At a cold reading I was told my script was smart but had no heart. What?
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 of a feature script that’s read. And it’s one of the scariest rides on the planet, and one of the most exhilarating too! Hearing your words come out of an actor’s mouth is one of the best ways to gauge the effectiveness of your dialogue and the 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 like the left side of your brain shanghaied you. The brain’s two hemispheres are connected (like North & South America) – but are really different worlds.
Really well-plotted thrillers and heist movies that delight us with the mastery of the turns and twists of the plot are from the left brain. But when films contain heart-wrenching scenes of loss or betrayal, those deeply rooted emotional stories come from the right brain. Left brain function is all about logic and detail. The right brain is where the creative, emotionally functional “we are the world” feelings originate. See this amazing TED talk by Jill Bolte Taylor for a far more in-depth discussion of the brain’s two aspects: (http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/jill_bolte_taylor_s_powerful_stroke_of_insight.html) It gives a beautiful and passionate explanation of the relationship between brain hemispheres and creativity.
What’s probably missing in your piece is that moment (s) where the camera focuses on the protagonist (hero) 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.
I hope this helps. And I do wish you luck with your rewrite.