Hello, fellow aspiring screenwriters! I want to save you. You may say, “Save me? I’m not stuck in a well. Lassie is sitting right next to me happily licking his balls.” (I know Lassie’s a girl, work with me.) I’m going to save your writing from yourself. Too many of us don’t listen. We’re too busy defending our feelings, or vision, or self-esteem about our very existence as a creative being. Stop it! This is not your baby. It did not come out of your cooch or the cooch you stuck yourself in for a minute. You don’t sell your baby to have other people put their DNA in it, raise it, then decide when and if it gets to live a full and complete life. If you do, you should be reported to social services immediately.
First things first. You are a screenwriter. The very definition says your script ain’t yours. If you sell it, you no longer own it. The decisions about it won’t be yours anymore. They could pay you for it, then sit on it so it never sees the light of day. Or rush it through production in a half ass way to make sure they don’t miss out on what’s hot now. If you are lucky enough to get your script produced through a major studio it’s going to go through so many hands you might not recognize it when it finally shows up at your local multiplex. So relax! Enjoy the freedom of this time of infinite possibilities.
Now you may be asking why you should listen to me because I’ve never sold a script either. You forget. Your colleagues down here in the trenches read the worst scripts in the world. That’s right, those poor readers who have to read crappy scripts until their eyes bleed still get to read a (presumably) better draft than the one you give your friends and colleagues. We take time out of our lives and writing to help you. Be grateful and listen to what we have to say. I’m not saying you have to use the notes we give, but you do need to listen to them.
I suggest to all screenwriter’s do not defend your script as a response to notes. Ask questions. That’s right, make that generous person do more work. If the person says I hated this line or loved that one ask them why. If they say they saw something there that wasn’t, ask them why they said that. Maybe they just wrote the notes in an abbreviated form and they can point you to the exact part of the script that gave them that impression. If you get the impression that they missed a major plot point in the script ask them if they saw that part in the script. If they say no, ask them why. I wrote a short that takes place in a grocery store and it’s parking lot. Inside the store, the protagonist picks up an item that is the center of the twist and brings the entire script together. One out of every five people who read it said they didn’t understand where that item came from. I found out by asking questions that it was buried in the description of the other things in the grocery store and they glazed over it. I had been worried that if I highlighted this item the surprise of the twist would be ruined, but by not calling attention to it, I lost that moment all together with a great percentage of my readers. I would have never known that I needed to bring this out if I didn’t ask why they didn’t see it instead of just saying it was in the script and they were stupid to miss it.
People who are reading your scripts may be happy, sad, frustrated, excited, confused, or just plain bored. They are also generous and want to help you. If you ask questions, not only will you know why they gave the notes they did, but you will also know how much stock you should put in their notes by their answers. Above all, even if you don’t use a syllable of their notes, that person will feel like they have been heard and their time was not wasted. This will lead to them giving you the greatest gift a rising writer can get. They will be willing to read for you again.
I’d love it for you to tell me your stories about your adventures giving notes and any suggestions you have for the writers getting them.
I know that if it takes me more than three hours to finish the script with notes from the time I start reading, your script sucks. The worse your script is, the longer it takes to read and with notes. It took me three days to read a script once but in the end I didn’t mind because the writer was happy for the honest feedback and engaged me about the notes I gave. That made me feel good and I’d read another one of his scripts in a minute (though I might pack a bag before I delve back in.)