I read a few screenplays and i am a bit confused how the quality of a screenplay is judged by the Osacar panel. It is not as obvious to judge the quality of a screenplay as opposed to the quality of cinematography or sound editing or acting.
Are there any authoritative sources that spell out how to evaluate screenplays so as to separate the good from the ordinary? What do they say?

  • How do you tell a good novel from a bad novel? It's the same. There are minor things to consider, like cost vs effect of SFX (it really doesn't take much effort to describe a huge, crowded spaceport in Sci-fi book. Not so in sci-fi movie, and if it's just an insignificant background to a scene that could be placed elsewhere without loss of quality, that is a reckless waste of resources.) or actor's ability to display feelings or subtly signal things that might or might not be missed by the audience of visual medium, but the essence is the same: a captivating story.
    – SF.
    Commented Dec 8, 2013 at 16:19
  • @Neil Fein: I edited the question to ask for "authoritative" (expert) sources, and wonder if the question can be reopened in its current form.
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 22, 2015 at 23:30
  • @JohnSmithers What do you think of Tom's edit? This technically answers our concerns, but the question isn't substantially different. Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 5:46
  • 1
    @NeilFein: I'm still learning my way around the Writers site, so please do whatever is best for "here." But FWIW, on my "stronger" sites (History and Board & Card Games), my fix is adequate. The reason is while, "I believe that..." is an opinion that is frowned upon at SE, "The opinion of Michael Hauge (a recognized expert) is that..." is treated as a "fact" (about Michael Hauge). history.stackexchange.com/questions/8615/…
    – Tom Au
    Commented Feb 23, 2015 at 14:11
  • @NeilFein: I just noticed that John Smithers hasn't been on the site since January 10, that is, nearly two months ago. It may be weeks or months before he returns. If we want the input of other high rep members of the site, should I ask a question about this on meta?
    – Tom Au
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 15:41

1 Answer 1


There are at least two ways to read a screenplay - as literature and as specification. Oscar reviewers, as peers in the movie industry, read for both.

The document must describe a filmable movie, using the correct technical language and perspective. I can write a script about oranges or plate tectonics but I can't make that filmable, any more than a blueprint of a Tipler time travel cylinder makes the thing actually buildable.

The screenplay must also give the director enough cues to tell a story without being overly specific - it needs to invite input from the director and department heads without being a connect-the-dots exercise or so overly specific that it would have to be taken apart and rebuilt to be filmable.

Once the technical criteria is met the aesthetic kicks in - is the screenplay interesting? Does it have a good story, compelling settings? Is the conflict and arc clear? Do the characters relate to each other believeably, no matter how fantastic the world? Can I read the screenplay and at the end understand the story before any images are recorded?

In summary - the screenplay is the functional specificaiton of a movie. It has to fill three prerequisites and the ones that surpass these by the most would, in a just world, be the Oscar candidates.

  1. Can we read it?
  2. Could we film it?
  3. Do we want to make the effort?

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