Screenwriting : Brutally honest by Annie Mac

Annie Mac

Brutally honest

How many times have you been caught with your pants down when someone asked you for a "brutally honest feedback" on their screenplay and you gave it?

Regina Lee

If we say something - anything, brutally honest or not - and that "something" causes your audience to feel alienated, then you've lost your audience. The consequence is that whatever you say afterward, constructive or astute as it may be, just won't land as well, because the person is distracted by his feeling of alienation, sadness, hurt, defensiveness, whatever. Don't upset your audience and lose them at the start of the speech, right? Some people are really gifted with great interpersonal skills. We have to really try to frame feedback in a way that doesn't alienate our audience in the process. Only then can all the hard work you've put into developing your feedback have a payoff. Because if you've lost your audience at the start or in the middle, your feedback isn't going to land.

Jody Ellis

I think it's possible to be honest while still being kind, no brutality necessary.

Regina Lee

Agree! Every time someone asks me to be brutally honest, I say, "I don't need to be brutal."

Bill Costantini

I did that once, and I'll never do it again. I told the writer "your plot development is thinner than a strand of hair," and got no response whatsoever. I thought "what an absolute waste of my time." A year or so later, I was getting a root canal, and thought it odd that the dental assistant strapped me into the chair - until a moment or two later when the dentist came in, and said "thinner than a strand of hair, huh?"

Jorge J Prieto

150% agree with you, Regina, because only that writer or another writer know the hard work a writer puts into his/her work. So, yeah starting on a positive, creates a sense of confidence towards the person giving the feedback. It also depends on the credibility and experience of the critic, his or her track record in the industry, Regina is a great example of my last comment as someone with first hand, inside, industry, studio experience.

Regina Lee

If you absolutely cannot get the person out of demanding a "brutally honest" response, if he can't get out of that frame of mind, at the very least, I would try to reframe as "tough love." Assuming you have the craft/creative skills and the market knowledge, it's really a "people skills" challenge. A very legit one. As they say, you catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. Or to use a rom com metaphor, "It's not what you said that caused the fight, it's the way you said it."

Pierre Langenegger

I give constructive critism unless the writer incate they want a review focusing on specific aspects

Rayna W.

I've given tons of feedback to other writers. Even if they ask for brutal honesty, and even if the script is a brutal read I never feel the need to use harsh words or insult the other writer. There is always a way to let someone know that their script needs work without hurting their feelings. And I agree with Peter that when people ask for "brutal honesty" they already lack some confidence, but they are also just putting up that protective wall, as well. Either way, those types of people, in my experience, are much more receptive to feedback than people who've already decided that they've written the next King's Speech, and might need to hear some brutal criticism to bring them back to reality.

Bill Costantini

Peter's points are spot on. When we studied literary criticism in college, you learn that you have to support your interpretations with concrete examples of your conclusions. That can end up being a 3 - 5 hour (or more) task on a movie script. I wouldn't expect a fellow writer to give me that amount of time for free - maybe in a swap, but I'd have to feel they were up to the task and that we were both being guided by the same understanding of the rules of literary criticism. And even then - what if they got a little lazy, unlike myself? My preferred script assessment method would be from a professional consultant who I know has a proven track record in giving real critical analysis. I quite simply don't want to spend that much time doing something that I don't want to do, and especially with the risk that I might not get back as good as I might give.

Dan Guardino

I am not a script consultant so I seldom give anyone feedback. However, I have been around this business long enough to know there are two kinds of people that ask for feedback and two kinds of people that like to give feedback. Some people like to give feedback because they truly want to help other screenwriters. Unfortunately there are some that just want to show the world how knowledgeable they are. On the other hand there are people that are really looking for someone to help them make their screenplay better or become become better screenwriters. They will usually appreciate your help. Unfortunately there are some screenwriters that just want someone to tell them how wonderful and talented they are. If you say anything negative they will usually just get pissed of and you never hear from them again or they will try and argue with you which is even worse. When giving feedback it is always good to say something positive before pointing out something negative because the person asking for feedback is more likely to listen to you. If you just point out the negative things they will usually label you a "know it all "or think you're just trying to show the world how knowledgeable you are and ignore your advise. Also you should always critique the script and never the screenwriter. I tip my hat those script consultants because you are doing something I would never be able to do not that I am even qualified.

William Martell

If I ask for honest feedback, that's what I want. I need to know what's wrong so that I can fix it... that's the whole point.

