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I've been looking into having my work evaluated, and thought that Studionotes looked like a pretty good service. Anyone have any experience with them (I know it's pretty new), or have suggestions about a better/different service? Thanks!
Look into Script Magazine's nicely priced service, or skip the evaluation entirely and enter the Slamdance competition. Their post contest telephone coverage is first rate. To pay top dollar for one man's opinion on your script is insane. I bet someone writing evaluations for one of these services thought American Beauty sucked.
I thought American Beauty sucked. But then again, mid-life melodramas never appealed to me.
A proper evaluation should never coment on the artistic merits or the worthyness of the story, it should focus on the execution of the story and that's all. How well is the story you want to tell being told and how can it be improved so your story is told with as much impact and efficiency and clarity as possible. Any critique or evaluation that comments on how "good" they think the story is is the sign of an amature or a rip-off. These people aren't reading for an agency or studio, it's not their job to screen stories by subject. An evalutation should only be focused on helping you make your story as good as it can be.
My two cents.
Humbug, Jay. That's exactly the problem with these analysts and readers. They learn a few terms like character arc and structure and spend the entire time reading your work only looking for the "key elements" of supposed good storytelling. I know I've dealt with an amateur when that's all they comment about. The people with the checkbooks are looking for well told unique and compelling stories they can sell tickets to. The technical crap isn't worth the price of the book that preached its merits.
I think there's some truth to what both Jay and Melvin are saying. I personally never pay for critiquing any more. Most critiquing services charge a lot of money and are either too hung up on Syd Field's basic rules or have their own peculiar biases about the content.
I paid $400 to Writer Network years ago to critique a script. They came back with the main complaint that the physics was wrong (I have advanced degrees in physics from Cornell and Stanford). Anyway, does anyone who watches a sci-fi movie care about whether the physics is right? As long as it's consistent and the story and character development are good.
Later I took a course from Jennifer Heuff, a film teacher at San Francisco State. She read the first page of the same screenplay and said she could tell that the story was bad. When I explained that she needed to read at least a few pages to get a feel for it, she suggested I just drop it and work on something else.
This same screenplay, with no changes, finished in the top ten in this year's Tennessee Screenwriting Association Competition.
In summary, I think critiquing services may be good if you have no idea about the basics of screenwriting. But in that case, it's cheaper to buy a screenwriting book or take a course at a local college.
By the way, I also think American Beauty sucked. The critics talked about how original it was, yet every scene was stolen from another movie (Heathers, Lost in America -- I had a mental list, but it's faded). And the pedophilia thing made me cringe.
Thanks for the (quick) feedback. It gives me some more confidence in my work. I know more or less what I'm doing, and really wasn't sure about dropping $300 on somebody's opinion. Just thought it might help tune up my work. But yeah, I've read the books. But I hate to say it, I thought American Beauty was great. Alan Ball, though, not so sure about.
To those of you who did not care for American Beauty... Are you basing this on the film, or did you take the time to read the script. The script is a masterful piece of writing and if anyone would like to see how a spec script should read, American Beauty is the one to study. It is available on Drew's Scriptorama. I'm not sure of the exact web address.
Melvin is right. The script is fantastic. If you actually want to pay for it, Newmarket has released it at your local Borders, etc.
Judging a film solely by its script is like judging a painting by its individual strokes. If the strokes don't mesh to produce something beautiful or interesting or meaningful, then the painting doesn't work. Same thing for film. As much as we writers hate to admit it, there's a lot more to a film than the script.
I liked the AB script. I haven't seen the movie. Not the kind of movie I usually watch (scriptwise, though, I'll read anything).
It certainly takes both, although I'm sure there are great movies that had lousy scripts and great scripts that made lousy movies.
On consultants. If you hired 10 consultants, you would probably get 10 opinions. One consultant might hate it and another consultant might love it. The same with any script, sold or not. And the same with contests.
When I said that a critique should focus on the execution of the story I didn't mean a Syd Fieldian or Joseph Campbellian check list of polit points, page counts and reversals or pinches or whatever. I mean how well the story you are trying to tell is told and all the feedback should be geared toward helping you tell it better. Too many critiquers only look for the techincal by the book elements and never look at the story. The worst part is when they don't like your story and all their feedback is geared toward changing the story to on they would like.
