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A friend of mine asked me to read his screenplay. I accepted but after reading the first few pages, I was not feeling it, did not find it held my interest and it was difficult to follow.
My exact words to him was "I couldn't get into it and it was hard to follow."
Well, he did not like that comment and and told me I didn't know what I was talking about, didn't know art, didn't know anything about creative expression, etc. It was bad. And to top it off, he doesn't even speak to me anymore.
I'm curious. Was I too hard on my friend of is he just SUPER sensitive?
If your friend could not take criticism, then he's not a true Writer! Especially if he's not talking to you. HIS LOSS!
Whether you can get into it or not, you should always try to read the entire script whether it's difficult and painful, because you're trying to help out another Writer. The rest of the script might surprise you.
There are some "selfish" so-called Writers who don't know how to give good criticism. You should not only convey what didn't work for you, but what worked for you as well.
In all the critiquing groups I belonged to, most everyone made notes to themselves as they went along reading each page. How else are you going to remember specifics and where?
Your "former" friend should realize that he's not objective when it comes to his own work and should embrace every piece of criticism he recieves, and not just from you.
I'd say your friend's chances of becoming a successful writer are about the same as his chance of winning the lottery. A writer who can't accept absolute candor about his work is a doomed writer unless he's stellar and lucky.
The best group of crits I ever got brought tears to my eyes. Literally. I thanked them, and started considering what they had said. They were right, and I determined then and there that I WOULD become a good writer. A huge and indispensable element of such a quest is the constant search for brutal candor, which you should accept with strong gratitude.
I respectfully disagree with Terri on the need to read the whole thing, though. If something is so poorly written that it doesn't hold your interest, it's a waste of time to slog through it. No pro submittee is gonna keep reading something like that.
I don't know what a 'pro submittee' is, but I do agree with Terry that, when asked to read and critique a work, the reader should give the material the respect the writer deserves--and that the reader, in turn, would expect of their own work--regardless of the reader's initial reaction to the opening pages. Comments about those opening pages are exactly what the writer is seeking. It is disrespectful and unfair to dismiss a writer's work as not worth the time to read it after you've agreed to such, and if I were the writer who was treated that way by a (so-called) friend, I'd be more than a little pissed, too. How good a friend were you when he needed you? How supportive were you when you cut out his heart and soul by cruel and undiplomatic, and very non-constructive dissing of his work? He's better off without you. You're a good example of the adage that some people are honey and others are poison. In which catagory do you suspect I place you in?
It sounds like you were just trying to find the gentlest way possible to tell your friend that he still had a lot of work to do.
In other words, you were motiviated by kindness.
You weren't about to lay on a bunch of false praise, because you have his best interests at heart and you have your own integrity. You want your professional approval, when it comes, to mean something.
Who was it that said, "No good deed goes unpunished?"
Your friend came back with words meant to cut you to the quick. I'm assuming he's a decent guy, or you wouldn't have been hanging out with him in the first place. So, he was probably just reacting out of hurt.
I hope that, after he has a little time to reflect -- or maybe after he hears the same concerns, served up cold, from less friendly critics -- he'll realize that he overreacted to your comments.
I would wonder as to whether or not he was more upset that you did not read all of the script than what you thought of it.
Most first drafts have WRINKLES but you need to give it a chance before offerring your opinion.
He probably did overreact and maybe after he settles down he will befriend you again. Meantime, finish his script and maybe you could give him some direction that he cannot see within his own writing. Perhaps that is what he wanted and knew it was not the best but needed some sound advice, good or bad.
You know, Friends, I think sometimes we forget just how bad scripts can get.
Let's be honest. I'm not talking about people who write reasonably well and are still feeling about trying to figure out how to make it work like a script. I'm talking about people who think they can write a script without ever having read one. I'm talking about scripts written by cocky people who don't want to be told anything by anybody.
I'm just giving Jessie the benefit of the doubt here, that this might have been pretty awful, and the kindest thing he could say is what he said.
And then this guy COULD have come back with, "Hey, I know it's pretty rough, but if you could just finish reading it, anyway, I'd really appreciate it. I really value your opinion."
But NO-O-O. The guy blasts him with both barrels. If Jessie doesn't "get it," it's because Jessie doesn't know art, doesn't know what he's talking about. No fault lies with the guy who asks the big favor in the first place.
Ellum, anytime I ask someone to crit something of mine--a long piece like a novel or script--I make it perfectly clear that if the story's not strong enough to hold their interest, then they are by no means obligated to slog on through it, and that I'll be most appreciative if they'll just tell me it didn't hold their interest.
