The overall verdict was that I was a smart writer and the script had real promise but no heart. What does that mean?
First of all, congratulations are in order. #1 - You finished a script. #2 - You risked submitting it to a ‘cold read’. Wow, that’s fabulous.
For those unfamiliar with the term, a COLD READING is a gathering where a group of actors meet, are handed a script and within about 30 minutes start acting it out. Often, it’s just the opening act (or first 30 pages) of a feature script that’s read. And it’s one of the scariest rides on the planet and one of the most exhilarating! Hearing your words in an actors’ mouth is one of the BEST WAYS to gauge the effectiveness of your dialogue and pacing of your writing.
And as you found out, a cold reading can also reveal some of the weaknesses of your script that might have slipped by some of your other critiques. From the comments you received it sounds as if you were shanghaied by the LEFT side of your brain. As many of you know, who follow this screenwriting blog, I believe any really good story is a balancing act of RIGHT brain creativity and LEFT brain structure.
Really well-plotted thrillers and heist movies delight us with the mastery of the turns and twists of their plot. (LEFT BRAIN). But if they contain heart-wrenching scenes of loss or betrayal those deeply rooted emotional stories come from the RIGHT BRAIN. Right brain function is all about universality. (Jill Bolte Taylor’s fabulous, fabulous recorded TED talk - http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html ) gives a beautiful and passionate explanation of the relationship between the two brain hemispheres and creativity.
What’s probably missing in your piece is that moment (s) where the camera focuses on the protagonist and we get to SEE their pain/reaction/emotional response. We need emotional connection to the main character to actually care enough to plow through their story with them. EARLY on in your script give us an emotional LINK to your hero/heroine and then reinforce it several times throughout the story. Those emotional ties will keep us cheering your character on until the bitter or sweet finale of the film.
I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your rewrite. Let me know when you’ve completed your script. I’d love to read your work!