Filmmaking / Directing : When is feedback not actually useful? by Paul G Newton

Paul G Newton

When is feedback not actually useful?

I have made a few films (shorts), music videos and more. I have written much more than that (like everyone here). When I share my "stuff" with people and ask for "feedback" all I ever get is "I liked it" or "I thought it was great". I know I'm not Speilburg or Millius and I am sure I have a lot to learn, but I have yet to get feedback that actually gives me pause to think or that is constructive. If I took it all at face value I should be renowned the world over, but I know better. Yet, even in forums and the like I never get feedback that actually helps me and seems to just be more of the same.

Shaun O'Banion

I suppose it depends on who you're seeking feedback from. I just taught a Stage 32 Class on Development and at one point I talked about how you can often end up with what I call the "American Idol Effect." It's like when people on the show sing, the judges suggest they should do anything BUT attempt a music career and yet, when they leave the audition, their friends and family are like, "we don't get it! You're such a wonderful singer!" when he or she is clearly tone-deaf. I actually think the family and friends aren't deluded... they just don't want to inflict pain on someone they care for - a natural response. If you're utilizing peer platforms (Stage32 Happy Writers, The Black List, etc.), you should be able to get a useful and fairly accurate take on your material. If you're just giving it to friends, even if you explicitly ask them to be tough on you, you may still end up with a fairly inaccurate response for the aforementioned reasons. My two cents.

Richard "RB" Botto

Shaun's class is fantastic. Have to agree there. You need experienced champions and/or creatives in your circle who can actually provide feedback that matters.

Paul G Newton

That effect is what I'm afraid is happening. I have given my work for review to some professionals but I still receive the same type of feedback. It is quite frustrating. I have a script in my profile as well.

Richard "RB" Botto

If you're dealing with professionals, I do not think they would be offended if you asked for a bit more. Even if you say something like "I appreciate your feedback and value your input. Would you be willing to give me three areas where you think there is room for improvement?", I believe you'll receive a positive response.

Shaun O'Banion

Agree with RB 100%. If you feel like you're not getting enough, ask questions. "Did you understand why Character X made that decision?" "Did that feel unusual or did you understand it in the context of the story?" Or, simply, "can you tell me if there were any points that felt slow or took you out of the story?" Questions like that will help the people you're asking feel more comfortable in giving an honest answer. The reality is you probably already have a feeling where your script isn't working. You're just seeking confirmation, so let people off the hook a bit. Don't tell them where YOU think it's lacking, but it's ok to ask some leading questions once in a while.

Paul G Newton

I am always somewhat suspicious of paying an "anonymous" reader to critique my scripts. If I don't really know them just the same. How do I know they are really worth it? I know that sites like "The Blacklist" have real folks reading scripts for money as well as this network. What would be the difference between the two and will it actually benefit the script? I know I'm an hard sale but it is the internets after all.

Richard "RB" Botto

Paul, as a screenwriter myself, I couldn't agree with you more. I want to know who my reader is. Always. Click on the Happy Writers link above and then either coverage or consulting. We're the only service out there where you get to select the exec covering your script. So not only are you absolutely sure who is reading, you're getting real studio notes and feedback from a working executive.

Pierre Langenegger

Paul, it looks like you're just being read by the wrong people. Unfortunately the vast majority of screenwriters out there have absolutely no idea on how to give feedback and fall into the category of family and close friends by simply offering suggestions like, "That was really good". We need a site like the old Trigger Street where there were rules governing the feedback and people took writing seriously and offered constructive feedback. I'll have a look at your script and send you something when I can.

Richard "RB" Botto

Good to see you, Pierre. As selfless and collaborative as ever!

Paul G Newton

Thanks Pierre!

Pierre Langenegger

Thanks for the kind words RB. It's not a problem, I learned how to give constructive feedback years ago and I like to maintain it because it is what I like to receive when I put my work out there and if it's not constructive, it's not helping.

Adrian Muscat

I'm so glad I found this site last week. I've been slowly finding my way around the site and learning lots along the way. Just watched the crowdsourcing vs crowdfunding video. It definitely showed me the importance of crowdsourcing and will help us with our next project! Good luck with your script writing Paul!

JD Hartman

Are you looking for feedback on your films or on your writing? Do you tell the prospective viewer or reader what you are looking to get back from them? Most people suffer from being overly polite, they are afraid to even say I didn't get it, understand it or just didn't like it. I see this on another forum where people have shared their latest work. Feedback is most often: "Nice!", "Interesting", "Good Luck", etc., instead of a more honest appraisal: too dark, bad sound, jittery camera work, boring!, etc.

Paul G Newton

I do ask them to give me three things they like and three things they dont like or don't understand. Yet, I always get only the positive.

Lisa Joseph

Stay positive.....not everyone will always understand your vision. I learned that with some things you just need more time. You will get where your going....... just believe it!

Joseph Caine

Feedback is always tricky, because as you say, it can be a little shallow/not useful. But I never know whose opinion to trust, because if someone who loves superhero films or who likes 'Transformers' (no offence to anyone who does), they probably aren't going to care for the kind of material I'm interested in/have done. So how objective will they be?

Pierre Langenegger

If someone is not going to be objective because the material is not their cup of tea then I wouldn't trust their opinion with material that is their cup of tea. A good reviewer can review any genre, it doesn't matter what they themselves write and that aspect should never be brought up in the first place. I've seen plenty of reviews that start off with, "I don't normally read this type of script ..." and then I disregard the rest of what they have to say because they're already letting you know of their bias so you know their review is not objective. That's where sites that rate the reviewer are the bees knees because you know what type of review you're going to get from that person.

Pierre Langenegger

Paul, Notes posted on your logline page.

Andrew Bruce Lockhart

Feedback is an interesting one. It is, let’s face it, really easy to feedback one someone script. It’s even easier if you are being paid to do it. It’s a bit like going for an MRI when you are well. You don’t expect to find any problems… but it’s an MRI and you’re paying for it so you are going to see everything…. Every little thing that may never ever ever even affect your life. But you’re going to see it and discuss it and worry about it and maybe treat it? Course you are. It’s been found in your MRI – you’d be nuts to not right? Feedback is like that. Like others have said – get some pro feedback sure. Use the notes to improve and change and grow and evolve as a writer. The type of feedback you get will vary – some set out to be critical and obnoxious. Justifying it with the ‘it’s the truth’ and ‘if you can’t handle it your are never going to be a screenwriter’. Me I think that’s total rubbish. It’s the result of somewhere who has the emotional intelligence of an amoeba and doesn’t think they need to be different because it’s always been that way or they were treated that way themselves. It might also be they don’t know how to write like a normal human being… and it’s not their fault…honestly it’s not.. They don’t have that skill… and they would argue you are not paying for them to have it either. Like X factor etc mentioned earlier…, that would be like expecting Simon thingy to say something like, ‘I am so sorry you’re not for me’.. Just never going to happen… especially when he’s being paid to provide the feedback…. Oh yes he will say so much more! Anyway - fortunately there are some great people out there…on here, on line and elsewhere who will be blunt but provide actionable advice. It will be an MRI sure but it will come with a little understanding about how you might feel reading the results and be written in such a way that doesn’t make you feel like they are sitting there at the end thinking… ‘oh my god how sh*t was that’. You may even get told something good about it too.. god forbid. The other thing about feedback is to know when you need a feedback intervention. You’ve given it to everyone… from dad to aunt sally to the bloke on the train in the morning to the pro readers on here. Blacklist, etc etc etc…. and everyone will have their opinions, maybe you even read it to the dog….. At some point you need to decide. Enough. Stop. Get a final draft down and lock it down. Then send it out to competitions, agents, studios, pitch on line etc etc etc…. and when you are doing all that. Start something new. Write the next one. Don’t let feedback kill your writing….

Paul G Newton

Thanks Pierre! Some of the things you mentioned about the characters were bugging me too. They are definitely getting a closer look at. Would it help if there was a little more description in the script? We deleted a bunch of it because we know thats usually not supposed to be in a script.

Pierre Langenegger

I think your descriptive text is okay the way it is Paul, perhaps break it up a little bit. You don't have long paragraphs, so that's already good, but I look at action lines as a camera shot, so if you have a room with different things going on in different places of that room, rather than put then all into the one paragraph, split that paragraph out so that you have a new paragraph/line for each camera shot as though the director wants the camera moved to capture the next thing happening, if that makes sense? Sorry, that's a bit wordy.

Bo. R. R. Tolkien

feedback becomes offencive and unhelpful when it insults your intellligence. as soon as you get the hint that the feedback from that critic or artist is cynical or sarcastic, that let you know from the get go, it is a Trojan Horse. and you know what that horse did to Troy. yeppers, hot chili peppers, it destroyed that dream. don't let persons of uninterest kill your dreams.

James Murray

I read some of Pierre's feedback before reading your script so I knew a few things before starting, including the fact that you had already received incredibly detailed feedback (Pierre was incredibly generous! I think you owe him a beer or three). Instead of going down the same road, I read your script with my actor hat on. I think your script has interesting moments, the way the ghost kills for example and some of the humour. As an actor, I would really struggle with this version of the script: the characters often seem to be saying things because the writer(s) want them to, not because that's who they are. For example, when Cheryl makes it evident that she wants to sleep with Frank: if there had been any suggestion of flirting before this I missed it. Their relationship seemed to be going down a completely different road. Frank is the broken down drunk who was buds with Cheryl's father who died (recently?). Then Cheryl who has been giving Frank a hard time about his drinking shows up with a bottle and because they've had a few drinks, she wants to play house with him? So instead of this coming out of what characters want or need, this seems to be because the writer(s) decided that a love interest is needed. If the characters need something else than what is written, the actor can't find the heart of the character. I'm not suggesting that this relationship should go one way or another only that you need to take another look at this relationship form start to finish and see where it lies. Another example is Chuck. Chuck seems to be your equivalent of the Cigarette Man in the X Files. I think this is the case because as Pierre noted, you list him as a recurring character. He is some mysterious dude who knows things for no apparent reason (how did he get Frank's cell number?) and that's fine, an interesting character. You seem to be using him just for plot advancement though. He gives us Sandy's story third person; he recognizes James' handwriting where Frank who was James' friend doesn't. To give us one piece of the plot, he is a hard-hearted businessman, to give us another, he is a weepy sentimentalist. If he is to be the ultimate manipulator than you're going to have to give the actor playing him a little more to work with and that would help your audience as well. In general, I would say that your male characters are better developed than the female ones. Hope this helps! I know what you mean, feedback of 'it's good' is not good feedback. Regards, James

