blog

Script Doctor 101:
What They Do, How to Hire One and Become One

Learn everything you need to know what a script doctor can do for your screenplay and how you can become one yourself.

Featured In
by Script Reader Pro in Script Coverage
October 20, 2021 33 comments
script doctor services

Script Doctor 101: What they do, how to hire one and become one. 

If you think you’ve reached a stage with your script where you need some help from a professional screenwriter, hiring one as a script doctor may be a good idea.

In Hollywood, studios and production companies spend hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars on hiring a professional screenwriter to doctor a script. But you don’t have to.

In this post, we’ll show you how you can also get a pro script doctor to work on your screenplay or TV pilot at a fraction of the cost.

Here’s what’s coming up: 

What is a script doctor?

 How much does a script doctor charge?

 Script doctors and screenwriting credits

 Script doctor vs. script consultant vs. story analyst

 How to hire a script doctor

 How to become a script doctor

So let’s jump on in.

Click here to tweet this post.

Are script doctors real? Just what is a script doctor?

A script doctor is a loose industry term for someone who’s hired by a production company to rewrite or polish parts of a screenplay. This usually happens after multiple notes and drafts by various other writers.

The phrase “script doctor” seems to have originated out of the fact the work is surgical in nature. For example, one might be hired to rewrite parts of Act 2. Or make character changes. Or fix the ending.

Alternatively, a screenplay doctor may be brought in just to perform a “polish.” This means sprucing up the dialogue, characters, theme, etc. without fundamentally rewriting anything.

In either case, a screenplay doctor isn’t usually hired to rewrite or polish a whole movie. Just fix whatever lingering problem(s) it may have.

They drop in, fix a specific issue, and then drops out again—leaving the rest of the screenplay untouched.

Confusingly, “script doctor” isn’t a job description. 

In Hollywood, the job title “script doctor” however, doesn’t really exist. You won’t sign a WGA contract for a rewrite as one. You won’t live off a fixed annual script doctor salary. And it’s unlikely you’ll introduce yourself as one at a party.

As John August says, script doctoring is “a specific task within screenwriting, but not really a profession in-and-of itself.”

This is because script doctors are essentially just screenwriters. Their main trade may be as a professional screenwriter, but they moonlight as a writer-for-hire when called upon.

When do script doctors get hired?

In Hollywood, script doctors are often parachuted in at the eleventh hour to solve major issues with the script right before it goes into production. In other words, after a script has been “green-lit” for production.

Producers, financiers and even the stars themselves can get panicky if a movie isn’t firing on all cylinders before hitting production.

A script doctor’s input, therefore, can make or break a movie.

Script doctors aren’t always brought in so close to the wire, however. They can also be hired during the pre-production and development phases too.

How much does a Script doctor charge?

The best script doctors in Hollywood get paid big bucks. This is due to the intense and specialized nature of the work, often involving tight turnaround times.

Also, because script doctors don’t usually receive writing credits, they don’t receive residuals either. This means they’re able to command large script doctor rates upfront, rather than take a percentage of the film’s profit.

Script doctor rates.

Studios often pay the top screenwriters huge script doctor rates that can run into the millions. Tony Gilroy, for example, was reportedly paid five million dollars for his script doctor work on Star Wars: Rogue One.

Like all fees, this would have been negotiated between Gilroy’s agent and Simon Emanuel, the producer. There is no fixed script doctor rate, however, as it depends on many factors: the turnaround time, amount of work, the movie’s budget, how in-demand the writer is, and so on.

Overall, the producers are willing to pay high fees for this work as they want to make sure the movie stands the best possible chance of being a hit. And hiring a top screenplay doctor is often the best way of doing this.

Do script doctors get credited for their work? 

If further proof were needed that being a script doctor isn’t a recognized Hollywood job description, you won’t find their name in the end credits of a movie once it’s released.

In order to receive a WGA writing credit, a screenwriter must contribute more than 33 percent of an adaptation and more than 50 percent of an original screenplay.

Consequently, script doctors usually go uncredited, as the amount of work they do on any given script most often falls below the WGA’s minimum percentage.

