It takes a lot of writing to create a great script. It also takes a lot of editing. That’s where script doctoring comes in, with professional rewriters giving scripts an expert-level nip/tuck to ensure they’re ready for the big screen. And while it might not be what your parents had in mind when they said they wanted you to become a doctor, it is an important (and often quite lucrative) gig in the movie industry.
Script doctors don’t get the fame and glory of writers, producers, directors, and actors. They might not even get their names in the rolling credits. But they do get a chance to make a big difference in the quality of a screenplay, so if you have a talent for writing and editing and a passion for cinema, consider becoming a script doctor and putting your skills to work.
Here’s what to know about script doctoring, including what the job entails, how much it pays, and what steps you can take as you try to break into the industry.
What Is a Script Doctor?
A script doctor is a type of screenwriter who edits and refines scripts ahead of production, during production, or post-production, depending on the needs of the studio.
Specific goals of script doctoring may include editing for continuity, accuracy, and pacing, as well as polishing up dialogue and ensuring that all relevant actions are written in appropriate detail. Much like a magazine editor brings a fresh perspective to an article before it goes to print, a script doctor goes line by line after a script has been written to make sure it’s at its best. In doing so, script doctors help screenplays achieve what a movie’s creators want it to achieve, particularly when it comes to identifying and remedying any unintentional missteps.
Note that the Writers Guild of America (WGA), which is the labor union that represents movie writers, does not recognize “script doctor” as its own separate role. Instead, script doctors are lumped under general screenwriters, even if they also specialize in contract-based rewrites.
What Does a Script Doctor Do?
Script doctors do more than just read through a script and correct any obvious errors.
The tasks of a script doctor vary, but there are a number of things that anyone in the role can expect to do. Here is some of what you should be ready to accommodate if you pursue script doctoring as a career:
- Reading and research: Rewriting may be a primary goal of a script doctor, but there’s often a lot of back-end work required before that can begin. Script doctors must be proficient at reading comprehension, and they’re also likely to do quite a bit of research as they fact check the script and look for consistencies.
- Team collaboration: It takes a village to make a movie. And although script doctors tend to be singularly responsible for their role, they also do a fair amount of collaboration with screenwriters, producers, and other major players on a film. This includes sharing notes and drafts, and also extends to in-person meetings and various on-set discussions.
- Problem solving: Many movie producers will bring on a script doctor in the pre-production or development period of a script to make sure that it’s hitting the right notes. However, script doctors may also be called upon during filming or post-production in order to troubleshoot screenplay issues and work out viable solutions. This may require a different set of skills than pre-production editing, but a good script doctor will be just as capable at these on-call fixes as they are in the development phase.
Because script doctoring isn’t technically a recognized role, script doctors often wear many hats, working not just as screenplay editors but also as more general screenwriters. For that reason, script doctoring is a good path to consider if you’re interested in screenwriting but want to diversify your skill set and open yourself up to more job opportunities.
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How to Become a Script Doctor
You can take various paths to becoming a script doctor, but they all have one thing in common: You’re going to need screenwriting experience, and lots of it.
Script doctoring (and its close cousin, script consulting) necessitates a deep knowledge of screenwriting that can’t just be taught in a classroom. And as with many positions in Hollywood—and especially the less formalized ones—getting started is as much about who you know as what you know.
You’ll need to work your way up to the position, and you may take some detours as you figure out the best way to get where you want to go. Fortunately though, there are some things you can do to increase your chances of becoming a script doctor. Here are two of them.
Get a Film or Writing Degree
A film degree or writing degree can both serve as helpful stepping stones to script doctoring. That being said, they’re still very much the bare minimum of what will be expected of you.
Script doctors are screenwriters who have proven their competency and have a record of successes to show for all of their hard work. So while it’s not enough on its own, a writing or film degree can’t hurt, and it could open up the door to screenwriting opportunities that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
If your ultimate goal is script doctoring, approach a degree as a helpful tool, rather than a guaranteed ticket to stardom. You’ll pick up a lot of useful skills in school, and you may also get an internship or apprenticeship that gets you closer to where you want to go.
Gain Industry Experience
Before you can be trusted to rewrite scripts, you have to prove that you can write them. Start gaining experience by getting a job or internship in the movie industry and gradually working your way toward what you really want to be doing. This will help you make connections while you practice your screenwriting skills and inch your way toward a TV or film writing gig.
Like most coveted roles in Hollywood, becoming a script doctor isn’t impossible, but it’s not something that’s going to happen overnight. Keep your end goal in mind as you seek out other industry-relevant experience, and do everything that you can on and off the clock to hone your screenwriting talents and learn what makes for a successful script.
Average Script Doctor Salary
Obviously, more script doctors are going to find themselves earning the average salary rather than top tier take-home pay; and some, such as those working on low-budget films from lesser-known studios, will earn less. Diversify your income as you work your way up, and set realistic income expectations that are in line with your experience level.
Tips for Finding Script Doctor Jobs
Script doctors are usually called in by studios and hired on a contract basis, rather than working on staff. You won’t be sending off your resume to script doctoring jobs posted online, but there are ways you can improve your likelihood of one day being the doctor on call.
Get an Agent
You’ll need to work as a screenwriter before you can become a script doctor, and both jobs will require that you have an agent. Use the WGA as a resource for finding possible agents, and keep in mind that you’ll need to be working in order to secure representation. Get your foot in the industry door, then work on finding an agent and parlaying that into additional gigs.
Write and Sell Your Own Work
It will take hard work and a good dose of luck to make a screenwriting career happen—and then even more so to turn that into a reliable career in script doctoring. But every script doctor starts somewhere, and in most cases that somewhere is with an original script that helped them get some initial notoriety. Practice by doing, and write something that’s worthy of taking you to that next rung of the ladder.
Network With Industry Insiders
Easier said than done, we know. But the more people you know in the industry, the better shot you have at scoring more gigs. Mix, mingle, and schmooze with the best of them, and try to say “yes” to any relevant opportunities that are offered to you.
Script Doctor vs. Script Consultant vs. Story Analyst
As you look into how to start a career as a script doctor, you’re likely to come across two related titles: script consultant and story analyst. The latter two positions could be good experience for eventual script doctoring, yet they’re notably different. The biggest thing that sets them apart is that consulting on and analyzing scripts don’t require any actual writing. Professionals in these roles do more reading and advice-giving than actual hands-on work, providing notes that are later incorporated into rewrites as opposed to doing the rewrites themselves.
If your interest is in screenwriting and you want to take it in more directions, any of these jobs would be worth looking into. Likewise, script consulting and/or story analysis could be useful as you pursue script doctoring work, so if you have an opportunity to try them out, go for it.
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