to work as a Script Editor or a Script Doctor.

Let’s take a moment to tell the difference between a Script Editor and a Script Doctor. If the definitions can once again vary from one country to another, in general, in films, the Script Editor is an analyst whose job is to help the talent to develop a better draft of a script. Whereas a Script Doctor is originally a professional screenwriter hired to rewrite a script.

We’ll focus here on how to become a Script Editor. You want to develop the ability to write more detailed and analytical reports to help the writer develop their next draft. If script reading is about assessing a script, script editing is about development. Great courses can prepare you to become a Script Editor, such as The Script Development Programme of the NFTS, in the UK. For the foreign story developers out there, great course are available in Paris as well: Expertiser un scenario at La Fémis, and Direction Littéraire at the CEEA.

But there are also other ways to acquire the basic knowledge of the job if you can’t afford these great courses. The instructive book of Karol Griffiths The art of Script Editing: A practical guide to script development is a great way to start.

As a Script Editor, you may be lucky and have the opportunity to be more involved in the development process of a script. This means that a producer may ask you to analyse different drafts of the same story. This kind of experience may lead you to join the development department of a production company or a major. 

If you choose to work in TV, you will realize fast enough that the role of the Script Editor differs quite a bit. And to tell you the truth, there are more opportunities to work in Development in TV than in Films. In TV, a Script Editor is more of a coordinator that maintains the liaison between the different departments, deals with the notes of the partners, manages the writing team, and updates the drafts of the scripts while keeping a keen eye on the writing and the production schedules. Sometimes, Script Editors are also asked to handle some rewrites in TV.

Hard Skills and Soft skills

As you can imagine, the more you move up the ladder in the Film Development Department, the more you’ll need to develop certain skills. You should definitely master Microsoft Office and Final Draft. Knowing a thing or two about research, a broad knowledge of the film business and some office experience will definitely be useful tools as well. Aside from these basic hard skills, there are some important soft skills you should develop as well if you want to stand out in this business:

Be professional, and never miss a deadline. Usually, as a Script Reader, you are given a week to return your script coverage. But sometimes, a producer may ask you to work under tight deadlines. Never agree to such deadlines if you are not sure to meet them. It’s really important to show that you are reliable and efficient. 

If you work as a freelancer, be organised and flexible and always update your schedule. This way, you’ll always be aware of your availabilities and will communicate accurate information to your clients.

When writing your reports, always keep a positive and professional tone. As a Script Reader, it’s unlikely that your coverage will be shown to the writers. They are only destined for the producers.  But experience will teach you that some producers show the coverage to the writers. And the reactions can be violent, which is understandable if you consider the uncountable hours the talent spent developing their story. Make sure that you don’t write something you may regret later on. Even if your job implies telling the truth about the draft you’ve been given to assess, always remain polite and find something positive to say about the script. Never forget that the ultimate goal is to be constructive.

Finally, be discreet. Script reports and coverages are supposed to be confidential. Usually, producers will make you sign NDAs (non-disclosure agreements) when they hire you. If they don’t, it is still your responsibility not to share the material you’ll be entrusted with.

Thinking outside the box

Depending on what your ultimate goal is, my advice would be to seize every opportunity that comes your way to develop the skills. For example, take advantage of this lockdown to acquire the knowledge that will advance your career in the long run. There isn’t just one way to reach your goal. Therefore, be creative and inventive in your approach to the business. 

Every journey is different. You are unique and your job is to start developing the abilities that will make you stand out in this business. 

When I started to work in development, I set a goal for myself. When I achieved it, I set another one and always followed my instincts ever since. I started to work as a Script Editor, then went back to learn about Script Reading. Then, I started to look for opportunities to work internationally and worked on my professional English on a daily basis. I refused work opportunities many people would have killed for to learn what I felt I needed to learn a certain way. I did work experiences schemes that led me to great opportunities after a while. In four years, I have been lucky enough to work for different production companies in Belgium, France, the UK and the USA. I’ve worked as a Script Reader and a Script Editor in films. I even worked for TV and was a Script Coordinator/Associate Story Editor for two years on an upcoming animated tv show for kids (Mush-Mush and the Mushables). I have also had the opportunity to be a regular Script Editor on an upcoming international animated feature film. Currently, I am supervising the writing of a fictional historical piece. 

My final advice for you is to keep dreaming and never give up. Be resourceful and curious. Start where you are with the opportunities you can seize. Do the work and don’t wait for things to be handed to you. Know who you are and what you are good at. Be aware of your strengths and weaknesses. Have a clear vision of what you wish to accomplish and consciously establish the steps that will help you get there. 

Every single one of us is a story in development.

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