by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Dr. Linda Seger is the definition of a script consultant. She created the occupation in 1981 when she began her business, based on her doctoral dissertation. Today, Linda is a screenwriting and story coach, screenplay consultant, copyright expert witness, international speaker, and author of nine books on screenwriting.
LA Screenwriter’s Angela Bourassa spoke with Linda Seger about what to look for in a script consultant and how best to utilize their services.
Angela Bourassa: Is it true that you are the original script consultant?
Linda Seger: YES. I started my business in 1981, first by doing several free script consultations and then on September 17, 1981, I placed an ad in the Hollywood Reporter and slowly started getting clients. Until then, there were some screenwriting classes where teachers worked with students in class and sometimes on the side, and there were development executives who worked with writers who had sold their script to a studio or company, but I was the first entrepreneurial consultant who thought of this as a business accessible to everyone.
I based my work on my doctoral dissertation project on “What are the elements that make a great script?” and then flipped the method to address “What are the elements missing that are needed to make this a great script?” My hairdresser helped me define myself (“script consultant”), and after two years I worked with a career consultant (Judith Claire) who helped me move it from a part-time business to a full-time business.
Angela Bourassa: What should a writer look for in a script consultant? What are some must-haves?
Linda Seger: At the minimum, a script consultant should be able to address story and structure and theme and character. I add Cinematic Images as well to reports (if relevant), and I also work on musicals (I have a musical background), plays (I worked in theater for years), and television. Some consultants focus on marketability, or helping the writer pitch, or writing synopses, etc.
Angela Bourassa: What are red flags that writers should look for when choosing a script consultant?
Linda Seger: You want a consultant with experience. Look at books they’ve written and see if you are “in tune” with their approach. Go to a lecture (or watch the person on YouTube) and see if you like that person’s approach. Be careful of those who brag they are “the best” and are driven by ego. Look for some basic modicum of diplomacy. You don’t need a consultant who is mean or demoralizing. You want someone who will nurture your talent, not destroy it. Be careful of consultants who tear others down in hopes they’ll get your money. Be careful of consultants who lie or over-promise (“work with me and you’ll get an Oscar” or “I can get you into Spielberg”).
Be careful of those who don’t respect your story — and want to make it their own. The consultant’s job is to help you get your story, not rewrite it for themselves. Of course, the story will change, strengthen, tighten, expand, etc. But working with a consultant is a dialogue between consultant and writer and the consultant and your script — it is neither about resistance or “following the guru.” A good consultant should find unexplored areas in your script and help your script blossom.
Angela Bourassa: What’s your personal approach to script consulting? How should the process work in your opinion?
Linda Seger: Everyone’s process is different. Here’s my process: I read the script and write notes while reading it. Then I start working on my report. I first give an Overview of Issues to address in the rewrite. I want to clarify the structure as is and what the script seems to want to do structurally. I will talk about the structure of plot and subplots, define the issues and areas the writer needs to address — whether that’s tightening, cutting, condensing, strengthening, discussing inner contradictions, how to deepen and broaden, etc. — and then give possible solutions, often more than one.
Then I discuss Theme (and sometimes Value Systems if relevant) and Characters in the same way, covering issues such as Character Functions, Dimensionality, The Transformational Arc, Character definition and differentiation, character relationships, the context, etc. If relevant, I then discuss Cinematic Images. Sometimes this isn’t as relevant — such as with plays or TV or some films — but if I do, I talk about images and visual metaphors, even the color palette of the film, etc.
After I write a first draft of the report, I go through the script and take further notes, and then adjust the report, add, refine, etc. Sometimes writers come to Colorado to work one-on-one with me and then we work a five-hour day, conceptualizing and detailing. I also enjoy working with teams of writer, producer, director, executive, and sometimes even actor, etc.
Angela Bourassa: When is it time to invest in a script consultation? Should a writer wait until they think their script is perfect, or should they turn to someone for help earlier in the process so they don’t end up wasting time?
Linda Seger: Earlier is usually better (whether treatment or early draft) so you don’t go down paths that are dead-ends. Yet, you need to get down what you feel confident about because you don’t want a consultant to change your story before the story has been thought through. You go as far as you can and when stuck, that’s a good time to bring in a consultant.
Angela Bourassa is the founder and Editor in Chief of LA Screenwriter.