FORTHCOMING one day COURSES at the Indie Training Fund, London – STORY, CHARACTER & IDEAS masterclass (May 31) and SCRIPT EDITING ESSENTIALS (July 19).
This week the newsletter is comprised of a debate from my screenwriters studio Facebook page (a group of screenwriters who have been on my independent courses) about SCRIPT FEEDBACK – where to get it from and what to do with it. I think the writers in question make some brilliant points about the very difficult topic of getting feedback on your scripts.
‘I find myself feeling confused about feedback. I finished a screenplay last May, left it for a week and then did some redrafts with professional feedback and started entering it into competitions and also getting more feedback from about August. Each time I worked on it and changed it as per the feedback and it went from a script getting mainly 7s to 8 -10s and quarter final places to a semi finalist place in a respected competition. Most coverage was encouraging but I’ve just had 2 bits of feedback on it from respected organisations, one of which previously gave me that semi final place and marks have gone to mainly 5s. I am so disappointed as I really think it is a better script now and I know it intimately. Plus it’s my umpteenth script but I have never sent anything out to agents or production companies because I am conscious it has to be as perfect as possible which I thought this was and now clearly not but I am also conscious it is all so subjective. Thoughts?’
‘It is indeed all so subjective. A pilot I wrote was something of a marmite script – some companies loved it, others really hated it. Getting the ‘constructive’ criticism from the agencies that hated it was really depressing as it made me feel like perhaps I needed to change my style if I wanted to be successful. Long story short, I realised that you need to be true to your writing instincts and voice, and kept doing things my way (and behold, said script has now been picked up… a happy ending). Moral of the story, if you think it’s good, and you can argue why it’s good, then stick to your guns. All the best with it.’
‘Stop attempting to please everyone, it’s crazy. It’s a knock followed by several more. I don’t do competitions for many reasons but primarily I’m not interested in someone whom I’ve never met, scoring my work. I am building a partnership with my local University, where students ‘act out’ my work. Believe me, nothing opens your eyes to flat dialogue more than it being read in front of you. Don’t forget that these young people are working some of the best plays ever written and will offer you an honest assessment. You will physically see where you’re going wrong but more importantly where you’re smashing it. Also, invite friends to watch your work being performed and tell them to be brutally honest with you, broad shoulders required for that bit. We all need a dopamine shot from time to time, to be ‘liked’ but it’s much more satisfying when it’s self-administered.’
‘The best notes come from those who get your work and want it to be a better version of what it is. Notes from people who don’t get it from the get go aren’t usually that helpful. If they don’t like what you’re broadly trying to do, then how can they help you do it better?’
‘Giving and getting feedback on scripts is so subjective. You need to work at finding someone with industry connections who you trust and who gets your work. Getting constructive, unbiased feedback from someone who understands the realities of the industry, and responding creatively and positively to that feedback is so important.’
‘I also think there’s a difference between feedback and notes. The former is a more broad brush reaction to your work. Does someone like your voice. Do they buy into your premise. Do they ‘get’ what you’re attempting to do. Notes are more specific. And they’re most helpful when they come from someone who a. is broadly positive in their feedback and b. understands craft. It’s great to get lots of feedback. Probably better to be choosey over who gives notes. Quality over quantity.’
‘The first script I ever wrote I sent off to 3 different (respected) feedback companies. One said it was in great shape and no reason it shouldn’t be picked up and produced, another said it had potential but needed work, and the 3rd said it was awful and absolutely slated it. If you’re happy with the script – and it sounds like you are – then definitely get it out there.’
‘I find producers are often really open to reading work. I’ve got further with them than comps.’
‘Can be so demoralising to get feedback that you feel misses the point of your script. I echo the thoughts of others to say you have to stick with your own voice and what you want to say. BUT if two or more people are commenting on a particular point, it’s worth looking at it again as you might have a problem there. Otherwise, make it the very BEST version of what you want it to be, and then send it out. You absolutely cannot please everyone, and your work will turn to sand in your fingers if you try.’
‘Great advice here. The trouble is there is never a point at which a script is “perfect”, a reader will always find something to comment on which will leave you tweaking FOREVER. You have to find courage in your own work to stop listening to feedback for its own sake and let agents / producers read it.’
‘Absolutely – ultimately you have to get your work out into the big bad world and test the waters!’
‘Definitely Phil. Kate Leys says redraft, polish, but don’t do endless tweaks. You could be tweaking forever.’
‘But it is supposed to be perfect. Otherwise you look like an idiot.’
‘Reactions are subjective – so perfection is an impossibility’
‘There is no perfect!’
‘So as an update, today I received more coverage from xxxxx, basically hugely praising my work and giving me 2 x 9, 2 x 7 and 12 x 8 so an overall score of 8 although they downgraded it to 7.9. So then I looked at the things I had fallen down on and it is hard to pinpoint as the second coverage didn’t criticise anything. So if anything I feel even more confused. So I have a 7.8 and an 8 and a 5.7. But obviously it ideally needs to be a 10. Or do I just do another read through and tweak every day for a week or do I do a full rewrite. Confused.com. Or throw caution to the wind and send it out? Think I am too much of a perfectionist for that!’
‘I would ask yourself what you are gaining from this feedback and scoring system. How is it helping your development as a writer? I would also suggest that when you send it to agents and producers you should not expect a unified response. Your work will resonate with some and not with others. It is confusing and can be deflating, but navigating through feedback is a vital skill. It will help you to take on notes effectively when you land a writing gig. It’s really hard to know when a work is ‘ready.’ I wouldn’t tweak for the sake of it. It’s important to be really clear what the focus of a rewrite is. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge and risk criticism.’
‘Yes indeed. You can’t please all the people all of the time. Nor should you try to.
We’ve all read the book or watched a movie that a mate has raved about and thought really?!?’
Thank you so much to all the writers involved in this conversation – Cowal Pen, Jeff Beamer, Sonya Desai, Rachel Smith, Rachel Paterson, Phil Lawrence, Helen Black, Wally Jiagoo, Liz Cooper – for their insights and generosity in letting me share this.
The next newsletter will be on Friday May 4th,
All the best
April 20th 2018