What is a Script Doctor?

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A script doctor is an established screenwriter contracted by film studios to make changes to another writer's screenplay. Writers who perform this type of work generally agree to keep their services confidential. A script doctor usually meets with the film's production team to discuss specific problems, not rewrite the entire film treatment. Certain scenes may not seem to fit the logical progression of a character, or the solution to a key plot line might sound too contrived to a test audience.

Script doctors are called in to fix problems with a film, often after a test audience reacts negatively to a certain aspect of the movie.
Script doctors are called in to fix problems with a film, often after a test audience reacts negatively to a certain aspect of the movie.

A script doctor is usually known for a specific writing skill. Some are experts in creating realistic dialogue, while others are brought in to create alternative endings. In extreme circumstances, a script doctor may eliminate ineffective characters altogether. This last-minute scrapping of a subplot has lead to some interesting changes in well-known movies. In the 1983 movie The Big Chill an important character is only shown at his funeral as the main cast gathers to mourn him. The original script called for several flashback scenes, but a script doctor believed those scenes slowed the film's pacing. It was more effective to speak about the character, not necessarily recreate him. This is a typical decision a script doctor may have to make in order to salvage the filmmaker's vision.

A script doctor is usually known for a specific writing skill.
A script doctor is usually known for a specific writing skill.

Sometimes the original writer of a screenplay is not intimately familiar with writing for a visual medium such as film. The author of the source material may be asked to create a film treatment of his or her novel, but the producers may not be pleased with the results. A script doctor may be hired to turn an unfilmable series of scenes into filmable ones. Because of this, many experienced script doctors must understand the needs of filmmakers while maintaining the original author's general story arc. This has lead to a few controversies over the years, as finished films have been known to bear little resemblance to the literary works which inspired them. Others may take extreme liberties with the characters in order to appeal to a target audience. A script doctor may rewrite dialogue to earn a PG-13 rating or add scenes which will make the film seem more adult-oriented.

Script doctors must understand the needs of filmmakers, while maintaining the original author's general story arc.
Script doctors must understand the needs of filmmakers, while maintaining the original author's general story arc.
A script doctor may change the dialogue of a movie so that it is appropriate for children.
A script doctor may change the dialogue of a movie so that it is appropriate for children.
Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick

A regular wiseGEEK contributor, Michael enjoys doing research in order to satisfy his wide-ranging curiosity about a variety of arcane topics. Before becoming a professional writer, Michael worked as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.

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