FEEDBACK FEEDBACK: yet even more thoughts on giving notes and feedback on screenplays Part III

I thought I would end this discussion on feedback with one last observation. During the discussion in one of the internet groups, I said that in the end, as the writer, it is best if you know exactly what you are trying to do and what goals you are trying to achieve. If you do, then you will be able to figure out which pieces of feedback are helpful and which are not. If you don’t know what you are trying to do, then you might find yourself just taking anybody’s criticism and applying it to your work, ending up with somewhat of a mishmash of a screenplay.

My screenplays tend to break the rules and are often dark and edgy. I know my screenplays aren’t for everybody, but for a small, even art house type audience. As a result, I often get very polar opposite responses. Because of this, I really need to know what I’m striving for and what I’m trying to achieve in order to know which pieces of feedback to apply.

Below are two pieces of feedback I received on the same screenplay from a website called Triggerstreet (a place one goes to upload one’s screenplay and in exchange for giving feedback on other screenplays, other writers will read yours). As you can tell, the two disagreed on the quality. Because of this, I really need to know what I’m going after in order to be able to tell who to listen to and when, and what sections of the feedback to ignore.

For example, in the negative feedback, it’s obvious the person doesn’t like reactive characters and has problems with the subject matter. I know there is nothing I can do to please this reader in these areas (I do know I need to change some names). The second one gave me some food for thought when it comes to the ending. He made me wonder if I really said all I need to say about my character.

1. A Waste I’m going to try to stay away from being mean about Welcome To L.A. but, it may be difficult.

I’m going to start with the mechanics. Several spelling and grammatical errors. The naming of characters was very bothersome and quite frankly confusing. Music Kid 1, Music Kid 2, Music Kid 3, Neighbor 1, Neighbor 2, Cigarette Guy 1, Cigarette Guy 2, Three Way Guy 1, Three Way Guy 2, Street Guy, Guy in Shorts… there are more.

Characters with semi major speaking roles should probably be named. If not, then the characters need to have some differences to them. I felt like any of these people could have been interchanged with anyone else. I have nothing to attach to them or even envision in my head.

The name dropping in this felt very out of place. Colin Farrell, Edward Furlong…etc. I have to quote Mystery Science Theater here, “I hate it when they show good movies during bad ones.” The constant watching of good movies just does not fit what so ever. If he’s watching a movie, then just have him watching a generic movie. No specifics and no name drops. What goes on in the scenes of those movies specified doesn’t even have anything to do with what’s going on in the story.

Also, the dialogue was just awful. The lead character seems to be a whiny stuttering kid and when he speaks it’s extremely difficult to read. This would be a general example of how the character speaks. ” I, I don’t really think that that it’s a big deal. I’m just, just scared, you know? It’s a ne…ne…new place.” It usually takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to read a 100 page screenplay. This took me 3 hours because it was so frustrating to get through the dialogue. And I really felt I had to “get through” it as oppose to enjoy it.

Going through 100+ pages of that gets very old very fast. So to offer some constructive criticism, don’t write in the stutter. Write it in the action, not the dialogue. Unless it’s a very specific word that needs to be emphasized in the stutter. I’d leave it in the action (stutters) and leave it to the actor to stutter as they see fit.

Moving on to concept. It’s a porno. It really felt like the concept was just to have a lot of homosexual sex scenes linked in a vague way.

Story. Bad. Again, the idea was all about sex. Whether it be two men having sex, a man masturbating, a man watching men masturbating, it doesn’t matter… because that’s all it was. The attempt of having a murder spree going on may have made the overall story better, but it was such a small part. Someone dies… no one important, someone else dies, again no one important, finally some other person dies… not important. These were really just used to link more sex scenes in. Had the story been about a struggling writer who moves to L.A. but finds himself caught up in a murder spree, then I might have been more interested. But it wasn’t. The murders were even written off as just something that happens. No big deal. Who was it who was the killer? Just some guy, literally. And there ends the most interesting part of the story. No resolve and no importance. The struggling writer portion could have been more interesting, but again it took a back seat to a homosexual sex fest.

Plain and simple… there was no reason for all the sex. The entire story suffered because of it. Had there been perhaps one or two sex scenes, then fine, you can take the more important aspects of the story (the more connectible aspects) and make it a decent suspense flick. As is, there was no suspense, no sense of urgency or importance.

Structure was lacking as well. Nothing stood out to me as being grossly wrong but I do have some issues. First being the end being the beginning, then going back one week. I found it unnecessary. Same goes for the titles of chapters.

OVERALL on a star rating, I give a zero. I’m not trying to be mean, but it was truly a struggle to read. I honestly don’t know how someone would spend their time writing this and feel good about it afterwards. Only marketable as a porno. Sadly, porno’s don’t need writers or scripts.

