Why Script Feedback Can Save Your Career Before It’s Begun
Script feedback can genuinely save a career.
This might sound like an outlandish statement, but read on…
Today’s screenwriting marketplace is paradoxical. With its proliferation of contests, online submissions, talent promotion programmes, crowd-funded content and crowd-sourced development, the arena has never been more competitive.
Screenwriting, with so many entry points, has simply never been more competitive…
It’s all set against an almost universal consensus that creativity has become fully democratized and anyone can now create and share anything, without barriers.
The harsh reality, then, is that whilst there have never been more points of entry for new screenwriters who are serious about a long-term career, the knock-on effect of this is that decision-makers are swamped like never before, and oftentimes writers will literally only get one shot to impress.
If they blow it by submitting an undercooked screenplay that’s nowhere near ready for the market, then failure is silent.
Negative script coverage stored digitally, permanently.
Career up against it from the off.
You think a frantically busy exec or agent has the resources to even take emails from someone who submitted a script previously that did the precise opposite of impress?
That’s why to say script feedback can save a career before it’s even got started, really isn’t that far-fetched…
Of course there’s nothing wrong with creating content for social media, or crowd-funding a micro-budget movie, or posting your scripts online to be read rather then made. But if you are committed to being a screenwriter – that is to creating scripts for others professionals to produce for film and TV – then you need to be laser-focussed on your screenwriting craft.
And script feedback from a professional script consultant – notes that are specifically about your script rather than generic information about screenwriting theory and technique – is one of the very best ways to improve both your scripts and your odds of success in a fiercely competitive arena.
TOO MUCH INFORMATION!
This democratization of creativity has followed hard on the heels of 24/7 access to Zettabytes of information, which means that for several years now, anyone with an Internet connection has been able to learn not just the basics of screenwriting, but sophisticated ideas about form and structure – and all without spending a single dollar.
Both the quantity and the quality of this information has increased, meaning that a neophyte screenwriter is spoilt for choice when it comes to white papers on screenwriting theory and technique (for example on How to Create Intrigue), detailed analysis of film and TV (like the breakdown of this scene from MONSTERS), articles on every aspect of screenwriting (such as this one on Writing the Stalker Film) and the screenwriting profession (often by award-winning screenwriters) and, of course, produced scripts by name writers.
This unrelenting surge of screenwriting means that agents are deluged with submissions. Screenwriting schemes and competitions have more entries than ever before. The increases in quantity and quality of information have been matched with an increase in the quantity and quality of scripts being submitted.
You need to have scripts that are absolutely market-ready, to make an impact. Anything undercooked is ruthlessly dismissed.
Not to mention the exceptionally high quality of professional writing to which we are all exposed, especially in series TV. Anyone can now learn comedy characterization from BROOKLYN NINE-NINE, idiosyncratic drama dialogue from FARGO, multi-season thriller plotting from THE AMERICANS and innovative procedural structure from THE BLACKLIST.
The bar has been set higher than ever – and continues to rise.
In order to be in with a chance of clearing that bar, you need to have a script that:
- demands to be read from the very first scene (you need to begin with a bang) and
- demands to be passed up the chain the moment the read is finished.
Although you can keep resubmitting the same script online to endless competitions, the industry gatekeepers – those who have a say about your work being produced and whether you are paid to write – will form an impression of both you and your work from the very first pages of yours that they read, and that first impression can never be altered.
So it has never been more critical to submit the best possible draft first time around. And that means professional script feedback, ideally through a service that is both well-respected in the industry and highly-rated by its clients.
Writing is a lonely path.
You spend hours in your own head with characters who are – let’s be honest – parts of your own psyche. It’s a kind of madness. And good script feedback is a psychologically healthy way to have your mind’s creations analysed by an expert through a process that is uncannily similar to therapy, especially because a good script consultant will often psychoanalyse your characters in the way that a psychotherapist will analyse a client.
Indeed, not only will good script feedback tell you things about your characters that you didn’t know, good script feedback may actually tell you things about yourself of which you were unaware. Things that you can use as grist to the screenwriter’s mill.
The barriers to paying for script feedback are varied. Many are well-known to writers and some appear to be universal truths, but aren’t.
- Lack of prioritisation.
- Lack of commitment.
- Fear of failure.
- Fear of success.
- And the worst of all: the idea that free-of-charge script feedback from a friend is just as good as paid-for script feedback from a professional, because we all understand story, right? Well yes and no.
Each and every one of us is a storyteller.
During a single lifetime we each retell our own story thousands of times over, constantly refining multiple versions, each with a targeted audience: ourselves alone, our partner, our family, our boss, our colleagues, our friends, our social media connections; maybe even a psychotherapist or wise person, denominational or otherwise.
Because we all have this innate storytelling ability – along with many years of experience refining it – we instinctively feel that we are eminently qualified not only to create our own fiction, but also to comment on other people’s stories.
People think it’s easy so they think everyone can do it, but as the saying goes: if it were easy, everyone would be able to do it (and everyone patently can’t do it professionally).
All of this seduces neophyte screenwriters (and even some professionals) into the misguided belief that anyone is qualified to respond to their story and give cogent comments that can be applied in order to make their script more engaging, make the characters more believable, make everything funnier, scarier, more intriguing, more suspenseful and, well, just altogether cleverer.
Sadly, although everyone is a storyteller in their own head, everyone cannot give professional script feedback. Professional screenwriters, wherever they are in their careers, need professional script feedback from professional script consultants.