I was going to use the painting example as well for AB. My metaphor was you can't measure the quality of a painting by the sketch that guided it. A script is only the sketch under all the color and brush strokes and texture. As scripts go it is well written and a great spec, no question there, but it's not the kind of story that strikes me as fresh or original or insightful or even interesting. But I do agree it was a well written and very well executed story that made for a great spec in its execution but IMHO the content and inspiration left a little to be desired. If I was a buyer I would say it's a great writing sample but I wouldn't buy it. Then again, I'm not Steven Spielberg who is also a middleaged man with issues who found in AB a story he could identify with.
No matter how good your spec is, you'll never please all of the people all of the time, but if it's done well you will please some of the people some of the time.
Jay, you're right about pleasing some but not all. Unfortunately, and this is why I like the AB script and film, I'm a cynic -- the overwhelming problem is getting the script to the right person at the right place and time. I'd like to thank all who posted here for saving me a few hundred bucks! I'll just continue to query, enter contests.... and maybe I'll come in contact that person in question.
Okay, first of all, for those of you who are apprehensive about dropping hundreds of bucks on a script review service, I have a suggestion - spend the money instead going to an advanced screenwriting class. You'll be able to get a bunch of different opinions on your script, and if you're lucky, you'll have a teacher who can help you get an agent if you need one.
As for American Beauty, the script itself may not have been the most original, but it had two things going for it that made it (in my mind) a great movie - a tight screenplay, and great acting by Kevin Spacey, Annette Bening, Thora Birch and Mena Suvari. The first aspect, we can control. The second - well, we can only pray to G-d that when our scrips do get greenlighted, we can get great performanecs like that.
I can't believe how many of my fellow screenwriters actually look to the movie when making judgements about the screenplay. The quality of one has very little to do with the quality of the other. Screenwriters are not filmmakers. Screenwriters are storytellers and their finished product is the screenplay. The movie belongs to the director.
Think of a screenplay as the actual wood, cement and other equipment used to make a house. No matter how good the architect is, if the equipment is subpar, the house will fall. By the same token, you could have the best equipment money can buy, but if you have an idiot making the house (or worse, 10 different architects, for example), the house won't stay up either. It's true that the final product is basically the director's, but the screenplay must be good too. When I look at a movie, I look at BOTH to determine the quality of the house. When I only have the blueprints - the screenplay - to go with, I just have to hope there will be someone who can make my plans into the work of art it is.
Barry Hammer talking about the quality of the house. Puts me in mind of Chauncey Gardener... I understand your point, but the screenplay must stand alone as a work of art. What happens to it after we are through is purely incidental.
The script is a work of art, but unfortunately, unless it is interpreted into the film medium, it will go largely (even completely) unnapreciated. Imagine the blessing of being able to work with the people who complete the building of the house. If you can collaborate, the chances of having an all-around beautiful piece of art are more likely. At least in the writer's eyes.
I'd almost equate screenplays to sheet music-- great work that needs to be interpreted/translated to be fully realized. If you solely want your writing to be appreciated, becoming a novelist may be a better way to go.
Great discussion folks..just reminds me how subjective this business is. Just to add my two cents. When AB came out, I couldn't figure out what the hell it was about and judging by the poster I was not interested at all. A friend told me that it was the best thing she ever saw, however her opinions and tastes are 180 from mine. About five months after it was out, I decided to read the script on Drew's script-o-rama. I'm talking the original spec draft. I went in not wanting to like it. I was hooked and I actually wept at the end. No it was not an original story, but the execution was great. I also read the shooting script that was a lot tighter. I broke down and rented the movie a year after it came out, and the film follows the story just about the way I visualized it. It was a good lesson to help me with my writing. To make a long story short, it's cheaper to read actual spec scripts from great and shitty films, that's the cheapest way to improve your own writing. Read a shit load of books and spend some cash on seminars from working writers. (Not some Joe Smoe who never sold a thing but teaches everybody else how to write). Like I said, just my two cents...
Yeah, but those two cents are also worth 20,000 Turkish Lira ;-)
(MAN, am I glad I don't live in Turkey!)
I'm so glad I referenced American Beauty. Can you imagine all the fuss had I mentioned Eyes Wide Shut?
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