What did Carrie Fisher script doctor? 

Here are a few examples of movies punched up by famous writers, working uncredited as script doctors.

Some may be quite surprising, given the writer and material, but writing undercover in a different genre is an enjoyable side gig for many screenwriters.

 Carrie Fisher was a script doctor on Lethal Weapon 3 and countless other films.

 The Coen Brothers were script doctors on Fun With Dick and Jane.

Charlie Kaufman worked as a script doctor on Kung Fu Panda 2.

• Alexander Payne was a script doctor on I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry.

 Jason Reitman was a script doctor on The Incredible Burt Wonderstone.

Sometimes a screenplay doctor may end up rewriting more of a screenplay than initially agreed. For example, Noah Baumbach was hired to rewrite elements of Madagascar 3 but rewrote so much he ended up being awarded a writing credit.

Script doctor vs. script consultant vs. story analyst. 

Now let’s now clear up some of the confusion we see out there on the differences between this role and that of a script consultant and story analyst.

The main difference between a script consultant/story analyst and a screenplay doctor is this:

Hands-off advice (script consultant and story analyst) vs. hands-on rewriting (script doctor.)

What is a script consultant?

A script consultant gives writers advice on how to improve their screenplay and get it ready for the market.

They are sometimes hired by production companies, but more commonly by aspiring writers looking for feedback on their script. (Professional writers generally get notes from their manager, writer friends or other industry folks.)

Script consultants write up extensive notes on writers’ scripts of 4-8 pages or even longer in-depth development notes of 12-25 pages.

Sometimes script consultants are hired to give on-the-pagemargin notes“—feedback written directly on the page on how to improve scenes, characters, dialogue, etc.

Unlike a Hollywood script doctor, a script consultant doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional screenwriter or have any qualifications at all. Anyone can set up a script consultancy online so we recommend you properly vet their credentials.

Make sure you know who exactly will be giving you notes on your script. Do you know their name or just a set of initials? Are their credentials just providing coverage for production companies, or are they working screenwriters?

In our post on 4 Crucial Things You Should Do Before Hiring a Script Consultant we go into more detail on the role of the script consultant.

What is a story analyst?

A story analyst (also commonly referred to as a “script reader”) is someone hired by a company to write script coverage on all the submissions they receive.

These companies can be production companies, talent agencies, management companies or studios.

Classic script coverage. 

This classic type of script coverage is not seen by the writer who sent in the script. It usually consists of a short synopsis of the story and a short summation of the script’s strengths and weaknesses, summed up by a “Pass” “Consider” or “Recommend” grade. Script coverage of this kind generally comes in at two pages or less.

Any scripts that don’t make the grade get rejected, while those that score highly get passed up the chain by the story analyst. In this sense they act as gatekeepers, making sure their boss only has to read scripts with potential.

Script coverage from script consultancies. 

Confusingly, the term “script coverage” has also come to include other forms of story notes provided by script consultancies too.

Aspiring screenwriters often pay script consultancies to provide “script coverage” on their work before sending it out into the industry. However, this isn’t usually the short classic script coverage performed by a story analyst.

The script coverage services delivered by script consultancies are usually much more extensive and performed by script consultants.

Somehow, though, the term “script coverage” has become a catch-all for all of these types of notes—whether from a consultancy or a production company, studio, etc.

Overall, neither a script consultant or story analyst/script reader will perform any actual rewriting on a screenplay. They merely advise the writer of the screenplay on how to rewrite it.

In the real world, rewriting screenplays falls solely on the shoulders of script doctors. But, again, when it comes to script consultancies, sometimes a script consultant will also perform script doctor work, and vice versa.

Our team of professional screenwriters provides both script consultant and script doctor services. For example, the 12+ pages of notes we provide as Deluxe Script Coverage qualify as script consulting, but that same writer may also be simultaneously working on a rewrite.

script coverage services

Do you need the help of a script doctor?

Breaking into Hollywood is a process that demands more from today’s screenwriters than it ever has before. In the past, developing and packaging a script was the producer’s responsibility.

