Most people who read scripts for a living (producers, agents, managers, etc.) will agree — they can usually tell whether or not a script is any good by the end of the first page.
“What?! But my script really gets going around page 12!” you might say. Unfortunately, the reality is that scripts with poorly written first pages rarely improve.
In fact, if the first page doesn’t impress a reader, it’s more likely that the subsequent pages will be even more disappointing. Why? Because most writers will tweak and revisit their opening page again and again, fine tuning and improving it.
That’s why it’s so important to impress and grab a reader from the get go. For this reason, your first page is the most important page of your script.
Taking the Challenge
Last month, Mark M. — from my Linkedin network — asked me if I’d read the first page of his script and give him some feedback. I said I would as long as I could post my feedback here on Scriptwrecked.
Being the good sport that he is, Mark agreed. So without further ado, let’s dive into his script’s first page and see what we can discover.
Well, it’s left justified — a good start. But it also has two line spaces between it and the first scene heading. Ideally, it would be one line space. Many pros deviate from this standard, so it’s a minor detail these days… but a detail that still may bump some readers.
“EXT. PLANETS ORBIT.”
Hmm, unusual formatting with the period at the end of the scene heading.
“Five stellar remnants…”
The writing in this paragraph is actually quite good. Although, I’m having a hard time picturing a “stellar remnant” jutting out through a cloud. A plantary remnant perhaps, but a remnant of a star? Hard to picture that? Have I ever seen a stellar remnant? Aren’t stars contained fusion reactions? Don’t stars end up as black holes?
“A jagged moon…”
I like how Mark has broken up the paragraphs into shots. He had provided a wider, general shot first, and is now focusing on one of the moons in the second shot.
Hmm. Is the blue dwarf sun one of the stellar remnants mentioned earlier?
“EXT. PLANET ATMOSPHERE.”
Now I’m confused again. We went from a general graveyard of stars and moons, then we focused on one of the moons, and now we’re suddenly in a planet’s atmosphere. Perhaps instead of “a blue dwarf sun” the moon should eclipse the planet we’re now looking at. Then it would flow better.
Like an Engineer ship rumbling menacingly through my brain — these typos take me right out of the read! Should be: “appears”
If a ship has just left the atmosphere of a planet, how is it suddenly in deep space? Perhaps just “rumbles menacingly toward space.” Because if it actually made it into space, we wouldn’t hear any rumbling. (No sound in space.)
“EXT. SKY- DAY.”
Oh no. So much for the hip new heading formatting I was starting to dig… Where’s the space after “SKY”? It should be: EXT. SKY – DAY.
If you’re going to use unconventional formatting (like a period at the end of a scene heading) everything else better be on point, otherwise it just looks sloppy.
Another typo! Should be: “planet’s”
“early Earth purgatory”
It’s an interesting image… One that I have no idea what it looks like. Is “early Earth purgatory” an actual thing I missed in science class? Does he simply mean a primordial Earth? Or perhaps there’s some sort of new spiritual component he’s introducing here. Either way, it requires a more vivid, explicit description of what we’re seeing.
“EXT. PLANET – DAY.”
I am so over the funky formatting with the period at the end. Perhaps if he went for something like: “EXT. PLANET. DAY.” I could probably get behind that for something innovative and consistent with the space/futuristic vibe. But even then, I would’t recommend it unless the writing is “stellar.”
“Black mountains jut out…”
Ohhh, using “jut out” twice on the same page in such close proximity. Tsk Tsk. To impress a reader, you need to demonstrate variation in your writing.
“… that covers the planet.”
Why are we getting this information. We already know from the scene heading we’re looking at a planet. What else would the ocean be covering? If the ocean completely covers the planet then the line should probably read: “… that covers the entire planet.”
Also, why is it “the” black ocean? It hasn’t been introduced before, so it should be “a” black ocean. And why use “black” twice in the same sentence? Black mountains and a black ocean. Surely there’s another word or words that can take the place of “black.”
