By Sean Tuohy
As we’ve mentioned on this website numerous times, a great editor can make a world of difference for an emerging author. The same rules apply to screenwriters.
Linda Segar, author of several how-to books for budding film scribes, has been in the screenwriting consultation business since 1981. According to her bio on her official website, she has consulted on more than 2,000 scripts, including more than 40 produced feature films and approximately 35 produced television projects.
Segar’s mission statement is to “identify, analyze, and help solve elusive script problems while nurturing your creative process.”
What more can an up-and-coming screenwriter ask for?
I was lucky enough to ask Seger a few questions about navigating the screenwriting process and she gave scriptwriters plenty of helpful advice.
Sean Tuohy: How did you become a screenwriting coach and consultant? What is the backstory?
Linda Seger: Out of desperation! I was so well educated that nobody wanted to hire me, and I wasn't a corporate "type." I could see that there were so many scripts that didn't work, and I had developed a method as part of my doctoral dissertation about what the elements are that make a good script. I tried this method on some scripts that didn't work, and found that it pinpointed the problems very well. So, I placed an ad in the Hollywood Reporter and started getting clients. Then I went to a career consultant, Judith Claire, to figure out how to make this a full-time business. The plan worked, and I've been doing this now for more than 30 years.
ST: What is the most common error that you see among first time screenwriters?
LS: It used to be an inability to structure the script, but now it seems to be a lack of focus, which is related to structural problems.
ST: As far as style goes, who is the most original screenwriter, in your opinion?
LS: I think the Coen Brothers have a marvelous sense of style, and I'm particularly fond of “Fargo.”
ST What is the best way to learn the art of screenwriting?
LS: Write. Read books. Go to seminars.
ST: Do you believe it comes to some naturally or is it learned over many years?
LS: It is learned over many years, although some people have more natural talent than others. However, if they don't work at it and keep learning, they're still not going to become a great screenwriter.
ST: Has there been any screenwriters or scripts in the past ten years that have really wowed you?
LS: Absolutely! One of the best screenplays I've ever worked on that left me breathless is stuck in "development hell" in a studio. I have just completed working on a screenplay from a first-time writer from Austria. She amazes me and I love this script and hope she sells it. I recently worked with a Canadian on a first-time script that began as a muddle and has really found its way. I'm so impressed about where she's come through a process of about five drafts. I worked on a script years ago that left me breathless. I think the writer became ill, and I haven't heard from him in many years.
I have worked on many, many scripts that I think are really terrific, and I wish they'd make those into films instead of some of the others that are made.
I can't disclose the names of any of these, but I worked on several scripts that were made into films that I think are quite wonderful. One, called "Courting Chaos," has been winning a number of awards recently in film festivals, and two others were made in Italy that I'm very eager to see. They are titled, "Last Summer" and "Anita B."
ST: What is the most difficult part about writing a full length screenplay?
LS: Having a writing discipline and being willing to continually learn about the art and craft of writing.
ST: What do you believe is the most difficult part about making a good story into a great screenplay?
LS: Knowing the craft of writing so you know what you are doing.
ST: What are some of the first things you notice about a script when you are analyzing it?
LS: I can tell if it's great writing on the first page, but it might take me many pages to realize that what doesn't look like good writing actually has tremendous potential. My job is to bring out that potential in the writer and make that the best script it can be.
ST: What advice would you give to a first time screenwriter?
LS: Write and write some more, and write some more! And if you find great joy in writing, then continue writing. If you don't find joy, then stop.
ST: What is one random fact about yourself?
LS: I live in my dream house, a 1921 log home, in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado.