When your child is ill, you take them to the doctor. Writers do the same with sick scripts that aren’t up to scratch. They take them to what is called in “the industry” a script doctor to breathe new life into stagnating storylines and dialogue. Sometimes script doctors adjust structure, sometimes they punch up dialogue, sometimes they change lines to fit a particular actor’s voice and sometimes they rewrite everything.
I sat down with one of Hollywood’s top script doctors, Toluca Lake resident Mike Soccio, to get an inside look at a very vital but often uncredited job.
Soccio has spent the last decade combing through other people’s scripts to find the good parts, get rid of the bad parts and put what is left in order. His career began while hanging out with his friend, actor Alfonso Ribeire, during tapings of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
“I got the script in advance and showed up every tape night and rewrote lines. No one ever used them until the end of the second season. One of Will Smith’s jokes wasn’t delivering a laugh and he asked me to take a stab at rewriting a few lines. The new joke got a huge laugh and I was eventually promoted to a staff writer and then a story editor for the last four years of the show,” said Soccio.
Soccio also worked as a writer on the TV show The King of Queens. His relationship with Smith led Soccio to serve as a script doctor for Men in Black 2, Men in Black 3, Hitch and The Karate Kid. Soccio has no film school or stand-up comedy experience. Once he began rewriting dialogue to fit Smith’s personal voice, his contacts widened and he began receiving requests to work on a variety of scripts.
“My job is mostly knowing how stories work. Writers draft a script and they have their personal take on it and are very passionate about the story. Sometimes the studio or director wants something changed and it takes a fresh eye to see and implement those changes. cript doctors offer a new perspective,” Soccio said.
While some writers grapple with writing a story that they want to write and writing one that is commercial and destined to see box office success, Soccio concentrates on the marketability of a script.
“I am very commercial. If you can’t think of a five minute pitch for a script, something I call ‘the trailer pitch,’ the movie will never sell.”
Writing well also takes time.
“It usually takes six months to properly write a screenplay. Writers know immediately if a script is going to sell. If you don’t sell within three days the script probably won’t sell at all,” Soccio said.
Soccio provided some advice to those trying to break into the very competitive field of scriptwriting and doctoring.
“Start wherever you can get a job. I believe that writers write. Good material will always find a home,” Soccio said. “The best way to start is to have your hands in everything, write everyday and formulate pitch ideas for both TV and film. Eventually a good piece of material will get read by someone and passed to an agent or producer. Write what you know is the oldest saying but it holds true. Make sure to write in your own voice.”
Soccio just finished working on Drama in Bahamas, a movie about Muhammad Ali’s last fight, and is currently working on the new M. Night Shyamalan movie After Earth, Hancock 2, and numerous television pitches.