Terri Viani

Dan is completely right about the different types of people who give feedback. In my experience the person reluctant to read other people's stuff is generally the one who gives the best feedback. And over the course of my many years of writing I've learned a few things about giving feedback, some of which have already been mentioned here. Avoid it if you can is number one. =D Two is that any writer asking for "brutally honest feedback" - phrasing it like that I mean - is most likely a beginner, so be gentle and find something positive to say, even if the thing is a total dog. Three, be specific. "Oh it's great" or "It wasn't my cup of tea" are useless and IMO insulting to any writer. Three, tell them BEFORE you read it that while you won't be brutal - no need for that - you will be honest. When someone asks me to read what they wrote I usually respond with, "sure, but I have to let you know I'll be honest in my response, I wouldn't insult you by being otherwise, so if you're not interested in that and just want me to tell you you've written the Great American Screenplay/Novel and should immediately quit your job and pursue writing full-time, just let me know that now and I'll save myself some time in the reading." Never fails to get a laugh when I say it, and I've already set up the parameters. I'm not sure how someone could insist I be brutal anyway. Are they some sort of masochist who won't be satisfied until I'm whacking them with their script while shrieking "page one rewrite!!!" ? What I say is up to me. Honestly I don't think there's ever a need to be brutally honest. We're crafters of dialogue, surely we can come up with words that get our points across while not totally destroying the other person. =)

Owen Mowatt

I have a question. Who decides that the review is brutal? I mean the truth is the truth, right? Also, there is no such thing as your reviewer being brutal and wrong, you are not obliged to accept that persons POV, you can just reject it. Maybe it's just me having a thick skin but I honestly prefer a sterner review. I can gauge that better, knowing full well that BEFORE I asked for an opinion, I had already reviewed my peer's suitability to give one.

Annie Mac

Thank you all for giving my mind a degree of peace. Only once did I comply with the "brutally honest" request. By nature I am direct, honest, and constructive. Brutal seemed a stretch and the script was, to say it as kindly as possible, UNREADABLE. So this is what I said as I respectfully handed it back and asked the person in question to get the opinion of another reader. The result was the loss of a long friendship. By the way, this person came back recently to thank me on the best advice I could have given him, at the time. He's now a filmmaker in his own right, who won quite a few accolades internationally. Not sure what the lesson is?

Terri Viani

Owen I don't disagree with you at all - I never want my readers to sugar-coat the truth, I want to know they have something to offer me (knowledge of story, strong writing skills, a good eye etc) and that's why I don't go around asking random people to read my work. That said, I think we can deliver negative feedback in a way that's respectful of the writer and provides a more constructive framework for them to improve and the script to get better. I have a friend who is gleeful when telling someone he hated their script - I think he takes pleasure in it because he's limited by his own insecurities. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Annie, sounds like you did your best to be kind and honest, and I think that's all we can do. If people aren't in a place to hear it we can't take responsibility for that, you know? Interesting topic!

Annie Mac

Can you expand on that CJ? Thanks, Terri, I appreciate.

Bill Costantini

Some of my favorite thoughts on literary criticism: The critic should describe, and not prescribe (Eugene Ionesco) An important job of the critic is to savage what is mediocre or meretricious (Susan Sontag) To literary critics a book is assumed to be guilty until it proves intself innocent (Nelson Algren) Mediocrity is more dangerous in a critic than in a writer (Eugene Ionesco) Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing (Joyce Carol Oates) Criticism is like champagne: nothing more execrable if bad, nothing more excellent if good (Charles Caleb Colton) Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art (Susan Sontag) Ideal dramatic criticism is unqualified appreciation (Oscar Wilde) I like criticism but it must be my way (Mark Twain)

Terri Viani

CJ, that is hilarious now that I think about it! =D

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

All the time. But I try to give them the down side and the upside. That is to say, tell them what works and what doesnt. Usually they take better to that. If something doesnt work, I tell them why. Writers tend to respond better to that kind of feedback. I've been through the brutally honest critiques and its no kind of fun at all. Youre agreeing on the outside but crying on the inside. lol.

Bill Costantini

TD - I hear you. At the same time, though, if I'm paying someone to critique my work, I don't really need to hear "the good", I want to hear "the bad and the ugly". I tune out or gloss over "the good" comments, or can pretty much conclude what was "good" when those elements are left out of the criticism. I know Annie's a professional script consultant, and I'm not, but that's the way I'd want to hear or see things. Save the "good" for the softies - I know what's good when consultants don't tell me it's bad....as long as I agree, of course. And if I wanted to hear "the good"....heck....my mom's pretty proficient at that....even though it ends up costing me more than any script consultant charges. "I love your script, Bill - let's celebrate and go shopping!" I think the phrase "brutally honest" might be a loaded phrase, too, judging by some of the differences of interpretations here. I'm requesting my Congressional representative to make the phrase "brutally honest" a Class X Felony, and to replace it with the phrase "utterly honest based on the facts that two or more parties can agree upon to be truthful." I know...I know...Bill's trying to start his own PAC and raise money to employ family members, friends, himself and his girlfriend, but I'm not. Although...now that I think about it....hmmmm...

