I recently wrote about a fellow who wanted my Script Doctor services via my Script Professor.com website, and the reaction to that poor guy was so fascinating across all my public and private interwebs, that I decided to offer a follow-up to that adventure. When I do script doctoring, or ghost writing, as The Script Professor, anything goes, and by that I mean, I can fix anything written that is broken — and that includes scripts for television, radio, film and books and scholarly papers and anything else that might be in need of pruning or total rehabilitation.
The trick to being a successful Script Doctor and Script Professor is anonymity. You work behind-the-scenes — for a price! — but you get no glory or fame or credit. You write to serve someone else’s baby and not to protect your own ego. You don’t get points. You don’t get a screen credit. You’re a ghost. You keep the secrets. You’re paid a lot of money to become a grave.
You have no idea who I am or what I’ve done — and that’s the real name of this game.
The first thing you learn in this undercover business is everyone wants to pitch you their ideas for free and get your feedback for free. You have to walk a certain fine line between ticking off a potential client and not wasting all day on the phone trying to make a final deal. The serious people know we don’t talk until there’s an agreement in writing and payment is on the table — and they’re the best clients because they know the game and they always come back.
Speed is the essence of the job. People rarely need writing help and also have a lot of time to finish. Oftentimes, they’re already under contract, seriously behind, and they need something done superfast, and done right, or they’re in danger of being fired. Those fast fixes are a gift for me because they’re a living joyride where the peril is not mine, but the thrill of the essence belongs solely to me: Deliver or die! You live off that dramatic high.
You don’t get into this ghost business by hoping to work on something already good. Everything you get is pretty desperate, and broken and misunderstood, and your job is to just get things to make sense on the page — and that usually takes a lot of money to get the job done in time.
Script Doctoring isn’t a collaboration. The job is a “give over” — and I prefer that style of working. Give it to me and I’ll fix it for you. I don’t have to ask permission, or play a patience game, or have a conversation about tone or intention or structure. The client is desperate. I’m not. I’m free to fix at will and make it better.
I laugh when I get voice mail messages when the caller claims they have the best script ever written — and daring ME to call THEM back in order to learn the secret of their (broken) script that they know (won’t) will sell! I don’t get caught up in that non-serious drama because those callers don’t understand the game. They aren’t desperate enough — or successful enough — yet to need me, and they obviously have no skin in the game and zero money or reputation at stake.
Sometimes, there are grand book projects or movies that would be an honor to work on — but the client doesn’t want to spend any money. They want to offer future royalties or author points on the backend — and people like me who do this process for profit have no interest in long-term gains. We get paid upfront, before the work begins, ending in success or not, and we get our money whether or not the client likes what we present.
That’s the gamble in the game — did the client pick the right fixer for the purpose at hand? There are no do-overs or freebies in the script doctoring game. If a client wants a second bite of the apple, they’re going to pay more the second time around because they’re asking me to fix what I already fixed — but their way this time, not mine — and that’s a painful process that defeats all original intention of the first procedure. They pay me to get it right the first time, and if they want it wrong the second time, it’s going to cost them.
Sometimes clients don’t know what you’ve done to make it better. The best clients always know and never need to ask how or why.
The greatest joy in Script Doctoring as The Script Professor is when a client is relieved and overjoyed upon completion. They always come back because the essence of their right idea was finally revealed and celebrated in a way they were not able to detect and divine on their own. When those shared moments of success bubble and pop, they are delightful — and necessarily short-lived — as the excitement is quickly sealed and buried forever.