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500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader: Writing the Screenplay the Reader Will Recommend Paperback – July 13, 1999

4 out of 5 stars 57 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

So you want to write a movie! You could consult Robert McKee's influential Story, Syd Field's rather schematic Screenplay, which extrapolates lessons from famous films, or novelist-turned-screenwriter Meg Wolitzer's literate Fitzgerald Did It, inspired by her own experience.

But the script you pour your soul into won't be read by a single soul you've ever heard of. If a star or mogul reads anything about your story, it will be in the form of "coverage," a brief report reducing your screenplay to a one-sentence summary, with a very few pages of synopsis and ratings of your characters, dialogue, and plot. That report is written by a Hollywood reader, who is likely to be a smart woman desperate to find something she can recommend to her boss--someone like Jennifer Lerch. If her eyes glaze over, you're dead.

Your eyes won't glaze over reading Lerch's 500 brisk mini-lessons. How many pages can you turn in? Not over 120. How crucial are the first 30 pages? Utterly. How many big, climactic moments do you need in those 30 pages? Two. How many scenes do you need in the dramatic opening sequence? Three to five. How many parenthetical comments directly addressed to the reader can you include? One or two per script. How about your favorite passages, where you plumb your characters' inner depths? Throw them away: "If the character doesn't say it, wear it, or do it, delete it." How do pros write? "Staccato. Economical." That's how Lerch writes. And if you want to get anywhere in Hollywood, you'll have to please someone just like her. Know your enemy--and make her your best friend. --Tim Appelo

About the Author

Jennifer Lerch has been a Hollywood Reader for more than a decade, including eight years at the William Morris Agency. She lives in Los Angeles.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Gallery Books; Original ed. edition (July 13, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684856409
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684856407
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #263,209 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on November 19, 1999
Format: Paperback
I happened upon this book the other day and it caught my eye because, as a reader for a major Hollywood agency, I get annoyed seeing too many writers making the same mistakes over and over. Many of the screenwriting manuals out there (and I've read a lot of them) are either too patronizing or simply too unrealistic in their approach, but "500 Ways" is a refreshing, no-nonsense guide that offers succinct, practical advice, especially for those writers who are still trying to get their nascent careers going. And since even more experienced authors often fall into the same traps, why not have an easy reference book that gives you the basics? After all, you've gotta write "I Want To Hold Your Hand" before you can make "Abbey Road," so get this book, read it carefully, keep it within easy reach, refer back to it from time to time, rest assured that you've got your screenwriting foundations in order, and THEN go write your masterpiece. Is it a cure-all for an ailing script? No, but none of the screenwriting books on the market are. If anything, it's a great writing supplement that, at the very least, will help you avoid some of the more obvious land mines that readers like us are just waiting for you to step on. Remember, you've gotta get past the likes of Ms. Lerch before you can get to an agent - and as a Hollywood reader myself, I can *guarantee* it's not as easy as you think.
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Format: Paperback
This shouldn't be the first, or even the third, book you buy on screenwriting--there are better ones on the storytelling craft--but, as someone who's read scripts, I have to admit some of the author's points on packaging, for want of a better word, are on-target--particularly when she stresses how crucial the first pages and the length of the script are. Most scripts are much too long, far too similar, and don't move fast and with a momentum that grabs that reader's attention. A script the author may have slaved for months over often just becomes the one on the top of the pile to a beleagured and bored script reader, so a writer confident enough to just get to the point and get to the story has a huge advantage. Screenwriting is far from as cut-and-dried or formulaic as this book's author makes it sound, and there's a couple of 100 of the 500 points that are just common sense, but her snappy advice is a refreshing change, or addition, to the host of more studious tomes on the topic.
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Format: Paperback
As a story editor for a major production company in Hollywood, I would recommend this book highly to budding screenwriters. Ms. Lerch has encapsulated over ten years of experience into under 200 easy-to-understand pages, that impart VERY PRACTICAL advice on getting a reader's recommendation. After reading "500 Ways" you will know to avoid the common mistakes that prejudice a reader before page 10. More advanced writers will still find it a helpful reminder on how to keep each page fresh and engaging. I have not seen any other book that so focusses it's attention on how your script will be read - and judged - at this first critical step on it's ambitious pilgrimage toward the screen.
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Format: Paperback
Lerch has written an enormously useful book worth far more than its cost, but only to a certain set of apprentice screenwriters.
In contrast to a reviewer who said this book would be most helpful for beginners, I think the book is most helpful for non-beginners. Indeed, I think the negative reviews on the book owe to the fact that the book takes for granted the reader is knowledgable about the nature of "story." Not just the story of screenplays, but the nature of general story, whether in the form of short stories, novels, plays, or even song.
For someone not terribly familiar with the nature of story, this book will seem like a waste of their time, or, worse, a theft of their money. For it is not written in narrative. It is an enumeration of 500 "ways" that Lerch offers on the craft of screenwriting. A beginner will definitely be disappointed.
However, for someone knowledgable about story who is interested in learning about screenwriting (or even more fitting, someone, such as myself, who is a fiction writer aiming to convert to screenwriter), I haven't seen a better book on the shelves, and I have been looking.
When I read it, I used a third of a notebook taking notes. Some points she makes could quite literally save someone's entire dreams of screenwriting. For instance, did you know when a Hollywood reader receives a script with an address outside L.A. the script is essentially dismissed as the work of an amateur? (Out-of-staters have to rent an L.A. P.O. Box.) Cruel? Perhaps. But important to know for the apprentice screenwriter? Without doubt. Just that point alone for someone outside L.A. would be worth the $12.
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Format: Paperback
Many of the reviews I've read of this book I feel seem to be missing the point of this book. This is not the one and only book on screenwriting that anyone should read. Not even Robert McKee's "Story" or Chris Vogler's "The Writer's Journey" can claim to be that. There are books to teach you structure, books to teach you about format, and books to teach you about character and plot development. This book is none of the above.

I see this book more as a reference guide. The first 200 or so tips are for complete newbies who have never written a script in their life However, when you get to Part 2 of the book, which covers tips for Acts 1 through 3, that's the real meat of the book and the real reason to buy it.

While writing your screenplay or even while plotting your outline, read this book. It is no more and no less than a 500-point checklist of what you should and shouldn't be doing in your script.

Sure, some tips would make more sense if they were combined with others. And yes, some tips are reworded versions of previous tips, but that's what it took to reach the 500 number.

On the positive side, I have lost count of the number of times I have found a hole in my plot or realized that I could eliminate or scene or two without damaging my story thanks to one or more of the tips in this great book.

So, if you're reading it hoping it will explain the awe and mystery that is screenwriting, you'll be sorely disappointed. If you use it as a checklist, you should find it quite valuable. I know I did.
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