If I had a dollar for every time a new screenwriter reached out to ask me for feedback on their work I wouldn’t have time to write this article I’d be too busy freestyling through the cash in my Scrooge McDuck swimming pool.
It’s common – and understandable – we all want to know how we’re getting on particularly when we’re starting out. And we want to know how we can make our work better. I feel you, newbie.
So here are 5 ways to get feedback on your work.
Peer to Peer (Group)
This is usually a quid pro quo situation with a live writing group or an online writing group. You do for them and they do for you. Check out Facebook or Meetup or industry organisations to find screenwriting groups in your area. And of course there are many online forums.
Pros – it’s free, fun and great for networking. People will most likely be encouraging and supportive.
Con – you’ll get a range of feedback so you’ll have to get practised at sorting the useful feedback from the irrelevant or unhelpful feedback. You can’t guarantee quality feedback and need to be prepared for clumsy feedback that feels personal even if it isn’t. And if this is a group of friends there can be a tendency to be nice rather than critical. And it can be a little subjective.
Tip: Do yourself a favour and seek feedback from people who know something about whatever it is you do – someone who will give you honest feedback, not just a pat on the back or ill-informed criticism.
Peer to Peer (One to One)
Again, a quid pro quo situation with a regular writing buddy. This is great if you have a similar work ethic, writing goal and level of experience. Set up a regular meeting and you’re good to go.
Pros – it’s free, convivial and you’ll develop a relationship with a trusted advisor.
Con – you’ll only be getting feedback from one source. And you’ll need to choose carefully to get the right fit for you and your work.
Peer to Peer (Read Through)
Organise a bunch of chums to read your screenplay out loud. Know some actors? Even better. Then have a group discussion to get initial responses.
Pros – it’s free (aside from some catering) and you hear your script out loud. People will probably be supportive and encouraging.
Cons – unless everyone in the room is amazing at screenplay assessment you’ll invariably get somebody getting excited and going off track or trying to suggest what they would do rather than asking thoughtful questions.
Tip: Go equipped with specific questions you want answered and make it clear why you’ve organised the read through i.e. in order to hear what you have NOT get story suggestions. Unless, of course, you DO want story suggestions. Establish some ground rules up front and that way it doesn’t become a creativity fest that doesn’t help you improve your work.
Tick the Feedback Box
Many screenwriting competitions and funding initiatives offer a basic feedback service to applicants/entrants. Sometimes it’s part of the deal and it’s free, sometimes it’s for a small, additional fee. Either way it’s worth it to get a basic, gut response to your work.
Pros – low cost and it will be objective, market feedback from strangers. And occasionally it might be quite comprehensive.
Cons – it’ll be one person’s viewpoint and invariably brief without a lot of specific detail. And you can’t go back with questions.
Use a Professional Script Assessor or Script Service
The time to use this option is when the script is the best version you can do. You’ve probably had a friend or group read it for first impressions and you’ve rewritten it – probably more than once. There are many script reader services in the world – so do some homework. I’m always a little leery of very cheap reader services that are vague about who is actually giving the feedback. So look for testimonials and names – ask around – check out who they are and what they’ve done.
Pros – objective, professional analysis of your work from someone who reads a lot of scripts and quite often writes professionally too. Clear, comprehensive criticism and advice on how you can improve your work. They’re not there to make you feel good – they’re there to help your improve your craft. And you should be able to go back to your pro with questions.
Cons – it will cost. If you’re quite new and not used to receiving feedback – a professional assessment can be a little daunting. By their nature a professional assessment will invariably tend towards criticism rather than praise.
Tip: Welcome negative feedback – it can be your friend. Generally, professional assessment or criticism is far more likely to focus more on the areas for improvement rather than listing all the ways you are brilliant. So here’s a crazy idea – even the most negative feedback can improve your project and craft. So how would it be if from now on you receive feedback from that perspective? You could calmly ask yourself this – how can this viewpoint, negative or positive, help me improve my work? It’s nice for the ego to be told your work is perfect but it’s also kinda pointless – you don’t develop and neither does your work
Advertising Guru, Paul Arden put it more succinctly than I ever could when he said “Do not seek praise, seek criticism.”
CARRY ON ALL!
©Kathryn Burnett 2021