By Sarah Chaisson-Warner
Originally a playwright, Lowell Williams made the move to screenwriting when he began writing his script Hammer and Nails.
Hammer and Nails is a story about the civil rights protests in Selma, Alabama, and a Boston seminarian’s efforts to change the mindset of white supremacists. Lowell sought initial feedback from his friends who were in the business and when one of his friends suggested utilizing a coverage service to take his script to the next level, Lowell sought out Shore Scripts.
In May of 2021, Lowell submitted his script to Shore Scripts’ coverage service and was immediately paired with one of our readers, Kim Parker. Kim is a seasoned writer with 10 years of experience, and who has extensive experience providing writers with valuable feedback through coverage.
Through several iterations, Kim offered feedback to help Lowell strengthen his script. “I experimented with some ideas and ran it past her and continued on from there,” he said. “One good example was getting a good first ten pages. I must have rewritten my first ten a hundred times. I dream about my first ten.”
One of the first things Kim and Lowell worked on were the differences between playwriting and screenwriting, and how to format a screenplay. “Lowell is a playwright and one of the things you have to learn as a playwright transitioning to screenwriting is that while dialogue is king in plays, visuals are far more important in screenplays. So, screen dialogue needs to be pared back to what is essential to move the story forward or to reveal character or to leave room for subtext which can sometimes be more powerful than being explicit,” she said.
“She suggested lines of dialogue that really worked,” said Lowell, and with Kim’s help, Lowell reworked and tightened the dialogue in scenes throughout his script.
An earlier draft of a scene from Hammer and Nails:
“One of the number of things I learned from Kim was to always write in an active voice. In this example ‘Jon drives.’ Kim also stressed keeping things brief. So, over time, ‘example 1’ above became ‘example 2,’” Lowell said.
Kim and Lowell also worked on the character arcs and the script’s overall structure.
“Different characters have come and gone, or had their part expanded or pruned back. We even had a complete switch of a storyline from one character to another, because it dovetailed with the protagonist’s arc and served the overall story better. There is a certain element of dialogue work that has to be done for characterization too. We went into detail on specific lines, even words. Would the character really say that? Would they say it like that?” – Kim Parker
It is important that coverage focuses on how to best tell the story the writer wants to tell; to find a way to tell that story in the most effective way and have a powerful impact on the audience. “Sometimes it came down to recommending that he cut certain scenes, or rearrange them to create a more powerful hook or because it was more logical, or to shorten scenes to better create momentum, intrigue, suspense — whatever it was he was going for at that point in the script,” said Kim.
Lowell came back and worked with Kim several times – each time bringing forward a new draft of the script based on her feedback and thoughts. “I really developed a rapport with her,” he said.
Kim also enjoyed working with him, and seeing his script change and grow.
“I loved working with Lowell because he was so enthusiastic. He never took my suggestions as a slight or criticism. Instead, he’d go away, mull over the suggestion a few days, then make it his own in some way,” she said. “Sometimes he used the Q&A follow-up to communicate what he was thinking of doing and ask what my take on it was. As well as the script, we discussed the civil rights movement and what was going on in Alabama at the time more generally, so that the script remained grounded in reality. It was always exciting to see what he’d come up with.” -Kim Parker
After several rounds of feedback and rewrites, Kim felt it was time for Lowell to utilize a second reader to get a fresh set of eyes, and Shore then paired Lowell up with Grahame Wood to continue the feedback.
Grahame has been a coverage analyst with Shore Scripts for several years and is a film and television producer himself. Grahame was keen to offer additional insights from his experience in these roles. At all times the approach was to offer feedback designed to strengthen the writer’s vision for the story, rather than to dictate how the story should be told.
“This is your story. You’ve made these story choices…I shouldn’t be telling you how I would do it, but I can point out things I noticed that can make the script stronger and practices that will help to bring out the story that’s already there.” -Grahame Wood
One of Grahame’s first suggestions was that Lowell change the title of the script. “I believe you should be able to describe your film or television show in one sentence and everyone knows what it’s about. The same can be said for the title. The title has to basically give you the emotional impact of the film,” says Grahame.
Lowell suggested the new title – Hammer and Nails, and both could see the immediate impact of this change; “The title was perfect on a metaphorical level and a literal level,” said Grahame.
Grahame also made suggestions about the characters, their interactions, and their individual arcs; “The three central characters [the seminarian, the black activist, and the white bigot] were rarely in scenes together and so I discussed with the writer how every possible scene that you can get these three in the room together that is what you need to do. That will show the central conflict, and conflict is what the story thrives on. Get these people in the room together so we can understand how their stories affect each other.”
Grahame also helped Lowell build suspense and utilize pay-offs. “We needed more interaction between the seminarian and the bigot, and how the bigot begins to re-think his life. I wanted to see the unraveling of his mind and the complexity. We have to see the humanity in the bigot and the internal struggle. We have to see the seminarian get him to the point of salvation, but then it all collapses,” he said.
After several months of working with Kim and Grahame, Lowell felt he had achieved his goal for the script. The final draft gained a “Recommend” from Shore Scripts and since then, Hammer and Nails placed as a Finalist in the 2022 StoryPros Awards Competition and is in the top 15% of scripts on the Coverfly platform.
Lowell’s experience with the readers at Shore Scripts has also helped to inform other projects he is working on. “The sluglines and other things I knew nothing about, for sure, I will carry forward to new projects. I have rethought some of the process I have used to get a new script off the ground. It’s always changing and the next thing is always my best writing.”
So, what advice does Lowell have for other writers seeking to better their scripts through coverage and other feedback measures? “Hang in there, keep at it, and always be willing to rethink the whole thing.”
For more information about Shore Scripts’ coverage service, please visit https://www.shorescripts.com/screenplay-coverage/
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After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing sci-fi and a family Christmas script. Her script, Serafina Stavinovna, was placed in “The Next 100” in the 2021 Nicholl Fellowship Competition.
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