Six-figure job: Troubleshooting scripts
Script consultants make their living making screenwriters more successful or at least better writers and story pitchers.
By Jeanne Sahadi, senior writer

NEW YORK ( It's been said that in some places you can't swing a dead cat without hitting someone who is writing a screenplay.

For all those aspiring screenwriters -- and for the very well-established ones, too -- there is a growing number of script consultants.

Script consultants can help screenwriters get a script into shape before it is marketed to studios and production companies or, in the case of experienced screenwriters, after they've been commissioned to write a screenplay.

Consultants also can help adapt books into scripts. And they may even work with lawyers, doctors, bankers and others with non-E! day jobs to turn an idea into a movie screenplay. Some even offer training in how to make a successful pitch.

Script consultant services range from script evaluation to one-on-one coaching. Evaluations are rendered from both an artistic and a commercial perspective. They typically include a promised number of pages of notes with the consultant's critiques, often a follow-up phone call or meeting between the screenwriter and consultant, and may also include an agreement to re-read the work once changes are made.

The work of script consultant is not one marked by public glory. "Often it's confidential," said Michael Hauge, a script consultant and author of the soon-to-be-published book, "Selling Your Story in 60 Seconds."

Indeed, only the screenwriter gets credit when the credits roll, he noted, although a script consultant's name may appear in the "special thanks to" category on some productions.

Among the rewards of the job are nurturing writers' talent, seeing a script you worked on made into a movie or television show, and knowing that you had an influence on a writer whose career flourishes, said Linda Seger, author of "Making a Good Script Great" and the first-ever script consultant who created the field in 1981.

Beyond movies and television shows, the field of script consulting has branched out to include working with the makers of narrative-driven video games, as well as corporate and educational videos, said Derek Rydall, author of "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."

The field, although growing, is still very small. There is no required training and no official path to becoming a script consultant, but those who do often are either screenwriters themselves, have worked at agencies that represent screenwriters or work in project development for studios or production companies, said John Johnson, executive director of the American Screenwriters Association.

But that wasn't Seger's route. Over the years she amassed a host of graduate degrees in dramatic arts, theology and religion to help her better "understand drama in its overall context as one of the humanities. ... I tend to think that people need training, not just practical but some theoretical, so it's more than just giving opinions," she said in an email written from Europe where she was conducting a series of seminars.

Working well with a writer requires more than technical, artistic and commercial know-how. "When I teach my master class in script consulting, I spend a lot of time training communication methods, because many people know what's wrong with a script, but if one can't communicate that effectively to a writer, and keep the writer's defenses down, one won't be very effective. So I work to make sure the writer sees me as a collaborator, not an adversary," Seger said.

Getting enough work to make six figures consulting on scripts alone is possible but by no means a guarantee. Your chances improve if you also teach classes and write books about script writing and consulting. And once you're well established, as Seger is, you might use your literary expertise as an expert witness in copyright cases.

But in the first few years your consulting fees are likely to be low . Newcomers to the field might charge as little as $50 to $100 for the most basic script evaluation when trying to build up referrals and somewhat more for in-depth analyses, Rydall said.

When you establish a successful track record and reputation, your fees can go up considerably. After two decades Seger, for instance, charges $200 an hour for her time at script meetings (or $1,000/day) and offers packages of services that range from $1,200 to $7,500. Hauge also charges $200 an hour for coaching (or $3,000 for 24 hours' worth), and prices his other coaching and marketing packages from $375 to $3,500.

One key to establishing a successful career in script consulting is to differentiate yourself from others in the field, Seger said. For instance, some consultants highlight their expertise in character, structure or mythology, while others may specialize in selling and marketing scripts.

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