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Exclusive Interview With ScriptLadder Founder, Tim Johnson

How ScriptLadder Can Help Your Screenwriting Career

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August 10, 2016 2 comments
table read my screenplay

Exclusive Interview With ScriptLadder Founder, Tim Johnson

Tim Johnson is the founder of ScriptLadder—an online tool that makes rewriting screenplays that much easier. Besides screenwriting, Tim has a passion for playing classical piano and kayaking down the Willamette River.

(This post includes affiliate links, meaning we get a small commission if you purchase, at no extra cost to you.)

Q. Tim, What’s ScriptLadder All About and What Can Screenwriters Get Out of It?

A. ScriptLadder is a website for helping screenwriters improve their scripts. It’s not a screenwriting software program like Final Draft or WriterDuet.

Instead, it offers several tools to see your script from different perspectives once you’ve finished a draft. Like our interactive Visual Analytics tool that instantly displays your entire script in unique and colorful infographics.

You can also host an online screenplay table read where each actor sees his own copy of the script with his parts already highlighted (we can even assign the parts automatically based on custom algorithms.)

And you can share scripts and give notes to your colleagues right online—no more passing around email attachments!

Q. What Gave You the Idea for ScriptLadder?

A. One summer I held my first script table read with sixteen friends for a sci-fi movie that had almost ninety speaking parts. It was a two-day job to assign multiple parts to people, making sure everyone had enough parts to not feel left out, but not be assigned two parts in the same scene.

Then, printing out all those scripts and manually highlighting all the right parts for each person. And god forbid somebody should call and cancel! The whole time I kept thinking, “I should write a program to do this!” So I did.

In fact, once I got everything working a year later, I went back to my script, plugged in my original sixteen actors, and watched ScriptLadder do the automatic casting and highlighting in five seconds—and it did a better job than I did!

From there I randomly happened on to the idea of showing all the visual analytics we offer, and now that’s become the most popular feature. It’s really instructive to see our Character Maps and Scene Maps for well-known films like Thelma & Louise, Breakfast Club, Sleepless in Seattle.

Especially when you compare them to your own script in the same genre. So far we haven’t found anybody out there with anything like it.

Q. What’s Your Background? Are You a Screenwriter Yourself?

A. I’m a software engineer by profession but I’ve always been a writer and won a few awards for short stories along the way, starting with a Hopwood Award from the University of Michigan.

I fell into screenwriting about six years ago, the typical story: saw a bad movie with my wife and said, “Man, I could write a better movie than that!” I had no idea what I was getting myself into!

Now I’ve written three feature-length screenplays and several short-film screenplays (one of which won the Manhattan Short Screenplay Contest in 2013.)

Q. Did You Go to Film School? And If So, Would You Recommend It? 

A. No MFA Screenwriting degree for me. I think of myself as a storyteller, starting back in the days writing short stories for myself and friends.

I gradually morphed into using film as the medium for telling those stories. I think if you’re really interested in the story itself, that will draw you into learning the craft of whatever medium you choose.

Q. Do You Think Writers Need to Live in LA If They Want to “Make It”?

A. If you want to “make it in Hollywood” then moving to Los Angeles is probably the best thing you could do. But to “make it in the film industry”, I’d say it depends…

I have friends who are “working screenwriters” and it requires lots of in-person networking and cross-town meetings to get connected with the right crowd.

But there are so many opportunities for connecting outside Hollywood now, between all the conferences you can attend, online workshops, multi-person video chats and discussion forums… Plus all the blogging and social media platforms you can use.

You just have to be willing to put in the time it takes to learn how to make them work for you.

Q. If You Had to Recommend One Screenwriting Book Screenwriters Should Read, What Would It Be?

A. Probably Rewrite by Paul Chitlik. Too many people think typing “The End” means just that. But just as there are lots of books about having a baby and very few about raising a baby—you’ll find lots of books on writing an initial screenplay but very few on “raising” it to its full potential.

Paul has a great systematic approach to improving your script one area at a time and deciding when it’s “done” (it’s when the next rewrite isn’t better, just different.)

Q. What Are Some of the Biggest Mistakes You See Aspiring Screenwriters Make With Their Careers? 

A. Too many writers are socially awkward recluses and feel it’s better to just let their great writing speak for itself. But nowadays that’s not enough—you really have to get out there and interact on a personal level with people, no matter where you live.

Whether it’s online or in person, having those connections makes it far more likely your great writing will get noticed. You can go back to being a recluse after you’re successful!

Q. If You Could Give One Piece of Advice to Screenwriters What Would It Be?

A. I always give two pieces of advice that sort of feedback onto each other: learn your craft, and connect with people. Even though writing is about the most solitary activity in the world, film-making is about the most collaborative.

Being in some kind of writing group or networking online is vital to getting you out of your own head and providing perspective on your writing, which tends to make you a better writer. And being a better writer tends to get you into better groups of people where better opportunities come up.

The worst feeling in the world is spending months alone writing your script, submitting it to some contests and hearing nothing back for six months (except that you didn’t win.) How will that process improve your writing?

You wrote your story to share with people, so why wait? Let people read your script now. Share excerpts at a monthly event with other writers. Hold an online table read with ScriptLadder. You’ll be a better writer for sharing your work.

Q. What Movies of the Past Year or So Do You Recommend Writers Watch?

A. I loved The Big Short. What a great set of characters! It’s a great example of how to talk about a huge story from the perspective of a handful of compelling characters you immediately empathize with. And, it’s a fantastic script to read to find out how they pulled it off on the page.

Q. How Can People Sign Up to, or Get to Know More About ScriptLadder?

A. You can sign up for a free account here at ScriptLadder.com. Upload your own screenplay and we’ll show you the full set of visual analytics for it in about ten seconds.

You can also check out all our features by watching our short (two-minute) videos here. We also offer great deals for teachers and script consultants.

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Thanks again to Tim for taking the time to share his thoughts on screenwriting and his great program, ScriptLadder. Have you signed up to ScriptLadder yet? What’s your favorite feature? Let us know in the comments section below.

2 Comments
  1. colin roach says:

    I just completed a script . How can i get a table reading

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We have a post here all about how to organize a screenplay table read.

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