Debunking Screenwriting Myths, Part 7: Requesting Feedback
by Geno Scala
Recently, I submitted one of my scripts to a blogger offering his free “ten-page review”… or so I thought. Apparently, I misunderstood the premise of his tweet and blog, and later learned that my submission was open to ALL of the blog followers to comment and critique. One of his more professional followers was chosen to “officially” review the script, which was apparently a new process coincidentally beginning with my first script submission.
After several days, I checked back with the blog with enthusiastic anticipation of reading a number of thoughtful, positive comments and, hopefully, some important, insightful suggestions offered up by writers with seemingly a wide range of professional screenwriting experience.
How wrong I was.
What I received as “feedback” was snarky, irrelevant and hate-filled responses, either borne out of envy or vitriol from possibly a long-past run-in. Hard to say, since all of the commenters were anonymous. While feedback of this nature is not helpful, it did drive home a very important point, one that I had forgotten in my expectation of adulation. After all, this screenplay had won several contests, and is continuing to fare well in several others. The screenplay is generating a lot of interest from producers and managers, and has been requested and reviewed by many of the top mid-level production companies out there, receiving tremendous accolades.
I hadn’t followed my first rule of feedbacks: be clear about what you expect. Usually, when asking for any writing feedbacks, I rely almost entirely on my “cheers”, “peers” and “rocketeers”. In this case, I went outside that sphere of influence; my own “circle of trust”.
This refers to the three groups of emotional and screenwriting support network you should have in place. Your “cheers” are friends and family and those not in the business of screenwriting, who generally will support (and donate to) just about anything you do. They are important for your spiritual well-being and self-esteem, but generally not as helpful to your overall writing goals.
The next group is your “peers”. These, generally, are fellow scribes who have somewhat the same level of writing experience as you. You might find them in writing groups, networking forums, chat rooms, or related alumni groups.
Your “rocketeers” are those handfuls of professionals who can take your writing — and your career — to the next level. This group may consist of professional script readers, producers, agents, managers, optioned or produced screenwriters, and/or screenwriting “gurus”.
When posting this screenplay to an unfamiliar blog, I failed to make my own expectations clear; to myself or to others. I hadn’t researched the purpose of the site, or the quality of the reviewers prior to diving into this literary shark tank with my eyes closed.
With any anonymous review, you are opening yourself up to comments and suggestions from anyone, regardless of their accomplishments or lack thereof. For all I know, the reviews could have come from a bunch of stoned high school kids cutting class that day (they certainly read as such, and made even less sense). Some of the comments ranged from “I don’t like the genre, and will never like a script like this”, to “Oh, no! I’ve read one with a similar opening last month!” neither one refreshingly insightful to the script being reviewed. Of the few “corrective suggestion(s)” the script did received included one that was based on the incorrect assertion that a particular formatting style is no longer “in vogue” (despite Dave Trottier’s assertion to the contrary). One reviewer felt that he/she didn’t like it because they “couldn’t see how it (the plot) could be pulled off.” Mind you, they’ve read only the first ten pages or so.
The result was a swift kick to my own butt, by me, reminding never to set myself up for failure so carelessly again in the future. I have certainly developed a thick-skin about my writing long before this posting every saw the light of day. You should ask for and receive any and all feedback; just make sure you know from whom it’s coming and what their personal motivations might be, if any.
When I provide feedback, it is for the purpose of helping the writer improve their writing or their overall project. I provide examples of what I’m talking about, and if they expect corrected examples, I provide those as well. If it’s formatting-related, I realize it may be about preferences or style, and advise the writer what technique or style I prefer, so as not to cloud my own judgment. I also try the “sandwich technique” to critiquing: a negative comment sandwiched between two positive comments.
It makes the criticism a bit easier to swallow that way.
Geno Scala has been writing for over twenty years, and was one of the Executive Directors for the 1999-2000 Academy Awards presentation. He is an optioned screenwriter with nine screenplays to his credit, and is an alumnus of ScreenwritingU. He maintains a business in Hollywood, and resides in beautiful Huntsville, Alabama with his rocket-scientist wife, a daughter in grad school, another daughter in college in CA, and two teen-aged sons.