If a screenplay presented an idea exciting enough to hold a producer’s interest, whether that script needed a rewrite or polish, then that producer would bear the cost of hiring a screenplay doctor to make sure the actual script lives up to the writer’s vision for the film.

Today, much of this responsibility has fallen on the shoulders of the writers themselves. Therefore, there’s now more of a demand to bring in a script doctor who will work without credit and ensure that the creative potential of their script is fully realized on the page.

When these screenplays get passed on to actors, directors, producers, financiers and other potential collaborators, a good script doctor will help ensure that the genius of the writer is communicated in a way that lends itself to excellent collaborations and excellent cinema.

How to hire a script doctor. 

What are the best script doctor services out there? With all the numerous websites out there advertizing script doctor services, this can seem a daunting task at first, but it needn’t be.

We recommend you follow these three steps in order to not only minimize the cost of hiring a script doctor but make sure you have the best experience as possible.

Step #1. Work out precisely what work you want done on your script. 

Have you taken your script as far as you can by yourself and have now decided you could do with the help of a script doctor?

Do you need someone to punch up the dialogue? Or tighten up the story? Or completely rewrite it from scratch—as in a ghostwriting situation?

Having specific goals in mind like these are a good way to approach hiring a script doctor, rather than just saying “I want you to make my script better,” for example.

Take some time to work this out before contacting anyone but any script doctor worth their salt will discuss these plans with you in depth before taking on the job too.

Step #2. Thoroughly research each script doctor website. 

Once you’ve nailed down your search to a few possibilities, ask yourself these three key questions about each:

1. Who will be working on my script? How much experience do they have? Are they professional screenwriters themselves, or have they only placed highly in a few contests and set themselves up as a script doctor?

Make sure you gather as much information as you can about who will be working on your script, and make sure it tallies with your vision and writing sensibilities. You could be spending a fair amount of money on this, after all, so you want to make sure you jive with your script doctor.

2. How do they interact with you and your story? How responsive and interested do they seem? Do they really listen to you and seem genuinely excited to execute your vision? Do they come up with great ideas of their own that get you excited?

You want to choose the person who is not only a great writer, as proven by their work and experience, but is passionate about making other writers’ scripts better. This passion will more than likely translate onto the page and make for a better end product overall.

3. Does the screenplay doctor make grandiose claims about helping you “make it”? If a script doctor website makes promises about helping you break into the industry, and/or turning your script into an instant sale, you must proceed with caution.

These kind of claims whiff of unprofessionalism as no one can predict what’s going to happen with a script. Even a great script. Even great scripts written by A-list writers sometimes don’t get picked up for whatever reason. So, if a script doctor guarantees success with a script, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.

Step #3. Be clear on your expectations. 

It’s essential that you make sure that you’re clear what work exactly your screenplay doctor will be undertaking on your script before they get started.

Naturally, it’s only by both of you coming to a clear understanding of what you want to achieve that they will be able to do their best work.

Secondly, be clear on your expectations once their work is complete. For example, most script doctors are just there to rewrite or polish your script and hand it back to you. They’re not there to also market your script for you or help you get a manager once they’ve completed the new draft.

Similarly, it’s imperative that you’re realistic about your script’s chances in the industry after the gig is complete. Just because a professional script doctor/screenwriter has rewritten and polished your script and got it firing on all cylinders, doesn’t guarantee any form of success once you take it out into the industry.

“Success” as defined by things like winning a prestigious contest, gaining representation, making a sale, etc. can be a frustratingly unfathomable entity dependent on a number of factors.

These can include many factors not even related to the script itself—from the quality of the writer’s query letter, or in-person pitch, to what side of the bed the manager/exec/contest reader got out of that morning.

Our script doctor service only uses pro screenwriters.

Plugging away on your script by yourself and not making the progress you’d like? Is it missing something, large or small, that you can’t quite put your finger on? Is it failing to grab the attention of the industry?

 

hire a script doctor

If a Script Doctor Consultation makes sense to you, then a polish or rewrite as recommended by your script doctor is probably a sound investment.

