Screenwriting Tips From Beverly Neufeld

I was given some questions about script reading and such and am delighted to answer so you can be both enlightened and entertained. Here goes:


What is Your Favorite Snack While Reading a Script: For the slower, more confusing scripts I need anything with caffeine or chocolate. Chocolate all the time. Back in the day… oh around 19 ‘ought one… When we had to read paper scripts we had to be very careful not to spill and smudge them, so it was harder. And now, whilst I don’t want to shmear my screen, I still must be cautious and not eat anything gooey, crumbly, etc. I guess that leaves celery. Blech.


The Weirdest Place Ever Read a Script: I wish I could say something like “on top of a camel in Egypt” but that would make me not pay attention to the EXCELLENT screenplays I get assigned. Long ago I also acted and did extra work, so I think it was great to sit for long hours between takes making money for that, while also reading and getting mo’ money. But I have read them in a house, with a mouse, with no cares, on the stairs, on the beach and as I teach (and students were busy with their own work).


My Favorite Childhood Book: I am sure this answer will help you all sell soooooo many screenplays, so I enjoyed “The Monster at The End of This Book- Starring Lovable Furry Old Grover” and “If You Give A Mouse A Cookie.” Darn entitled mouse.


Your First Script: I had it bronzed. No, no, no… I think I read a book and wrote a sitcom spec of some old show. I wrote something else and showed it to Lew Hunter (RIP very recently), the ex-chair of UCLA’s MFA Screenwriting program whose first piece of advice to this girl from NY and theater was – don’t just have people sitting and talking in a diner (unless you’re writing on Seinfeld). Open it up visually. This was new for me, since coming from cheap theater we wrote things where a black box could be a car in one scene, the diner in another. Oh, and before that, in college I wrote a lesbian play. Causing my mother to say, “Um, I hear you have to know about what you’re writing” and voila. I came out to her. Of course, I could have refuted that since I’ve written about the mafia, polygamists and many more elements I have not experienced.


Biggest Script/Writing Pet Peeve: But there are many. Too many grammatical mistakes- even though I know and respect that some people may be dyslexic or English is their second language. Huge respect. A script that is way too long or short. One that really gets you and then doesn’t pay off or resolve the great things. 


Tips on Getting a Job as a Reader: Script competitions like Slamdance are a good start, Coverfly has readers, Austin film festival hires you for free, but it’s a first credit I believe… In my book I state that people should do their own samples of produced and non-produced work first. Then, when applying to jobs, it makes them stand out as they have experience. Some employers may want to see samples, some may just be impressed you have them, and others may give their own test sample, but at least you will have experience already.


Your First Reader/Script Analyst Position: Missionary? No no… My friend got me an internship at the now defunct Avnet/Kerner company. What I mostly remember is that at Christmas time they gave us gift cards to movies and Barnes and Noble since they knew we liked movies and reading.


Biggest misstep you see in writing coverage: If it’s for a writer to read, they aren’t always tactful. They also have typos, which won’t get your clients to respect you covering their work. I also see readers having a hard time being objective, and often they state what’s wrong without giving possible suggestions on how to improve the script.


Advice to Get a Script Past Gatekeepers: Run!!!! 

Or… I believe it’s false to say the first ten pages can make or break you. A title, the length, the opening – can all give a first impression that lasts. Remember that there’s the shooting script for production, and the reading script- to get a sale. That reading script needs to be a fun, moving, and well-paced story. Engage us. We can forgive some technical issues for an original, gripping character-driven tale with many layers, formidable obstacles and antagonists, issues we can identify with, that really stays in our hearts and minds.

And please. Make sure you remember why you wrote this, stay true to your vision and voice and have fun!


For more read the book: I Got You Covered: The Premiere and Fun Guide to  Script Coverage, Notes, and Story Analysis So Everybody Wins 


Beverly Neufeld received her MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA where she won first place in the Samuel Goldwyn competition for her feature, Brown Widow. She also won Slamdance’s TV pilot competition judged by Norman Lear’s Act III Productions for her original one-hour pilot, The Claytons. This script landed her both a manager and an agent. Other TV pilots and specs have won or placed in the Nicholls, the Warner Brother’s competition and more. Beverly has written for the children’s web show, The Gummy Bear Show, the series The Dating Chronicles, and has been hired to rewrite over six features, including the independent film,Wajdja, by the first Saudi Arabian female filmmaker, Haifaa al Mansour.

She has also just co-written a film that wrapped production, Action! Action!

Beverly has also worked in development and as a reader and screenplay consultant for over 6,000+ scripts. She was the Director of Development for Juntobox Films under Nina Yang and Forest Whittaker, and now teaches Script Analysis and Screenwriting at USC Film School. 

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