Now with all of this said, I am going to try to find some bright spots. Because I think it is unfair to just bash a script. The very general story idea of a writer from Chicago coming to L.A. is fine. Then adding the murder aspect makes it more intriguing. Having him trying to battle with his work and for his life seems like a decent idea. Run with it. But try to stay away from so much sex. It’s just not needed. A scene or two is fine, but not 80% of the screenplay. Also, Adam and Nick as characters weren’t the worst. They stood out as being the only characters with any potential for depth.

I think there is a lot of room for improvements with Welcome To L.A. but I can only say what I think about it as is. Bottom line, this was a very drawn out gay porno.

2. Welcome to LA – Notes I really enjoyed reading this script. You have enormous talent Howard. The writing, dialogue and character are seamless in this script.

I got half way through the script and realized there wasn’t a lot happening plot wise but I didn’t care because each scene was so well crafted and written and the world you created was so interesting and beautifully drawn.

It seems to me this script (and genre) is more about texture and tone than plot.

I sense you’re a big fan of the Coen brothers. Who write their scripts for themselves and no one else.

So I really don’t know what kind of notes I have for you. Perhaps some of the scenes with the ‘people of LA’ could be trimmed and tightened a little and you could, perhaps, give Adam a little more plot to deal with. (A real love interest or writing opportunity…)

The one question I had at the end was – now that Adam is accepted in LA what will become of him? Will be become another self serving LA guy? His whole character arc seemed to be about being accepted. Now that he is, what does he think of it? Will be want to turn his back on LA? Will be allow himself to be used by everyone who has a script in LA (it seems he will).

I don’t know that I’ve read another script on this site where I had so little to say. This genre isn’t really my thing and as such, I’m not familiar with all the ‘rules’.

All I can say is, it was a real page turner for me. I’m not sure how marketable this script is but it’s definitely a great writing sample.

Well done!

FEEDBACK FEEDBACK: more thoughts on giving notes and feedback on screenplays Part II

The previous entry on this subject was devoted to the topic of some types of feedback I can do without. I wanted to concentrate more now on constructive feedback and feedback that is more helpful to a writer.

Before I really get into it, I want to begin with the main piece advice I would give to anyone, should they ever ask (hey, it could happen), who wants to improve his feedback (I also consider this to be the main piece of advice I would give a writer). See a movie outside your comfort zone at least once at week, or more. It doesn’t matter if it’s at the theater, on TV or through something like Netflix. But see what’s out there and get to understand that there are all sorts of movies that are sold, get made, and work.

But to begin, and this sounds kind of silly to say, but the main way to be constructive is to do the opposite of what people in my previous entry have done. It sounds simpler than it is.

First, don’t give feedback based on books or classes one has taken. Give the feedback based solely on your personal reaction to something. Some examples: don’t say the second act should start on pg. #, say that you were waiting too long for the other shoe to drop; don’t say there aren’t three acts here, say that there seemed to be some development of the story or character missing at certain points (and go into detail); don’t say there is no character arc, say that you got the feeling that the author was striving for a character arc, but that you were unclear what that was (if the author was striving for an arc; not all authors are).

Second, try and figure out what the author is trying to do and base your feedback on that, not on the way you would write it. If the author is trying to write a reactive character, give him feedback on how to help him achieve that. If the author is not trying to give his character an arc, then don’t try to find one for the character. If you don’t know what the author is trying to do, there is nothing wrong with saying that (I have said just that in the past). For example, it’s ridiculous to say that the central characters to Leaving Las Vegas or Richard III aren’t sympathetic heroes when that’s not what the author is going for. You may also have to ask, though this isn’t always an option. Loglines can be very useful here.

Third, if you are uncomfortable with certain types of screenplays and certain subject matter, then you probably shouldn’t be doing coverage or giving feedback on it (you certainly shouldn’t be doing coverage or feedback for a living).

Fourth, don’t worry about whether a screenplay has a big audience or whether there is a production company out there for it, unless the author has made it clear that he is trying to write a screenplay for a particular audience.

Finally, do not be rude. There are some people out there who confuse rudeness with frank criticism. They say the most awful things to people about a screenplay without any thought of how the writer might feel. You know these people. The dead giveaway is that when you suggest maybe they are being too rude or negative, their defense is that they’re only being honest and that if the person can’t take the heat, he should get out of the kitchen. It’s somewhat sad and pathetic on their part; for these people, you just need to avoid them.

