Brian O'Malley - Founder of Screenplay Readers

We tie ourselves in knots trying to make our customers happy, but when they’re in the wrong, we have to say so.

Brian O’Malley is the founder of Screenplay Readers, a script coverage service founded in 1999 which provides screenwriters, producers, and agents with valuable, actionable feedback on their work before they send it out to studios and name actors.

After college, Brian worked as a script reader for Roger Corman, the legendary B-movie producer who gave filmmakers like Francis Ford Coppola, Ron Howard, and Martin Scorcese their first directing gigs in Hollywood, and who’s been churning out quick, cheap films since the 1950’s, such as Little Shop of Horrors, Bucket of Blood, and The Trip.

Prior to Corman, Brian read scripts for Media Artists Group, an old-school talent and literary agency which represented actors like Debby Reynolds, and Rowdy Roddy Piper, where he first learned the craft of screenplay analysis, and how to give brutally honest script notes to screenwriters who aren’t always happy to receive feedback.

Brian has written and directed several independent feature films, some of which have been featured in respected indie film publications like Aint-It-Cool-News, Chris Gore’s Film Threat, and the world-renowned splatter magazine, Fangoria. He continues to support his filmmaking habit with his business, Screenplay Readers, and lives with his wife, his dog, and two cats on the east side of Los Angeles.

Where did the idea for Screenplay Readers come from?

After I left Roger Corman’s studio, I found I was still being asked by friends and friends-of-friends to read scripts and offer my feedback on their screenplays. I saw a great opportunity to start selling my script services online because there just simply wasn’t anybody doing it at the time. The few that were selling their script reading services on the web were both exorbitantly expensive (charging $250-$1000 for a simple read and a page or two of notes) and took quite a long time to get the final script feedback to the customer (sometimes upwards of 4-8 weeks!).

At Corman, I’d read, cover-to-cover, sometimes 2 or even 3 scripts at night, after ending my day shift at the office, and was still able to compose detailed, helpful, actionable script notes for each script.

So I took a chance and started a website, betting I could provide script coverage service for $59, and with a turnaround time of 72 hours, and still make more money than I did at my day job. And my bet paid off. Within a year, I’d put together a team of 3 readers, including myself, and we called ourselves “Script Chicks” (as most of the team were women.)

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

8AM: A 2-mile walk with the dooge (the dog), followed by checking in with the team to make sure everything’s running smoothly. I eat lunch at 11 sharp, then coffee, and with the caffeine flowing, I come back to the office and do the bulk of my brainstorming, 1-on-1 script consulting over the phone, or reading.

The biggest contributors to my productivity are my adjustable standing desk (keeps my on my feet, which keeps my brain going) and two key pieces of software: Slack and a Chrome browser extension called Disable HTML5 Autoplay.

Slack is a team messaging app that lets me communicate to my readers and my virtual assistants, and saves me tons of emails back and forth. The Disable HTML5 Autoplay extension allows me to take a quick break to read the news without being bombarded with videos (which I’d inevitably get sucked into.)

How do you bring ideas to life?

For jamming on new ideas, I rely heavily on a plain, old-fashioned 9.75 x 7.5 composition book and a pen. Brainstorming on paper allows me to do my own form of “mindmapping.” I tend to outline a lot using the ink-and-paper method as well. For me, there’s just nothing like analog, handwritten notes to get the thought process going. Although a growler of beer helps too.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I’m excited by streaming. For a long time, the theater-going experience has been pretty bad. Even by the late 90’s, they were bombarding us with loud slideshows before the picture. Then came the actual commercials. Then came the mass adoption of the food camera, AKA the mobile phone. I used to see 2-3 movies a week in the theater, and now I see one every year or so because it’s gotten so bad.

