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What Is A Script Editor And Do You Need To Hire One?

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by Script Reader Pro in Script Coverage
May 19, 2015 2 comments

Are you looking to hire a “script editor” but are unsure what the term means exactly? In this post, we clear up the confusion surrounding this job to help you decide if should hire one for your screenplay. 

“Script Editor” Is A Term Used In British TV

In Britain, the term “script editor” is used to describe someone who works closely with the production team and the writer to maintain a standard of quality on a TV drama or comedy series.

Much of the confusion surrounding the term “script editor,” however, stems from the fact that it’s also used in the world of screenplay consulting — interchangeably with the terms “script consultant” and “script doctor.”

In reality, though, they all pretty much mean the same thing: people who get paid to help aspiring and professional screenwriters with their scripts.

The difference is in the types of service these people provide. If you hire someone as a script doctor or screenplay consultant, you’re generally asking them for one-on-one coaching — help with your script’s development in terms of its characters, story, structure, dialogue, etc.

The term “script editor” is sometimes used to describe this same service when really it shouldn’t be.

“Script editing” refers to a service some “script doctors” or “script writing consultants” provide when they go through a script and perform a Line Edit or some other kind of editing service that trims down and cuts what’s on the page.

The main difference here between an “edit” and a “doctoring” or “consulting” service is that an edit generally makes cuts to the script without going into the same level of detail on story, character, structure, etc.

It’s not a consultation service, it’s a service designed to tidy up and polish what’s in already pretty good shape. For this reason, we only recommend Line Edits to screenplays that have already received a CONSIDER or RECOMMEND from our or some other well-respected screenplay consultancy’s coverage service.

On this page you can find a Line Edit example to give you an idea of what the service entails, but here’s a quick rundown of the kind of things a judicious script edit will seek out and destroy in your script.

Idle Chatter

A film “is life with the uninteresting parts cut out.” And that means cutting out all small talk. In well-written scripts, characters don’t make small talk. Every single word they say in some way moves the story forward or reveals character and theme. And often all at once.

The old chestnut concerning writing scenes is to “get in as late as possible and leave as early as possible,” and this means avoiding have your characters say anything to each other that’s not relevant. UNLESS it’s important to the plot or revealing character in some way.

Also, characters should never talk about things that we already know. Near the end of 12 Years A Slave, for example, Bass (Brad Pitt) asks Solomon (Chiwetel Ejiofor) how he ended up as a slave.

Rather than having Solomon tell him, the film simply cuts to ten minutes later and we pick up again with Bass saying, “That’s quite a story.”

This is exactly the kind of thing a good Line Edit will cut out with Strikethroughs made directly on to the page.

Unnecessary Scenes

These are the single biggest culprits for over-inflating a script. Every single scene should move the story forward and hopefully reveal character. If it’s not then it shouldn’t be in the script.

You may have heard that a good way to test whether a scene should be in a script is to take it out and see what happens. We don’t like this advice as it doesn’t take into account how hard it is for the writer themselves to make this kind of judgment call.

Sometimes, a Line Edit is a much better way of flagging up “dead scenes” than letting the writer take them out, or leave them in, thinking they deserve to be in there.

Unnecessary Sub-Plots

Ideally, a Line Edit should only be performed on a script when it’s already gone through several drafts and is close to completion. However, sometimes, even then rogue sub-plots can still sneak through and need to be flagged in the edit.

A sub-plot should only exist in order to impact on the main plot.

In other words, if you write a series of scenes in which your main character tries to set up a friend on a blind date, but nothing happens to the main character as a result, then they don’t belong in the script.

For example, in Sideways, Jack gets together with Maya’s friend, Stephanie in a subplot. After finally getting it on with Maya, Miles lets it slip to her that Jack is engaged and she dumps him.

The subplot, therefore, directly affects the main plot and this should always be the case or else it’ll be another item marked for deletion in a Line Edit.

Montages

Ah, the ubiquitous montage… As you probably know, montages should serve a specific function — showing one action, usually executed by the protagonist, which should take hours, days or weeks, condensed down to a minute or less to save screen time.

One example is the famous “training montage” found in sports and war films. The hero has a week to get in shape for the big fight or entrance to the army, and so we see them doing lengths in the pool, chin-ups, and shooting on the range in a series of ultra-quick scenes.

Often, they are visibly better at whatever they’re doing at the end of the montage than they were at the beginning, to increase the sense that they’re getting somewhere.

The key point is a montage is one action with a purpose. The hero should have a specific goal, just like in a scene, except this time there’s often little or no conflict. It simply exists to move the story along more quickly than possible in a series of proper scenes.

The mistake many writers make, however, is adding montages without a clear purpose. Common examples are montages of city/country life. Montages of family /friends lives. Montages of traveling/driving home / commuting to work etc.

In each of these examples, the montages fail to move the story along and so will probably be cut by the screenplay editor.

Unnecessary Characters

At the risk of sounding repetitious, every character in a film is there for a reason. If their impact on the main plot is unclear or non-existent, a Line Edit will suggest you take them out.

Does your protagonist really need that buddy who pops up every so often? If the buddy is not guiding the protagonist, advising them, or turning against them then they shouldn’t be in the script.

Often, “script editors” performing a Line Edit will suggest several minor characters be melded together to form one. A protagonist will come up against several obstacles posed by different characters, when in fact they could all be the work of the same one.

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We hope this has cleared up some of the confusion surrounding the roles of “script readers” “script consultants” and “script editors” for you. Feel free to drop us a line for more info on any of our script coverage services.

2 Comments
  1. Vincent Kong says:

    Hi there,

    my name is Vincent Kong. I’m wondering. Would you to the editor for me my script? Do I want to know how much cost?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      One of our readers would do the Line Edit or Proofread and you can check them out here: https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/line-edit-service/ and here: https://www.scriptreaderpro.com/proofreading-and-formatting-service/ Cheers!

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