Paul G Newton

Thanks James! We will definitely look at those. Cheryll might need a little more work I suppose. As far as Chuck is concerned, well, thats difficult because he becomes the mentor throughout the series for all things "supernatural". His relationship with her father was more than what's on the surface. Kind of a plot point for a future episode. We were trying to not give it all away at the beginning. He would be more akin to the character of "Bobby" in the TV show "Supernatural". I think we may look at trying to dial Cheryll in a little more as well. We thought we set up her "wild" tendencies already but I guess we didn't. This is the second time her character has been brought up so there must be more that needs to be done. Also, we were trying to tell the audience that there is no chance for Frank and Cheryll to have any "love interest" in each other and move on without looking back. We also wanted Cheryll to take on the masculine role that usually is not associated with the female characters while keeping it from being trashy. It's a fragile scene, at Frank's house, and we are trying to make a couple of points with it as well as "solve the case".

James Murray

Cool Paul, If I may, you give an example of what I mean by the writers deciding what they need to say as writers rather than the characters saying what they need, when you say: "Also, we were trying to tell the audience that there is no chance for Frank and Cheryll to have any "love interest" in each other and move on without looking back." By having Cheryll come on to Frank, you are actually putting in the audience's mind that there is a 'love interest' there. You do mention Cheryll's wild tendencies in what Nathan says. The thing is that it is in reference to the moment of her father's death. Anybody could do something wild at that moment. The scene at Frank's house has some nice moments, the glowing mushrooms for example. Let the characters tell you what they need and I think you'll find a different ending to the scene. Cheryll being the one who comes on to men without it being trashy is an interesting character. Not being trashy, usually means that she will be that way with the right guy (not that she won't make mistakes like we all do, of course). As to Chuck, I've never watched Supernatural so I don't know Bobby. What an actor needs to play Chuck is a sense of how Chuck relates to other people. Right now as an actor, I wouldn't get the sense of a mentor because he is so manipulative; he's all over the map emotionally. The fact that Frank doesn't seem to spot this is also strange given how smart Frank is. My suggestion would be to ask yourselves why does Chuck want to mentor Frank and Cheryll and then let him answer the question. The amazing thing that often happens when you ask the question that way is that the plot points will fill in themselves. Good luck!

Paul G Newton

Well, we had a big fight over frank and Cheryll (as writers do) Donald wanted them to have a relationship but I don't. I don't because that's what I hated about The X Files. Who says a man and woman can't just be colleuges! Lol. I know why chuck was manipulative. He knew about the bad guy and had a sneaking suspicion of the other murders. Maybe we should write that in.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Regarding Paul's original question, 'When is feedback not actually useful?', I have some thoughts. (I've traded notes with writers on scripts, written coverage, etc.). First, I think it is fair to simply say 'This is what I liked.' followed by your specific 'likes' and 'This is what I didn't like.' with the specifics. If the writer/film maker wants more and you want to do more, I think the first thing you have to do is figure out answers to two questions, 'What story is the writer/FM trying to tell?' and 'Can I, based on my skills and interest, help tell that particular story better?' If you can't these questions effectively, you politely decline to go further. And definitely decline to go further if it's just not a story which appeals to you personally, emotionally. (Obviously, this last thought does not apply to paid consultants who have to dive in and do their best whether they like the story or not.) Assuming you can help, I'd offer particular suggestions which the writer/FM can consider. You like a character but you disagree with an important particular choice which the character made or you like certain scenes but one or more may better placed (that is, there's a problem with story structure.) or.... Finally, I think that good notes are rare, even from paid consultants. If you want criticism of your work, you plunge in and take your chances. In my view, your best chance is to get notes from either working screenwriters or working film makers, who, of course, do guard their time carefully. Good luck.

Jeff Guenther
  1. Never ask friends or relatives for an assessment of your work. Period. PERIOD⬤ 2. Put your professional hat on when taking notes. It's your work they're criticizing, not YOU. 3. Peer workshops provide the most cost effective feedback. 4. The worse your m/s, the more notes you get, up to a point. After that, you get fewer. 5. Almost anyone can critique AS A VIEWER. Five of those ~ one review. 6. To critique as a professional, they only have to know more than you do. 7. Remember, this is an industry where "nobody KNOWS anything." Be brave.

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