Monday, February 14, 2011

Interview with Script Consultant Mina Zaher - Part 1

One of the big questions from new screenwriters is, Who can read my script and tell me if I'm doing this right?
This is where the script consultant comes in. Now in the case of Hollywood, and many other writing endeavors, there are people who are qualified to read and consult and worth the money, and then there are people putting out a shingle so they can make money off a desperate writer.
I've noticed many "script doctors" don't even reveal their full names, or the actual production companies they worked for. Here is the skinny from someone not afraid to reveal her experience.
So to help navigate the waters of the script consultant seas, I'd like to introduce you to Mina Zaher. In full disclosure, Mina is one of the co-founders of Twitter's Scriptchat along with me and three other talented writers, Jeanne Bowerman, Kim Garland and Zac Sanford.
Instead of telling you about Mina's qualifications, I decided to interview her and let her tell you about what to look for in a script consultant, and why she's worth the money you'll spend when she reads your script... Without further ado, I bring you part 1 of the Script Consultant:

How long have you been reading scripts, and in what capacity?

The first time I read a script was 20 years ago when I was babysitting for Bruce Beresford. I remember him handing me a script and telling me that if I wanted to write then I needed to read.

Years later, I managed to get work experience as a script reader at Hey Day Films. My test script was Heart by Jimmy McGovern and I remember Tanya Seghatchian asking me if I knew who the writer was. I didn’t and Tanya had to explain that he was one of the most prolific writers in the country.

The irony was that my first job in the industry was at The Agency (London) Ltd., a literary agency that represented Jimmy McGovern. I started off as a junior assistant, which meant working on reception, photocopying and binding scripts, as well as helping the other literary assistants. During this time, I read as many scripts as I could. The storage room had scripts from some of the best writers this country has ever produced; from Simon Ashdown to Andrew Davies; from Russell T. Davies to Paula Milne; and from Kevin Elyot to Ashley Pharaoh. I also read a lot of unsolicited work that came through the door.

Several months later, I was promoted to Literary Assistant during which time I read clients’ scripts. Writers liked to call up and discuss their latest draft and I would have to talk to Development Executives and Producers about the clients’ work, sometimes recommending a client’s best sample script.

After The Agency, I read for Clerkenwell Films in my capacity as Development Assistant. My notes would go to the Head of Development and Executive producer as they developed scripts to submit to broadcasters and financiers. I also read scripts in my job to seek new talent to introduce to the company.

From Clerkenwell Films, I went freelance as a script reader and script editor. I read for companies such as Working Title Television, Festival Films and Television and RDF and edited for Hewland International and Freemantle Media. I freelanced for a few years and decided to take time out to pursue a Doctorate in Film and Psychoanalysis, only to give it up and pursue my dream by doing an MA in Screenwriting at London College of Communication.

The basis for the MA was workshopping and so for two years, I was involved in reading at least five scripts every few weeks to provide feedback in small groups. These were two very intense years.

Most recently I have read for Braven Films and Writer’s Avenue. My capacity as Associate Director and Producer for Writer’s Avenue involves me working with the literary team to find plays, which we will showcase as part of the First Twenty Minutes competition that Writer’s Avenue runs.

What do you think a writer should look for when hunting for a consultant to read their script?

Experience is key. This is one of the reasons why I decided to offer my services on a professional level. I used to read scripts for free but then realized that there were a lot of people doing the odd weekend course and charging writers for feedback. I wanted to give writers an affordable option from an experienced reader.

There’s a skill to giving feedback as well as analyzing a script from an objective viewpoint. It took me years to understand why a script worked and why it didn’t. In my earlier years as a reader, I didn’t need to break down these technicalities; I just had to say if the script worked or if the writer had potential.

Giving feedback is very different. The consultant needs to identify the elements of the script that don’t work as well the elements that do work; and then reach into their tool box to provide logical suggestions that could help the writer fix their script problems. I learnt this skill from my days working in development as well as during my MA.


Catch Mina here: http://screenwriterjourney.blogspot.com/


In part 2 Mina talks about what the writer should expect from the reader. See part 2 on February 17, 2011

6 comments:

  1. I'm a huge believer in the benefits of a script consultant. Feedback is essential for growth. Can't wait for part 2!

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  2. Excellent post! I'm a great fan of Mina's and enjoyed reading about her professional background. Looking forward to part 2.

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  3. I loved interviewing a reader who will give full name and full disclosure of qualifications, not just I have work produced and I've read for several production companies. Mina is GREAT. She's read for me in the past and I'll use her again.
    Oh, and thanks for commenting.

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  4. Thanks for the intro to Mina! Hopefully I'll have something worth sending off to a script consultant this year.

    Great advice about finding out the consultant's experience - I've come across a good number of aspiring screenwriters who have decided that consulting is a great side job to make some money until they sell that first script. Just because they write, doesn't mean they're qualified to give advice to others - and be paid for it!

    Looking forward to part 2!

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  5. Excellent read, and fabulous interview by one of my favorite people of one of my favorite people. Now to read Part II!

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