All of our team have years of experience as working Hollywood writers and of providing rewrites and polishes on other writers’ scripts.

Not only that, but we also offer clients the chance to choose which screenwriter/doctor they’d like to work on their screenplay according to its genre.

We help writers achieve the screenwriting career they’ve always wanted.

And sometimes letting a professional screenplay doctor step in to fix a few problems is the best way to do this.

Our script doctors perform a wide variety of rewrite and polish work, depending on the nature of the script and requirements of the writer. This could be anything from a light dialogue polish to a major rewrite of the whole script.

See if your script could use the help of a script doctor by sending it in for a Script Doctor Consultation for just $79.

script doctor

Here’s a complete list of the script doctor services we offer and more details on the process and how to get started.

Our screenplay doctor services.  

Polish. This can involve polishing the characters: adding character beats and amping up personalities, etc. Polishing the dialogue: adding humor, making it less formal, removing on-the-nose dialogue, etc. polishing the description: making it smoother, more cinematic, removing formatting inconsistencies, etc.

Rewrite. This is a more “hands-on” script doctor service. A rewrite can be “light” “medium” or “heavy,” depending on the amount of work the script doctor performs. The service involves getting stuck into the script, adding and/or removing scenes, characters, dialogue, description. Or even completely rewriting chunks of the screenplay, such as an ending that isn’t quite working right.

Ghostwrite. For those writers who have a great idea, synopsis or treatment, but don’t feel capable of executing it, we can also ghostwrite a screenplay from scratch. You’ll be given the chance to fully discuss and explore your idea with your chosen pro and sign off on a detailed synopsis before work begins.

What sets our screenplay doctor services apart from others. 

Our entire business model at Script Reader Pro is built around offering screenwriters the tools and support to compete in an industry that can seem impenetrable to new creative voices.

Providing script doctor services at a price point that’s accessible to creators is a vital part of helping new writers move their projects into production.

Our script doctor services are structured to ensure that emerging voices have access to precisely the same pool of film development talent that would traditionally be utilized by the studios.

script doctor

How to become a script doctor. 

Although some screenwriters make a living solely from script doctor work, most fit it around their ongoing careers and passion projects. If you’re wondering how to become a script doctor, you almost always need to become a pro screenwriter first.

When you’re just starting out, this might seem like a far-off dream, but remember: A-list writers had to start somewhere too. Here are the exact steps you should take when learning how to become a screenwriter.

Once you have some pro credits you can start branding yourself as a script doctor. Or before, but it will definitely be harder to get the work.

But let’s say you’ve got the screenwriting chops and/or credits and want to get started setting yourself up as a script doctor. You could try checking out Derek Rydall’s book, I Could’ve Written a Better Movie Than That (How to Make Six Figures as a Script Consultant Even if You’re Not a Screenwriter).

While the subtitle may be a little over-the-top, the book does a good job of breaking down how to analyze a script and give good feedback, becoming a script doctor, setting up shop, specializing in one genre, and more.

Click to tweet this post. 

A final word on script doctor jobs.

If you’re wondering how to become a script doctor, you should also definitely consider just immersing yourself in the industry in any way that you can. For example, get a job in the mailroom at an agency, or as a script reader.

Work as a writer’s assistant or even as a barista in a West Hollywood spot where pro writers get their coffee. Wherever you are on the ladder, don’t stop networking, hustling and telling people that you’re a writer/script doctor.

In this post, Screenwriting Jobs: The Best 14 Sites for Screenwriters to Get Paid, you’ll find hundreds of listings from companies looking to hire writers, development staff and production crew. 

screenwriting mentorship

###

If you’re considering hiring one of our script doctors, shoot us an email or leave your question below. Or maybe you’ve hired a doctor in the past? How did it go? Let us know in the comments section.

Enjoyed this post? Read more on script doctors and consultants. 

4 Crucial Things You Should Do Before Hiring a Script Consultant

What Is a Script Editor and What Can They Do For My Script?

