How to not to be a jerk when receiving script feedback

My company is comprised of a team of vastly different script analysts, with vastly different tastes and backgrounds, as is any good company offering script feedback.

But where you go wrong as a screenwriter in choosing one of us script coverage companies to cover your script is when you treat the entire process as if it’s an *objective science*, free of reader biases.  Like geology.  Or auto repair.

The business of fixing a car is one thing.  Either your engine works, or it doesn’t, and there are certain specific, tangible, purchasable parts and repairs that need to be made to make that engine run.

But the business of fixing a screenplay is an entirely different ball of beans, because it’s right around 10% objectivity, and 90% subjectivity.  That is, it’s almost entirely opinion.

Not only that, but it’s an opinion you’re paying for.

And not only that, but it’s opinion that probably flies in the face of everything you hold dear about this screenplay you’ve been working on for perhaps many months or even years.

It’s about the script. Not you.

We go out of our way at Screenplay Readers to make sure our potential customers understand that the services we provide are all oriented around the goal of improving the script, and to make it more appealing to audiences and readers at an agency or production company.

Real-life script readers at agencies, production companies, and studios don’t pull punches if your script happens to end up on their desk.  And, it might come as a shock to you, but one reader at that agency may give it a PASS while the next may give it a RECOMMEND.

But despite those facts, and despite how hard we try, we still have the occasional customer explode on us. The vast majority of our clients, flat out, love what we do, and how we do it, and have been sending us their work for over a decade, but there’s always that one out of 100 customers that just can’t be pleased no matter what. To tell the truth, if we weren’t pissing some people off, I don’t think we’d be doing our jobs. Because it would mean we’d probably be taking peoples’ money only to tell them what they want to hear.

In defense of my fellow script analysts and script coverage companies: No script feedback company wants to be raked over the coals by a hypersensitive screenwriter who’s never had their scripts critiqued before.

They want to be able to be honest with their script feedback and have a certain baseline understanding with their screenwriter client: Yes, we’re going to tell you what we think of your script, and yes, we know you can handle that.

Critical reading is at the core of script feedback, and that’s what we focus on here at Screenplay Readers, but sensitive screenwriters need to understand that that’s the mindset of most good script readers.  For more on critical reading, check out this page by Dan Kurland. 

Don’t nitpick the small notes. Focus on the major ones.

Not only that, but we in the script analysis business want to work with folks to whom we can say “Hey, your main character isn’t believable enough, and it’s ruining your entire script, and here’s what you can do to fix it,” and not have that screenwriter completely ignore that major note and then absolutely crucify us with stuff like this:

“Your reader obviously didn’t read the script because he said the airplane exploded on p. 61, when it was actually the helicopter exploded on p. 61 and the airplane exploded on p. 64”

“Your reader didn’t read the script because that B-character’s name is MOLLY, not MAGGY!!!!  p. 66”

Or even worse:

“Your reader said my lobster fisherman wasn’t ‘believable!  Well let me tell you something – I worked as a lobster fisherman for 40 years, so she’s wrong!”

Wait a sec… What about what we just told you?  You know, that great note we just gave you about how your main character isn’t believable enough and here’s how to fix it…

…and you’re busting our chops because we got your character MOLLY confused with your character MAGGY?

“Yes!  Because it proves your reader didn’t read the script!!!!  Or she’s a total idiot novice!!!”

Here’s our suggestion:

If you’re more interested in picking a fight with your script analyst or script coverage company over insignificant details in your screenplay that have very little or even nothing to do with the major flaws of your script, you should probably reconsider the whole script feedback angle to begin with.

Put frankly, there’s nothing worse than a guy who asks for feedback or orders script coverage, and then becomes a “lawyer” for his script once he reads that feedback, arguing you over stuff that doesn’t really matter, compared with the larger, more substantial problems his script has.

Don’t pay for script feedback until you’ve gotten free feedback first

If you are open to having your script receive honest criticism, then here’s my advice, as a person who’s worked as a script analyst for nearly 25 years, and who’s run one of the best script coverage companies on the web since 1999:

Flat out:  Don’t pay for feedback right away.

That is, before you get script coverage, get screenwriter friends to help you improve your script, such as  simplyscripts (tons of great peeps ), or in writers groups, for free.

Then, and only then, if you feel you need another angle on your feedback, try script coverage.  (But  absolutely don’t spend an arm and a leg!)

And then, if you want to take it to the next level, and can afford it, work with a script consultant.

But what you don’t want to do is expect any third party, no matter how much or how little you pay them, to treat your script as if it’s a BMW in need of engine repair, or a house in need of painting.

Because remember:  script feedback is extremely subjective.

So not only will everyone who gives you notes have a different opinion of your script… those opinions could be vastly different from each other, even if they’re from the same company.

And if you’re just dead set on being a “lawyer” for your script, and/or not seeing the forest for the trees when you get notes you disagree with, keep in mind, screenwriters really don’t “need” any feedback.

I’m certain there are many screenwriters who write in a total vacuum, getting notes from no one, and still make a living.

I’ve just never met one.

4 thoughts on “How to not to be a jerk when receiving script feedback”

  1. Great article, Brian. You’re a straight-shooter, you. Your insight into the world of screenwriting and script coverage is always appreciated. What you’ve done with Screenplay Readers is most impressive.

  2. I completely and wholeheartedly agree. I remember getting my first script coverage. It hurt like pissed off ex-girlfriend who slept with your best friend. Not that it’s ever happened to me. But I agree one should take a deep breath before writing that angry email to a reader. Just like a police officer, they’re just doing their job. Unless you’re in New York or Fullerton, California. Then it would be okay to be upset with them.


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