Anyone who has read a book on screenwriting or attended a seminar will be aware that there are a multitude of different theories and systems out there, all of which either explain why rules are essential, or make a great song and dance about why the rules are bunk and should be ignored. Even the maxim about learning the rules before breaking them has become so debased that even this perennially pertinent advice is now often ignored.
So some people read everything and try slavishly to follow it all (though how can you follow conflicting schools of thought at the same time?); some choose one school and become almost messianic about their choice; some learn everything then throw it all away without either understanding or first applying it; while others ignore everything, convinced that their innate brilliance and originality will shine through.
The good news is that whichever of those you are – or even if you’re in the minority that can tell good theory from bad, can learn the good theory and then apply it, over and over again till it’s second nature, and only then start pushing against those theories – a professional script consultant is likely to have done all this work for you, and from all the theories and ideas out there, will be able to apply the most relevant ones to your script and give you script feedback which is intelligible and directly applicable.
A story as told in the form of a screenplay – whether it’s a feature script or TV pilot – has multiple elements that all need to be both brilliant, and brilliantly aligned with each other. And being able to spot brilliance and, even tougher, being able to explain why something is not brilliant and how it could be rendered so, are skills which come with years of script reading and/or screenwriting.
And there are two more, somewhat hidden, but nonetheless pertinent reasons why professional script feedback is so useful. Firstly, the collaborative aspect. All film and TV (with extremely rare exceptions) is collaborative, and receiving script feedback will train you how to work with other professionals in order to create the most effective incarnation of your script.
Secondly, the experience of receiving notes is an integral and essential part of script development – whether those notes are from readers, development execs, producers, commissioning editors, or, if you’re lucky, directors and actors. The script feedback you receive from a professional script consultant will give your invaluable experience in how to respond to notes (and as a screenwriter you can never have too much experience when it comes to receiving and reacting to notes).
Indeed, it’s almost certainly the case that if you can’t deal with notes, you won’t have a career, so better to discover sooner rather than later whether you can move beyond that sinking feeling in the gut that all screenwriters get when they first read notes (a nauseatingly rich cocktail of punctured ego, simmering frustration at yourself for missing what someone else has seen so easily, anger at having to apply yourself yet again to pages over which you has already bleed and an immediate search for what displacement activities will best prevent you from commencing the rewrite immediately).
To get a script into its best possible shape often requires at least two separate consultations, meaning that the sooner you receive your first script feedback, the sooner you can rewrite and receive notes on the rewrite. And the sooner you can submit your final draft to a producer.
Another benefit of script feedback is the objective eye. Taken as read that 100% objectivity is impossible, the most objective comments will come from someone who doesn’t know you, so has no hidden agenda or axe to grind, and who is paid to provide comment (and paid work is always performed at a higher level than a freebie or a favour). Objectivity is something that friends and family simply cannot provide – and it’s also something that you will have lost yourself, however much you swear you haven’t.
Script consultants have their expertise, but they also have industry knowledge that you may not have as yet. So they will probably know if you’ve just written the exact plot of a direct-to-DVD genre classic, unconsciously rewritten dialogue from RESERVOIR DOGS or written someone’s else’s box-office hit by mistake. They’ll also know whether your story is commercially viable – and what you’ll need to do to make it so. They understand that the first person who reads your script, usually a reader, will most likely cover the script. And the best script consultants know what readers want – and what they don’t.
YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR!
The most valuable commodity for a neophyte screenwriter – indeed for any screenwriter – is good script feedback. Professional writers tend to rely on their agents (many of whom give excellent notes) or their writer friends (who, although writers, are still friends, so feedback from such may be expert, but may also have an agenda, conscious or otherwise). Some will get valuable expert feedback from producers or directors with whom they have worked (better, but still part of an ongoing relationship, so not immune from unconscious cross-talk).
The canniest professionals know when to use a proven script feedback service, aware that objective, unspun notes can only ever come via a commercial transaction with a professional (whether that professional is being paid by you, or has commissioned you). And if professional script feedback is good enough for professional writers, it’s definitely good enough for those just starting out.
Professional script feedback will also apply multiple tools and maps to your script. Not just the standard elements of premise, controlling idea, setting, milieu, tone, structure, plot, sequence, scene, action, character, characterization, dialogue, subtext, style and theme, but also literary, anthropological, psychological and sociological maps, the application of which can draw-out the deep themes and ideas in your work and enable you to maximise their impact.
Although you may be aware of these tools and maps, you may not yet know how to use them to create and analyse a script. Seeing someone else apply these tools and maps to your work is an object lesson in how to go about this yourself, which means that your writing (and rewriting) will become better. Even the most widely-read screenwriter cannot possibly apply every tool and map with equal expertise. Subsequently, using a professional reader will almost certainly mean that you see tools and maps applied with which you may not be familiar. Again, this will enhance your writing (and your rewriting).
Another positive is that every single idea that you have off the back of script feedback is yours and yours alone. The script consultant needs nothing more than to be paid for their time – and occasionally to experience that rare warm glow when they see something on which they gave feedback be screened in a cinema or on TV. Which means no friends contacting you years later to tell you that your breathtakingly original premise was, in fact, theirs.
When you feel you’ve gone as far with a screenplay draft as you can. When feedback from your partner or friends isn’t providing the deep insight you need. When you feel as though you’re going backwards – or simply going around in circles – that’s when it’s time to get in touch with a verified expert.
And remember, you get the level of service for which you’re prepared to fork-out. Pay Jelly Babies, get malevolent aliens.
Far smarter to pay real money and get real script feedback.
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