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Reputation-Proof: The Standard for a Script

I often get scripts from friends and acquaintances that are just fine. But that's not good enough.

These scripts are laid out on the page like great ones. So, at first glance, it seems like the one I'm about to read could be, too.

However, maybe, the premise is brilliant but the execution is lacking. Or, most of the scenes are clever, but the story is uninspired. Perhaps the characters' dialogue all sounds the same. Odds are, most scripts will have problems like this and fall into the just fine bucket. That's because it's damn hard to write a great script; so hard, in fact, the great ones are celebrated and fought over.

But we writers like to deceive ourselves because most movies and episodes of television are just fine. "So, shouldn't my script find success, too?" the writer deludes himself. As a writer of too many just fine scripts, I'm familiar with this kind of self-deception.

What did the writer who sent me the script hope to achieve in the first place? If they already have an agent or manager, they want to make sure the script is good enough for their representative to "go out with" it. If they don't have a rep, the writer wants to get one.

What does it mean for an agent or manager "to go out with" your script or "take it wide?"

This is the process of selling a spec script. Your rep must call or email many producers—about twenty to fifty—that they've spent their whole career building good relationships with. They make a small pitch about the writer and premise, and then beg the producer to do something miserable: read a script.

Why should the busy producer read a script from a relatively unknown writer? Most of the time, producers choose to because of the reputation of the agent or manager calling.

In the past, the rep has sent them such good scripts by such good writers that the producer has learned to trust them. The scripts the rep sends are good enough that everyone might make some money. The producer feels that they'd be missing out by not reading this new script that the rep is trying to sell.

That means your agent or manager has to put their reputation on the line dozens of times to make a case for your project.

If they send out a bad script, producers are less likely to take their calls and read future scripts they go out with, which is literally how agents and managers make a living.

Your script must be so good that it not just doesn't hurt, but also enhances your rep's reputation.

A just fine script is a waste of producers' time. They won't buy it, and they don't need to meet with the writer.

Your just fine script won't enhance your agent or manager's reputation. They won't go out with it for that reason. And that's why you won't get signed from a just fine script—because a rep won't go out with it, they can't profit from working with you.

Your script can't be just fine or good or interesting or show promise. It must be reputation-proof. Which, in reality, means reputation-enhancing.

If you're not writing something that an agent or manager is willing to put their reputation on the line for, start writing something else.

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