I seriously doubt that Jess blasted the guy. My hunch is that Jess put it as gently as possible, and the guy really didn't want a crit in the first place--he wanted praise heaped upon him.
It's asking a lot when you ask someone to crit a long-format piece. It's asking beyond the pale when they're expected to read something that's not even approaching professional levels and this is evident early on.
Shell, yes, there's a lot of REALLY bad stuff out there. As I've probably mentioned before, I've read comments by editors who say that 90% of all subs are not only not publishable, but not even readable.
If you're friend can't handle your critique, then he wasn't a friend at all.
To cure him, he needs to submit a script to a less-than-cordial development exec who lacks the ability to pull punches when offering feedback.
It's always the shlubs who don't know crap about creativity that accuse others of not knowing anything about "art".
I said it before, and I'll say again: scratch the surface of an intellectual, and beneath you'll find an ignoramus afraid of being found out.
I had a script reading party for my first attempt at a screenplay (hey, any excuse for a party ;). I wrote this script after reading ONE screenplay book and thinking I had some blessed natural gift given my acting/musical background.
Of course all my friends LOVED it! Yes, that's what I like to hear - I'm the best! Yeh!
Flashforward to my first screenwriting class. A fellow student really digs my second script on my "Italian adventure" so he asks to read my first script.
After about a week he sends me this long, HARSH e-mail about ALL the things that were wrong with the first script. I cried, not because he was mean, but because I knew for the most part he was RIGHT.
Bottomline - sometimes people know their work is bad and they want someone to say it isn't so.
That's my two-cents.
Just for the record:
Jessie Jamie is a GIRL.
Jesse James was a boy, and that's how I got confused.
Terri is a girl.
Ellum is a boy.
I am 44 years old, but I am still a girl.
And a 44-year-old girl better know how to take criticism.
Constructive criticism is supposed to be different from just criticism. If you provide comments to someone regarding their work it should be helpful.
Saying you were so bored in the first five pages that you couldn't continue to read it is not constructive.
When someone asks for a review a good reviewer should provide constructive comments. Giving specifics like, "there were so many characters introduced in the first two pages that I couldn't follow them." or "I couldn't picture what the locations looked like. More descriptions of where I was would have helped me to picture the scene" or, "I couldn't understand why the guy jumped out of the alley - is this explained later on?"
Telling someone their script sucks without saying why you felt like that, or how to make it better is criticism without being helpful. If you don't know the difference post a script on any of the Zoetrope-type sites. You'll learn fast.
I agree with Ellum, Paula, etc., etc., etc.
We are WRITERS. We're different than Actors. We need each other and we know that in order to get through those stupid, iron doors. We're always there to help each other. We're a different breed. The Write Breed.
When we read another Writer's script, we're not doing it as an Exec/Reader at a prodco who's going to consider during the first ten-30 pages--whether it's worth reading or not. That's not what we do with fellow Writers. If we want help, then we must afford to give it.
I've had friends and colleagues read my scripts. Friends because they are interested in what I am writing, colleagues because I value their perspective and constructive critisism.
Yeh it's tought to hear that the first 10 pages blow but like Paula said, WHY???????
You could be subjective and just not like how it is going or the story. What faults are there? Hey maybe the story is a 20 page turner.
Yes you have to have very thick skin for this business but also realize who is reading the scipt and when submitting be specific about what you want to get out of the read- a comment or specific notes?
I would love for all my colleagues to give great specific notes but that is usually asking way too much.
Accept it, deal with it, suck it up and learn from it.
Well, Steve, unfortunately, easier said than done. In my opinion, someone who can't accept constructive criticism shouldn't be calling themselves a Writer in the first place.
I've come across a few people who we've had dinner/in-development sessions re: their scripts. You wouldn't even get a chance to say anything. You'd get two words out and, instead of listening to what you had to say, they'd get all defensive and jump on you.
One time, at Sony Studios, 13 of us waited 1.5 hours for the woman to show up. An hour after the meeting was supposed to have started, her Assistant brought the food.
I'm not going to tell you the specifics of that evening because it was very unpleasant. But one thing I will. The man who moderated the evening stopped her at one point. He said, "Wait a minute! Why are we here? Why did you pay for this dinner? What do you want from us? Why did you keep us waiting for two hours if all you want to do is not hear anything we have to say about your script? You don't let anyone say anything. I gave up an evening to be with my family--for you."
In my opinion, someone who can't accept constructive criticism shouldn't be calling themselves a Writer in the first place.