“Seven ships rise slowly into orbit…”
When you’re establishing an environment, whether it’s a star system or a bedroom, you typically want to start with the high level stuff and then move in on the important details.
We started out pretty well going from space through the planet’s atmosphere and then down to the surface. But now we’re back up at the edge of the planet’s atmosphere with these ships rising into orbit.
Perhaps the writer believes that ships can orbit within a planet’s atmosphere. At any rate, it’s jarring to bounce around so much. Can’t the ships simply hover or rise into the air reeking of dread?
“… retract into the ship…”
The writing is quickly deteriorating here…
We are told that the arms retract into “the” ship. Which ship is that? We were previously told there were seven ships. Better to use “one of the ships” or “ships” — plural — instead.
“a bellowing burble SLURPING noises”
Should that be “a bellowing burble of SLURPING noises”?
“A black syrup substance falls back to dead planet.”
There’s that word “black” again. And is it actually syrup or is it “syrupy” or “syrup-like”?
Shouldn’t it be falling back to “the” dead planet?
We were previously told that it was a “dead planet.” But now we’re being told that there’s an ocean “organism.” That’s confusing.
“INT.ENGINEER SHIP LAB.”
More carelessness. Where’s space between “INT.” and “ENGINEER”?
“Vast corridors of darkness”
I like the image. But if we’re inside a lab, are we looking out at these vast corridors? How do we see more than one? Perhaps the scene heading should just be: “INT. ENGINEER SHIP” That would allow us to move from the corridors into the lab.
“A strange illumination glow emanates…”
“illumination glow” is redundant. It’s either an illumination or a glow, not both.
“a open doorway”
This should be “an” open doorway.
“A biology lab…”
We already know we’re in a lab and it’s really the hydrothermal vents that belch the blue mist (great verb usage). So the sentence might be better as: “Artificial hydrothermal vents belch blue mist over thousands of suspended LIFE FORMS.” It also eliminates that awkward “vents belches” construction.
“Pristine machine BOTS tirelessly study their DNA.”
It sounds nice, but what are we seeing? Are the bots looking at DNA on a big screen? Are they examining blood samples? Reviewing hovering holograms? Hopefully the next sentence will help with the visual…
“The bots dissect each species entire building blocks.”
Nope. Again, I have no idea what I’m seeing. I’m picturing dissection, but how do you show the building blocks of each species? What are we seeing?
Also, there’s another typo — “species” should be written as: species’ (with an apostrophe at the end to indicate the possessive form).
“The door seals seamless to complete darkness.”
I like the visual of the seamless room, but does that mean we’ve exited the room? Or is it completely black on the inside of the room?
“Hyper-drive engine reverberates throughout the ship.”
Should it be: “A” hyper-drive engine? Also, why is this attached to the same paragraph? It’s a completely unrelated beat.
I like the verb “reverberates,” but is it being used correctly? The sound from the hyper-drive engine, or the hyper-drive engine noise, may reverberate throughout the ship, but I’m not sure if the engine itself does.
“EXT. ENGINEER PLANET.”
Again, another sloppy mistake (missing space between “EXT.” and “ENGINEER.”
“The ENGINEER’s eyes glitter entirely black he surveys cold and detached.”
Oh boy, there’s that word again — black.
The sentence itself is also confusing. Perhaps if there was an “as,” or some punctuation between “black” and “he,” it would be more coherent.
That’s a lot of issues for one page!
As a script reader who is paid to give feedback, I’d be required to read the entire script. But a producer, agent or manager (that you’re not signed with) doesn’t have that kind of covenant with you, so it’s entirely possible they’d never make it to page two — nevermind that reeeeeally good part on page 12.
Hopefully Mark can correct these issues and allow the story to shine through. There are definitely some intriguing elements here that are, unfortunately, undone by the writing.
Would you have made it to page 2?