Script Coverage Example: Learn What Readers Are Looking For

[© Photo credits: UnsplashFlickr]

33 Comments
  1. jorge arada says:

    Hello

    I have script complete and need know how much is rates for analise it .thanks

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi Jorge, sure thing! You can find our script doctor services here and feature script coverage and TV script coverage services (and others) here.

  2. William Whiteford says:

    THANKS for another superb enlightening blog.

    Let’s assume your Script Doctor found nothing to fix ( rather a SF-twist). Will her/his Client get “Recommendation” then.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Yes 🙂

  3. Muhammad says:

    Hi I have and idea of a movie a powerful man is must be series

  4. Kamal says:

    Hi I have a story it’s an movie idea I’m sure you I’ll buy it the book power if you have the book nobody in the world can fight you .

    1. Muhammad says:

      Hi also I have and idea of one movie is under a powerful man in the world

  5. oscar julian lopez rincon says:

    great-job, guys!!!

  6. Jags says:

    Fantastic work

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Jags!

  7. Chesley Lydekker says:

    11.19.19 Question 1) Lydekker: almost polished Final Draft doc. PG Family/Dramatic-Comedy Feature 70 pgs. Want Margin Notes, is Kalesniko the right person?. Question 2) How can I get THE STRUCTURE checked, and a beat sheet/or beat outline done, is that service possible? It would help me a great deal-as storyboard/organize music/formally present/compose the music strategy. I want control over the margin notes (like what I saw.) Email: caharding2002@yahoo.com. I have no direct address or email or telephone for you; please provide. Thanks.

  8. Stephan Davis says:

    I’m interested in hiring you to rewrite my thriller script, 116 pages, Silence of the Lambs meets Gone in 60 Seconds. Interested?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sounds good – you can check out our Rewrite/Polish services here. We would start by writing up an Initial Assessment on your script to let you know how your chosen pro would approach the rewrite/polish.

  9. Sarah says:

    This has been really helpful, thanks for taking the time to clear up the script doctor script consultant confusion!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Sarah – glad it’s cleared up!

  10. Nasser Arigat says:

    How much would it cost me to hire you on a 92 page script. Thx

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi Nasser, if you’d like a rewrite or polish you can purchase an initial assessment on this page. Or if you’d just like coverage you can check out our options here. Cheers

  11. Luke Sedaris says:

    Does Script reader pro rewrite novels?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Unfortunately not, Luke – we specialize in movie, TV and short scripts.

  12. Abdul Ali says:

    I have a script thats ready to sell do i need a polish first?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      It depends! Have you had a “Strong Consider” or “Recommend” from script coverage on the script? If you’re not sure it’s probably best to purchase a Rewrite/Polish Initial Assessment first so we can advise. You can do that here.

  13. Eli says:

    Can I call you and speak to one of your pro writers about rewriting my script?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Sure thing – you can purchase a half-hour or one-hour consultancy call here.

  14. Broderick says:

    Charlie Kaufman worked as a script doctor on Kung Fu Panda 2. That’s hilarious

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Strange but true.

  15. Dee says:

    How do I become a script doctor?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You could try getting a portfolio of different script coverage together and hitting up the industry with them.

  16. hannah d says:

    Excellent post as ever. Thank you script reader pro!!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Hannah!

  17. Elliot Newbury says:

    Can you give me a ballpark figure on how much it would cost to hire one of you guys as a script doctor on a 143 page sci-fi script?

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We’d have to do an Initial Assessment on the script first, which you can purchase here.

  18. Tad Wojnicki says:

    I seem to know your website through and through. I’ve been studying it over and over for like 3 years,,, Finally, I think I am ready to buy one of your services.

    What I would most benefit from is your Mentoring Program.

    However, I know I couldn’t really benefit from your Mentoring Program fully without bringing in a well-shaped script first , , , And my scripts, all 6 of them, are fraught with a variety of shortcomings.

    So I hope I could get one of my scripts, a 30-minute TV Pilot, script-doctored first.
    .

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Hi, Tad, thanks for reaching out. Yes, we could certainly help you with your pilot. On the initial assessment form you’ll be able to detail exactly what you’re looking for, but feel free to get in touch at hello[at]scriptreaderpro[dot]com with any questions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.