That's a bit harsh! I'm sure there are sold writers that don't take critism well yet they are still out there.
Look at how bad people who are accomplished take the contest results, yet they still continue.
Myself, I take it as best as I can and try to learn from it but I do consider the source and their background.
There is a lot of ignorance and jealousy in the business and there are people who jump at the chance to dump on someone to make themselves feel more significant.
My solution is to read some of their work first to see if they have the right to be critiquing my work. I'm lucky I guess, I have really qualified close friends that I trust to give me the advice I need whether I agree all the time is a different matter.
Thanks to everyone who responded.
This has been quite an interesting thread.
Well, Paula, Steven, Terri and others all made good points, not that I agree with everything they said, but they did raise valid issues: there is a lot of jealousy in this business of movie-making; writers should be supportive of other writers; when asked, we should try to give constructive pointers on what worked and what did not work (for us) in someone else's writing. What I most disagree with is the concensus, or so it seems, that a person who reacts defensively in the face of criticism is not a true writer. Anyone who sits down to a blank computer screen or sheet of paper and puts into words images of their imagination is a writer, and as such, deserves our respect, regardless of whether or not it fits our definition of good or bad. And, we ought not dismiss callously the effort as just, 'Oh, I couldn't get into it.' As Steven wisely observed, maybe the story kicked into high gear on page 17, and from there to the end it was one hell of a roller-coaster ride. Maybe we'd suggest that the writer do some editing of the first 16 pages to bring the hook or inciting incident nearer the beginning. We all get enough sarcasm from strangers; we should get something approaching acceptance from friends. Just MHO, and I suggest that, if we aren't willing to invest our time to read someone else's script, when asked, then we shouldn't accept the offer. In the end, our critique will be entirely subjective, anyway, and one opinion out of a billion. But, the writer wants some feedback, and might even have confidence in our observations, especially if he's a newbie.
There also seems to an assumption that if a reviewer stops reading early in the script, then they always fail to say why. Certainly not so.
I'm almost certain some opinions now being espoused on this issue are different than what was expressed by the same people on earlier threads, when it was rightfully pointed out that you sure won't get a full read from a prodco or agency if you can't manage to hold their attention in the first ten pages. (Not directing this at you, Ellum.)
And sorry, Ellum, but I certainly don't agree than anyone who manages to put words to paper or screen is automatically deserving of respect and acceptance as a writer. Kindness? Yes. We're all human beings and should treat each other with kindness. But if someone refuses to accept anything other than praise, they don't deserve respect as a writer.
Nor is there always something positive that can be said. The vast majority of people who call themselves writers cannot write and have no chance of success. This is hardcore, mathematical reality. Ask ANY person out there who receives submissions on a regular basis if this is true or false. People who cannot write should not be falsely encouraged. This causes them to go on wasting their time instead of using other gifts that they do have. It would be like me spending enormous amounts of time and energy each year to go try out for an NFL team, despite my having zero chance of success, and no one ever being honest enough to say it.
"...but I certainly don't agree than anyone who manages to put words to paper or screen is automatically deserving of respect and acceptance as a writer."
I'm with Jerry on this one.
Too many people with a rudimentary grasp of English and a computer think they can write. Contrary to what feel-good, express-yourself creative writing manuals and magazines profess, not everyone has something interesting to say. I read a book by Karl Iglesias who makes the analogy that sure we can all drive, but how many of us can drive at Indianopolis? Likewise, people write notes, letters and emails to other people everyday. That hardly constitutes being a writer.
But don't get me wrong. Criticism does have it's place. The measure of a seasoned writer is how much he can use from that criticism and whether or not he knows when to throw the rest away.
Criticism from others is fine, but being your own worst critic, by that I mean knowing deep down in your soul your strengths and weaknesses, will do you more good in the long run.
There is nothing wrong with shelving a script and moving onto the next project. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if you're writing a rough draft script you'd sure as hell better be working on outlines, character sketches, etc for your next.
It's not about accepting criticism or not. For me, it's about finding something useful within that criticism that will make my script better.
As far as the whole snag 'em by page 10 theory, I don't subscribe to it. What happens if the story doesn't really get into full swing until page 17? Does that mean the script isn't worthy of serious consideration because it doesn't follow a cookie cutter formula? No, of course not. Great stories don't always follow the trend. And I think we can all attest to seeing movies or reading scripts that are pristine where formula is concerned, but lacking in what's most important: plot that defines the characters and their goals, characters pursuing their goals that cause action, and action that gives us a story.