Streaming makes me happy because I can put my feet up, grab that aforementioned growler of beer, and watch a 9-foot screen with none of that nonsense to bother me. What’s more, first-run movies could be coming to my home screen soon, with services such as Screening Room, being developed by Napster’s Sean Parker. And that. Would be cool.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Listening to my customers. I’m obsessed. Granted, I’m a bit of a pain for my VA’s who do most of the customer support, because I jump in on their support tickets pretty frequently. The VA will tell a customer “no,” and I’ll jump in and say “yes.” That interaction does more to keep me thinking of how to improve, and therefore more productive, than anything else I do. It’s a constant stream of extremely valuable feedback, if you know what questions to ask, and do it often enough.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I stayed at a lower price point for the better part of the 18 years I’ve been providing script coverage. In 2014, after 15 years, I finally raised our rates, giving our loyal customers 6 months worth of “heads up” because I was really afraid we might lose their business. Turned out, not only were they were fine with the price increase, we actually gained customers, and I was able to give my team a substantial raise. So to my younger self, I’d say this: 1) Perceived value is a very real thing, and 2) On a totally unrelated note, buy as much Bitcoin as possible.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on?

Flat out: the customer is not always right. I know that hearing that might be the equivalent of nails on the chalkboard for a lot of business folks, but working in such a subjective field as screenplay feedback for 18+ years has given me a depth and breadth of insight on how wrong customers can actually be. We tie ourselves in knots trying to make our customers happy, but when they’re in the wrong, we have to say so, and we’re not shy about “firing” customers if it comes down to it.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Delegate, delegate, delegate. Hire a virtual assistant (VA). If I hadn’t brought readers aboard early in the business, I’d still be up to my neck in script reading. With my team aboard, it frees me up to work on the higher-end services (the 1-on-1 consulting, etc.), and lets me keep the actual business moving forward, and keeps the brainstorms comin’.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business? Please explain how.

Never go negative. We opened our service up for review on several popular business review sites, and have received a lot of great, positive feedback. But there is the occasional negative review that you can do nothing about, because you either don’t know who left it (because the customer either uses a fake name), or it’s simply a competitor slamming you anonymously.

The good news is, we’ve turned it around. Now I see every review, good or bad, as another opportunity. Not necessarily to speak to the customer leaving the review, but to speak to the potential customers reading that review. I’ll even respond to negative reviews with coupon codes, which has earned us not a small number of new long-term customers.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

Early on, I didn’t spend enough time vetting my readers, so I found myself in constant “hiring mode.” Back in early 2000-2002 or so, I brought aboard readers with great experience and chops, but who eventually started turning in bad work. At that time, my company was one of only a handful online, so I missed a great opportunity to add more folks to my army of long-term customers because I was too busy constantly scrambling to replace readers. The lesson I learned: vet your employees. Hard. I now spend a lot, lot, lot more time getting to know a potential employee’s work and work ethic before bringing them aboard, so that I’m not constantly battling employee turnover. It’s more work up front, but saves a lot more work over the long run.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

I’d like to see an app that can scan a bad driver on the road from your dashboard, and then rate that driver. If they get a lot of positive ratings, they get a discount on insurance and other perks from participating companies. If you can make this happen, Ideamensch, I will bake you a pie.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I bought the Apple Pencil for my iPad Pro, and I’m still giddy. I haven’t drawn cartoons since high school, and it’s like I never stopped. With the app Procreate, I can grab my iPad, grab my Apple Pencil, and I can draw cartoons, which is an immensely powerful stress-reliever. It may even replace my trusty, dusty composition books.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Call Recorder for Skype and Facetime. It’s a super-easy, super-cheap plugin that lets you record your video calls / consulting calls. Clients love it and I’m not sure how I got by without it. Just push the big red button.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Mastering Bitcoin: Unlocking Digital Cryptocurrencies. From everything I’ve read over the last few years, cryptocurrencies are going to be a massive part of the world economy over the next twenty years, and I’d be remiss in failing to recommend to every entrepreneur, aspiring and otherwise, that they at least give the topic a quick glance.

This book delves into the technical pretty quickly, but understanding at least little bit about the technical about Bitcoin is key to understanding exactly why it’s going to be so important to be a part of the financial ecosystem. As one expert put it, and I’ll paraphrase, “Right now, BItcoin is where the world wide web was in 1994: Nobody really uses it yet, but they’re about to, whether they want to or not.”

What is your favorite quote?

“I don’t have any other message than don’t forget you are alive.” – Joe Strummer

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