The Other Story Dept.

Hollywood: ultimate destination for your script. But what happens once it’s there?

Whose hands does it pass through?

Hollywood insiders Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis know…

STORY DEPARTMENTS

Movies about Hollywood, from “Sunset Blvd” to “The Player” all allude to the infamous “Studio Story Department,” that complex system which keeps the studio’s creative team in-the-know. It provides an invaluable resource of all the stories, screenplays and screenwriters submitted to the studio, in addition to recording the day-to-day operations of the creative process.

The relationships, knowledge, education, and access you have in a studio story department is the perfect introduction for anyone who wants to produce, become a development executive, or run a studio in Hollywood some day. It will truly give you an inside look at the inner workings of the Hollywood machine and is a tremendous stepping stone towards the executive suites.

It will truly give you an inside look at the inner workings of the Hollywood machine and is a tremendous stepping stone towards the executive suites.

The story department is responsible for maintaining legal records of all material submitted to the studio (i.e., screenplays, books, manuscripts, stage plays, short stories, comic books, magazine and newspaper articles, remakes of foreign films, songs, and treatments), which is to say, any story that might make a potential movie. These materials are called submissions. The story department also oversees the studio’s archives of all the submissions and projects already in development as well as produced and unproduced projects in the studio’s library.

tsd-the-other-story-department-02Another reason for a story department is that it protects the studio legally from plagiarism. It also helps save time when a screenplay is “covered” (material read by readers who then write a synopsis and comment) so executives can decide whether to take the time to read the whole script or realize after reading the synopsis and comment (commonly called coverage), that the project isn’t right for them.

Rest assured that someone is reading your material, synopsizing it, and commenting on its merit before deciding whether to bump it upstairs or pass on it, then and there. And lastly, it is a great library and therefore a great resource for executives to find new writers, seek out old material in their archives, and find new material. While Hollywood is always changing, the path a screenplay takes remains the same.

The story department is managed by a story editor or Vice President of the story department. However, the title and function of a story editor at a studio has changed considerably since its origins. Today’s story editor usually runs the whole story department, managing the day-to-day work of assigning story analysts (also known as readers) to read scripts submitted to the studio by the many producers, production companies, agents, writers, directors, and entertainment lawyers in town.

They also act as the liaison between the creative executive staff and the story department. The story department may have a few assistants along with a staff of story analysts who report to a story editor or Executive Story Editor, who oversees the department.

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Usually promoted from the ranks of an assistant story editor or story department assistant, a story editor must have the ability to recognize and appreciate good writing, be highly organized, detail-oriented, computer-literate, have the ability to handle lots of pressure, and have familiarity with agents, writers, directors, and producers credits. A mental database of credits can go a long way.

AGENCY STORY DEPARTMENTS

Most agencies have their own story departments, employing both a story editor and non-union readers. Their readers evaluate material with an eye towards whether the writer is strong enough to become a potential client, while also evaluating the material with an eye towards certain talent represented by the agency.

Their readers evaluate material with an eye towards whether the writer is strong enough to become a potential client.

Generally, the larger agencies employ freelance readers. Scripts are submitted to the agency story department by an agent’s office, solely for coverage. Much like the studio story department, the screenplays are then logged in and assigned a reader. Coverage consists of concept, synopsis, and evaluation. The difference is that agency coverage may include a casting breakdown of the roles, for those agencies that represent actors. Also, unlike studio coverage, because an agency is not buying the material, “consider” is a word used more often than at a studio or production company.

As long as there is material to be submitted, the story department, whether at a studio, network, production company or agency, will continue to buzz, supplying executives and agents with much-needed synopses and comments on everything submitted to them and thereby helping them to screen and evaluate whether a project is worthy of their efforts to shepherd it to the silver screen.

Our next ESE Film Workshops Online class, “Screenplay Development from the Inside Out,” begins January 6, 2010. In this course, you’ll learn about the players at the studios, production companies and agencies. You’ll discover the importance of loglines, coverage, development notes and get an insider’s look at the development process.

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Rona Edwards and Monika Skerbelis are the authors of the critically acclaimed book, “I Liked It, Didn’t Love It: Screenplay Development From The Inside Out,” now in its 2nd printing, and founders of ESE Film Workshops Online, a global f

ilm school offering comprehensive film courses. Collectively they have 25 years worth of experience in Hollywood and have worked in both the studio system and production companies as development executives as well as producers.

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Rona Edwards

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