Wow...it's a good thing I don't feel too strongly about this...
For clarification, I said that every writer deserves our respect, as fellow writers; I did not say that their work would be 'worthy of respect,' superior or commercial.
Letters, notes, etc. and...
'plot that defines the characters and their goals...'
is foreign to my understanding of story-telling.
Plot, in no way, 'defines' a character.
Plot is the unfolding of the story.
Character is defined, solely, by the actions of the character.
His/her words might add to our conception of who the character truly is, in the absence of action--when the story is set, for example, in a jury room with deliberations in progress--but the dialogue only adds, never defines.
A character smiles and says I love you, while withdrawing a concealed pistol and shooting his fiance. The dialogue, in that instance, is pointless and perhaps should be deleted. But the smile and the act of shooting are actions that define.
All comments are merely MHO.
A most interesting thread!
I'm somewhat dismayed by the simplistic assumption by many members of this site that any writer who can't take "constructive criticism" is no writer. I'm sure there have been many great writers who could not take criticism and did quite nicely, thank you. But the tricky part of that assumption is the "constructive." How do you interpret constructive? Who's to judge whether the criticism is contstructive? In addition, I would add the words "thoughtful" and "accurate." I recently received coverage from a contest in which the criticism was so off base that I could only assume that the reader only read every other page or had his own agenda as to how my story should be played out. "Constructive" it was not! Criticism that is neither accurate nor thoughtful is of very little use to a writer.
As to Jessie's predicament, it's always a tricky thing agreeing to read a friend's script and deliver an objective opinion. It's usually a no win situation. But I agree with Terri, Ellum and Paula. If you are a friend and have agreed to read a friend's script then you are obligated to at least read it through and deliver an opinion that is well-thought out. After all, he can always get a cold, dismissive critique from a contest or a production company or an agent. And I'm afraid if Jessie's full appraisal - after only reading a few pages, yet - was "I couldn't get into it and it was hard to follow" - then that's cold and dismissive. A friend should be able to supply more than that.
Oh please, when you start talking about all the great writers who couldn't accept criticism, you're dealing with exceptions. There are ALWAYS exceptions in ANY endeavor in ANY field, but you can't bet on those. A writer who can't take criticism has as much chance at success as I have at winning the lottery. It may happen, but it wouldn't be wise to plan my retirement around it.
Yeah, what Jerry said...
Accepting criticism, constructive or otherwise, is part of the writer's life. Moreover, if you cannot take mom's critique (or any other family member, friend, or peer), then I doubt you will ever be able to withstand criticism from the big boys.
Stick to what you know (in the beginning, at least). Write about what moves you. The rest be damned.
Of course, if you cannot write an original story that is not derivative of some crap you just saw in the movie theater that nearly put you to sleep or made you contemplate stabbing out your eyes with unsharpened pencils, then you might consider a career in real estate. If sales are not your gig, perhaps teaching might suit you (semi-literates have a strong presence in our schools and now they are in charge of shaping our children's future).
Again reviving this topic, I recently received some coverage from a reader who works for a well-known studio. This person didn't like my script (passed on it) but I found the criticism to be absurdly juvenile and almost personal in its nastiness (words like "stupid", "retarded" and idiot" were used, to give you some idea). It seemed very unprofessional, and many of the things they didn't like about it, could be easily challenged with tried-and-true basic principles from Screenwriting 101. In other words, it was a rip job for the heck of it. This person decided from my title page that they were not going to like my script, come hell or high water. Were they having a bad day? Professional jealousy? Frustration? Who knows?! But in this case, I think it was very important NOT to take it personally, or any other way, for that matter and disregard their criticism, and try and push on to other avenues where one can get another reading of the script.
Yes, Alyssa, we all must figure out which criticism is on target and which is not. I recently subbed my first screenplay to two different places that offer reviews in exchange for cash. One person sent back 11 pages of detailed feedback. Said some good things about my work. Said some not-so-good things. Offered plenty of concrete suggestions on how I could improve the piece. Valuable feedback. The other, which was more expensive, sent me 2 pages of feedback that could not have been more different. Shallow, ultra-negative, read like the guy was cranking out the two-page minimum as quickly as possible.
Not all advice is good advice. We must figure out which is which. A good way to do this is to look for PATTERNS. If multiple people lock in on the same problem, then you almost certainly do have a problem there. Likewise, if multiple people point out a strength, it's probably a real strength.
In any event, we MUST deal with it in a professional manner, not like a mother hen guarding a baby chick. If not, we're doomed.
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