If you have never received script feedback, you don’t know what you’re missing. The chance to be criticized, to have your dreams crushed is an invaluable experience. Really. No matter how positive someone is, if they recommend changes, it’s going to sting. You’ll need a thick skin in this industry. In the beginning, feedback would put me into a deep depression for weeks. Now I’m down to a solid three or four days.
Remember that feedback is just a perspective. Most people will not watch your movie. Instead, they will read your script and analyze the hell out of it. Don’t blame them. You’re the fool who asked for their opinion. Of course, they want to show that they know more than you.
Take a deep breath. And listen to them. If they only tell you something isn’t working, that’s when you need to speak up. You need to know why and what changes they recommend. This lets you know if they put in the work. Let’s face it, some readers give you ten pages before they just skim the dialogue. Getting CliffNotes feedback is not worth any sleepless nights.
Receiving comments from several people at the same time can feel like you’re being bullied in the school yard. Let it all sit until you’re no longer numbing the pain. Then dig in and start making choices. People who have never written a script fail to realize that one minor change can force a major change in other parts of the story. You get to decide if all those opinions matter and if the consequences of a rewrite are worth it.
One time I had what I thought was a really great opening in my comedy. It was a life altering experience for my character. Every member of my screenwriting group told me that it failed to set up his flaw. I had no problem rewriting other parts but I kept trying to sneak the opening by them. For three drafts, they called me on it. Finally, I had to kill my baby. The scene was hilarious but I was forcing it into this story.
If you get a consensus does that mean they are right and you are wrong? Not at all. In another script, the same group objected to one of my characters. Someone brought it up during our meeting and one by one, the other writers started to agree. He changed their minds when it wasn’t part of their notes. This can be the danger of group feedback. Be careful you don’t let them convince you there’s something wrong with your script.
There was one person in my group who always read my work on the train to our meeting. At first I was pissed that he wasn’t willing to give me the same effort that I gave him. But I grew to prize his comments. He was the freshest read. He didn’t have days to think it over. In this industry time is a screenwriter’s enemy. Once the critical mind enters the picture, even the greatest scripts can be picked apart. The best feedback is the initial gut reaction. The same goes for the writing and rewriting process. Don’t make changes just because they say you need them. Make them because it feels right.
I’ll talk more about that next time…