FEEDBACK FEEDBACK: thoughts on giving notes and feedback on screenplays, Part I

There have been some discussions of late on various boards I’ve been frequenting about how to handle feedback one receives on a screenplay, as well as what is good feedback and what is bad feedback. I found these discussions to be very interesting and, being someone who has never been able to keep his big mouth shut, I joined in, of course,.

One area that was a popular topic of discussion was what sort of feedback is unhelpful, what is bad feedback. And after thinking about it, I’ve come up with four types of feedback that I’ve come across over god knows how many number of years that I’ve been doing this that I could certainly have done without.

The first are those who give feedback based on books they’ve read and courses they’ve taken. They come to the table with a set of rules and instead of determining whether a screenplay works on its own terms, they just list the areas where the script breaks the rules. You can often tell who these people are because they have a certain set of catch phrases that they use, lines you know they didn’t come up with on their own, but heard in a class or read in a book. There’s often very little you can do or say to this set of people. Even if you listed movies that do the same thing you do and that “break the rules” you are breaking, they often haven’t seen these films, much less even heard of them (by the way, I hate the term “break the rules” because it suggests that these rules were correct in the first place, when in reality, it’s questionable whether some of these should have ever been considered rules at all).

For example, I wrote a screenplay a few years ago that has a reactive lead character (what used to be called a passive character until the trend changed). There are those who automatically said I couldn’t do that, that it’s against the rule that says that all central characters must be active. No matter that numerous films like Adventureland, An Education, Garden State, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh all have reactive characters. It doesn’t matter. It’s against the rules they’ve been taught and therefore the screenplay doesn’t work.

A second group are those who don’t try to figure out what you are trying to do, giving feedback and constructive criticism based on that, but instead tell you how the script should be written, usually meaning how they would have written the script. The problem here is that people often don’t know that this is what they are doing and it’s a very hard habit to break. Probably it’s a habit impossible to ever completely break.

A third are those who are easily offended or have problems with certain kinds of screenplays. These people are usually very uninformed as to what is going on in movies these days and often don’t venture further than the multiplex that shows studio tent pole films and rarely see a film rated R for sex and never see any NC-17 films. I was in a writing group once where someone wrote a screenplay with gay characters with some sexual scenes and someone said he didn’t know where the person could possibly sell something like this. Even after the rest of us listed a dozen places that are open to screenplays of this style, he still couldn’t deal with the sexual frankness in it or the general subject matter. I’ve had this problem myself since my screenplays are often dark, edgy and sexually frank and people simply can’t get past that.

This sort of leads to a fourth kind, the one who gives feedback based on their perceived commerciality of a screenplay. If they don’t think it will sell, then it isn’t good and should be rewritten so it can sell. The problem here is that this person usually has no idea as to what sells and what doesn’t or what movies make money and which ones don’t. And that often a script rewritten with commerciality in mind usually comes out worse in the long run. I was in a group that once was giving feedback on making a script more saleable and I suggested that that’s not a good way to go because no one knows what is really saleable. They then said that they wanted to write scripts that the studio would buy and I had to be the one to tell them that no studio is going to read a screenplay by someone in this group, that that’s not how it works, that that’s usually not how studio movies are written.

Sample Coverage A

An sample of my written coverage. In addition to this, my coverage service also includes written notes on the script as well as a one hour in person consultation.

What works:

It’s important to have a hook when doing a reincarnation film and there is an interesting idea here of a person who has been killed in three past lives because of a murder he committed in one of his past lives against four people—that each person he killed was reincarnated and killed their murderer’s reincarnation.
The idea of * not wanting the baby born because it has no soul is arresting, especially when * says that * will die (pg. 7).
There is a good hook in that the baby in the coma comes out of the coma when * dies.
There is something infectious about * when he first appears. He has a certain tongue in cheek quality about him.
There are some good scary scenes, especially when * is being chased in the hospital (this is the strongest of the scenes).

What doesn’t work:

