Getting and Receiving Script Notes

You’ve written a screenplay, now what?

You need some feedback. You’ve been locked inside your own mind trying to piece this thing together, linking plot lines, character arcs, hitting all those hero journey points (the ones you miss are to ensure your underground, indie hit breaks a few rules), wondering whether you’ve written a 3, 5 or 8 act structure (whatever one fucking fits, right?) and you’ve gone and written a few drafts, because handing someone that first draft would be a waste of time and money…and career suicide.

This is just what I’ve done – I have no screen writing credits, nothing. This may just give you an idea of the pain and hopelessness that lies ahead.

Unless you’re blessed to know a few people already in the biz then you’re going to have to pay for some feedback. Screenplays are completely different to novels. Everyone’s read a novel, everyone has a favourite novel and a vague idea of what they like – no-one has read a screenplay in the normal world so there’s no point asking them for feedback because you’re going to be lead down the garden path.

(Some people have argued against paying for feedback…

…but I think this generalisation misrepresents genuine reasons why you’d want to pay for notes, primarily, you know absolutely NO-ONE in the biz who can help you by giving you feedback. The second point I’d say is, if someone is promising representation or to pass on your script in exchange for payment, essentially, an agent asking you to pay them to represent your work, then RUN. Pay for a script report and nothing else.)

So you’ve made the correct decision and need someone to read your work for payment. I found my readers at this excellent UK based screenwriters group on Facebook – Into The Script (nee Bang2Writes). Roughly about £50 gets you a full feature film script read with a report.

I would recommend getting more than one, preferably 3 to get a more wide ranging opinion of your script. Of course, it depends on what budget you have.

One tip to keep in mind is that there are sometimes new script readers who are just starting out who offer discounts for reads to get their portfolio and skills up to scratch, so it could be useful taking advantage of that.

I’d also say, if your script is ‘regional’ then go for script readers in that region. My first film script was a football film, so there was no point in me finding US script readers. Yes, they could give me technical and structural feedback but I didn’t want to pay for half a service.

Here are the various feedback points I’ve received and how I’ve reacted to them;

  • Conflicting Opinions – if you have more than one piece of feedback then you may/will get different opinions on your work; too much description/not enough detail, I don’t like this guy/I really like this guy, remove this scene/love this scene, I think the script needs to emphasise this aspect/that aspect is secondary focus on this instead, etc. This is frustrating but you’ve got to weigh up their justifications (if any) and your own opinion and goal for the script. Listen but feel free to ignore, you’ve paid for it. There comes a point where you have to believe in yourself and your abilities and think, fuck it, I like this line, it helps the reader, it’s important enough to remain. It may not tick some boxes but it encapsulates me and my style, it amplifies my voice.
  • Total Agreement – I find this is a no-brainer, if no-one likes something AND comments on it, then remove it. That’s a 100% hit rate, you can’t argue with that. Take it on the chin and rewrite around it. No script is perfect or even finished, so this is the first of many times you’ve got to rewrite.
  • Totally Ignored – some bits may be totally ignored by all your readers. I assume that this was an OK bit that allowed the story to move forward and the reader to have a breather. Keep it.
  • Technical Faults – whereas novels can be written however you want (no chapters, one paragraph, no grammar, etc), screenplays are different. I’m a million miles from being an expert so I defer on every point. I take this as a great lesson in becoming a better writer and making less mistakes on my next screenplay. There’s a lot more focus on structure, how it can be presented on screen and what is to be left off the page because it’s not needed or it’s not your job to point out, eg. camera angles.
  • Negative Feedback – it may just be me but I find all feedback is not a ‘shit sandwich‘ but a ‘shit pizza‘, it’s preambled with a thin crust intro saying good job and then fully loaded with an anchovies and shit topping; fix this, I don’t like this, this makes no sense, how does this work with scene X? Again, take it on the chin. It’s lucky a reader is reading this version and not a Netflix producer with a blank cheque burning a hole in their pocket.
  • Comments vs Report – both are really useful but not every reader will provide both. In fact, out of my 4 readers only one did both. The report is a great review on the big picture stuff like plot, acts, arcs, etc and the post-it style comments on the actual script are great for spelling and grammar errors and highlighting particular points. I would definitely go for a mixture next time. This is a key question to ask your reader when getting a quote on feedback. Mix it up a bit.
  • Long Scenes – this was a common comment because I’m a self-indulgent novelist at heart with no screen credits 🙂 If a scene is too long the first thing I did was to shorten it which would fix most of them. But for those long, key scenes that can’t really be shortened (at least, in your head) then I’d just split it by inserting a short scene in-between. You know those scenes where it cuts back and someone is still making their way up the stairs or in a car.
  • Objecta Obscura – some readers might not be familiar with something/an object/a term, etc which may slow them down or put them off, plus you spent ages procrastinating and researching and you want to show it off, right? Too many obscure terms will put people off, but I think you need some authenticity, you need to show some expertise and knowledge in the subject you’re writing about. If the reader doesn’t know then they’ve just found out and learnt something.

Wait for all your readers to come back to you.

Once I had digested all the feedback, I condensed all these ‘issues’ into note form so I can then work from one sheet and not keep having to refer back to multiple docs.

Then I tackled the biggest issues first; deleting scenes, restructuring, removing/merging characters, adding scenes, etc so I had the structure correct.

Then I dived in to the bits that needed rewriting; scene splitting, embellishing, trimming, fine-tuning and making spelling/grammar changes along the way.

Then you give it another once over from beginning to end to give it a sanity check and make sure continuity is correct after all the rewriting, deleting and rearranging.

The final thing I looked at was page count.

If you have the option, some readers may offer a second read at a discounted price as a third-party sanity check. I took advantage of this with one reader and it was well worth it. Caught a few continuity errors and questioned some rewriting decisions, which then either strengthened my reason for making a change or I reverted back to a previous draft because the change was unnecessary. Either way, I feel better about every decision on the page.

And that’s where I am with ‘The Message‘ now. Getting stuck into another draft to fine-tune, reverse some decisions and try to reinforce some others by going even deeper into a character.

This blog post was a nice distraction though, especially looking for the images.

Hope you enjoyed it. Let me know if you do things differently.