The central problem I have here is the focus of the plot. At this time it tends to sort of go all over the place without a central through line. It does sort of all come together at the end, but at this point, I really think the audience is going to be struggling to put it all together, spending more time trying to figure it out, rather than be into the drama.
There are several areas to look at. The first is how the theme of reincarnation and karma is used, especially for a film that is supposed to be commercial. The one general problem the audience may have is that they may feel that * is not deserving of the ending. She is a likeable person, an obstetrician, smart, together, nothing like * and she ends up committing suicide for something that she did in a past life, something she can’t even remember, something that is not reflected in her personality right now. The audience may be very unsatisfied with what happens to her. This doesn’t seem to be a fulfillment of *’s character or her character arc, but is rather a fulfillment of *. If this is a comment on karma, that’s fine, except that it’s such a negative idea (that someone, no matter how good their present life is, has to pay for sins in a past life), that to make it work for the audience, I believe it would have to be discussed and made more central to the story. Even so, for a commercial picture, this may still be problematical.
Also, the story seems to start out being about one thing, a really neat idea about a soul not ready to be born and how that affects *, but then becomes another. I believe the audience will so latch on to this first idea that they will think that the shadow following * has some immediate connection to the soul not being born and they will be waiting for that mystery to be answered (I never really understood what the shadow was that was trying to kill *). Then it suddenly seems to become about *’s past lives. It’s not until pg. 78 that the baby in the opening is brought back into things. I believe this is far too long to connect things up.
The character of * starts out being kind of interesting, but there’s something off about his motivations. He’s a lab technician that has taken up hypnosis—how did this come about? He looks up * in the hospital; does he just coincidentally happen to work at that hospital (is it the same hospital that * works at)? That may be problematical (of all the hospitals * ends up with she just happens to end up with one that just happens to have an old school mate that just happens to be into hypnosis and reincarnation even though he’s a lab technician). Then he seems to disappear for long periods of time. But since it’s his idea that * may be reincarnated, I would think that he would be with her every step of the way during the investigation. But he seems to be a character that’s there to do the bidding of the authors and disappears when the authors don’t need him. But he’s an important character and if he’s as interested in the truth as much, if not more, than *, then he’s going to be there all the way. Also, on pg. 106, * says they were brought together—but it may be unclear how they were brought together.
I believe there are some problems with the plot and that you might want to check with lawyers and psychiatrists and psychiatric hospitals. I believe that after * has made what may seem like a death threat (pg. 7), * would immediately report this to her superiors and the hospital’s lawyer (they would probably have an interview about what happened with the baby anyway).
I was unclear why the police searched the house for an intruder (* has attempted suicide, but hadn’t told anyone she thought there was an intruder).
After * attacks *, she’s immediately put in a special unit without a hearing (I believe, but the authors need to double check, that since a crime has been committed and * claims to have been attacked, they couldn’t just commit her, but would have to have a legal hearing).
One major scene is * doing experimental procedure. I don’t believe that * could use an experimental procedure on * without her signing off on it (if this is intentional, it needs to be dealt with). At this point it only seems a plot device to give * a reason to get her out of the hospital, which doesn’t work for me.
Once * escapes from the hospital, I didn’t understand why the police aren’t looking for her (she’s dangerous—she attacked an orderly).
I had problems with the transition on pg. 35. It still seems like a stretch that * thinks her problems may be due to a memory. Part of this is because there’s only been two scenes where he’s talked to Catherine. He doesn’t really have the information to come to this conclusion.
I didn’t understand why *’s parents were completely oblivious to her being put in the hospital (after all, * is not her next of kin and has no authority—they would need to call her nearest relative).


You need to develop * more.
I believe you first need to find an ending that will satisfy the audience when it comes to karma and reincarnation.
You need to link the baby in the coma with the events that follow it.
You need a more focused through line.
You need to justify the shadow following her or drop it.
You need to fully develop *’s character and make him more integral to the plot and make his appearance on the scene more satisfying.
You need to build up * and *’s relationship.

When it comes to *, don’t think of this as a movie about reincarnation, but about a woman who discovers that something is happening to her that leads her to believe she has been reincarnated and that that’s affecting her life. It’s about a woman who…, not a concept. I suggest you write 3-4 pages, whether you use all of them or not, that explores her before she goes into delivering the baby. I suggest these scenes be her getting ready for work, which will have her interact with * (thus developing their relationship more); her arrival at work and what she does when she first gets there; her first rounds; you might consider having her go to therapy that day; perhaps in therapy she gets the call for *; she calls * on her way to the hospital and tells him that she’ll be late for whatever they’re planning that night (which explores their relationship more).

When it comes to the shadows, I think you push it too fast. I like a slower build. I think the structure starts going off a little starting on pg. 8. The authors might consider a different build. Have the scene where * talks to the lawyer and her boss. She goes to get her car and she sees a shadow briefly. She calls * on the way home and he agrees to come over. She takes a shower. When she turns off the shower, she hears the breaking glass. She thinks it’s *, but then she sees the shadow coming to her.

I believe you need to write *’s story whether they use it or not. You need to dramatize (or at least summarize) what * is doing when he’s not on screen.

In addition, it is suggested that * say that if the soul doesn’t enter the baby by the 21st, the baby will die.

Though the location of * is good and works (I assume it’s based on a real place), you might consider placing it in a place closer to where * and * are (they are both drawn to the area), or have it take place in Alaska.

Movies to study are women in danger films, especially those with a supernatural element.