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

I get you, Bill. Dont misunderstand me however, bro. Its not about softening anyone up during a critique. The way I see it, there's always the "tough love" critique and its useful. Hell, I look forward to it in truth. But I've found that many writers dont really respond well when its JUST that. For example; if Im critiquing someone's screenplay I immediately tell them their strengths, and then go into the "tough love" session. Kindah the good news-bad news routine. However, even when I have to be the "ambassador of pain and suffering", (lol) I tell them "why" it doesnt work. May seem like a small thing but, it works and they're more likely to get something more out of the critique without discouraging them. They respond to the critique better in my experience. Writing is hard, mate-really hard in which I'm sure you know. So I try to have a balance when I deal with writers and their work. Some of that also comes from owning a business and dealing with people that worked for me when they screwed up. Chop em down, then build them up, then chop me down and build em up. lol. Sounds strange perhaps but it works well. At least in my experience.

Bill Costantini

T.D. - I can understand that need for some or many writers. I've done a lot of consulting over the years - political; complex hospital accredidation matters; start-up Internet companies; insurance, real estate and mortgage brokerages; and legal services - and our style is a little different. We'd spell out the strengths and weaknesses in our written critical needs assessments, but everybody only wants to hear "the bad stuff" in our limited face-to-face or phone talk times. They were able to read "the good stuff" in our summaries. Many would even feel offended if we didn't focus exclusively on how they could get better in those real-time conversations, and would regard anything else during that precious time as counter-productive. I personally prefer that method when working with script consultants. Our talk time is limited and very precious to me, and I prefer to hear my weaknesses...ways to improve them...and examples from other scripts to illustrate that...and other learning sources that would improve my weaknesses. As you know, that initial hour or two goes by fast! But I certainly hear you and understand how some writers (and probably most, if not all, developing writers) may require the good news-bad news routine that you describe, and might need to hear it the way you describe. You're doing it right, bro - and so are the rest of you, too.

Annie Mac

Your answers gave me a lot of food for thought. Now I wonder how many of you find that "feedback" while being valuable , is never as precious as "down-to-earth advice", meaning clear and concrete guidance or recommendation concerning future action (re-write) given by an authority on the subject of screenwriting?

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

Um. That's hard one for me Annie. Example: I'm working with two very successful individuals with a big studio on two scripts that I've submitted. Things are going really, really well. (Can't get into details here) Anyhow, they requested that I do some revisions on a few pages for the full feature script in addition to a few notes they submitted to me. I perform the rewrite, and I'm thinking to myself, "Their gonna love it! I just know it." Long story short, after they read the rewrite, the first thing they tell me is, "This is dull! What did you do?" I write and read every day. The screenplay I originally submitted to them I wrote in Sept 2014. So I've grown a lot since that time and I'm thinking to apply what I've learned to the rewrite. Hence why I thought they'd love it. I ask, "what doesnt work?" They proceed to tell me and give me more notes. Two, almost three hour call at least. Hurt like hell. Anyhow, I make all the changes requested. A week later, (after Christmas) we're on another business call and their telling me to add in the same scenes from the rewrite they were requesting me to change. In their words, the dialogue had improved dramatically, visuals were amazing, structure is much better, etc. I'm thinking to myself, "Lawd have mercy!!" So, down-to-earth feedback can be valuable as well. For about two weeks. lol In some cases though, you have to go with your gut. My gut was telling me, "you're on point." In truth, I honestly wish I would have stood up for the rewrite more but that fear of being "just a writer" and not wanting to ruin the relationship kicked in and I just took the feedback. I'm learning though. All the time... Sorry for the rant... your question just brought up some painful memories.

Bill Costantini

Patricia - I think the cycles you described are universal to all writers who embark upon the screenwriting path. At some point, we have to take that calculated risk and bring our scripts to the production world. Hopefully that comes with careful assessments - from ourselves and from others, like your consultant - that help us believe those scripts are industry-ready and potentially salable. I know the term "paralysis analysis" is used periodically around here. You're not in that type of headspace, but some people kinda get locked into it You stated your question succinctly. At some point, I know when it's time for me to bring a script out to market - and when I think I nailed it, I bring it out. My conclusions haven't universally concurred with all of those in the business. Every time someone offered me something for a script, many others had previously turned it down. I'm used to that, though, as a sales guy. If and when those passes happen to you, don't let it deter you from attempting to find that right someone who might agree with you that, yes indeed, your script was "ready to go" and will offer you something. There are so many producers out there looking for a specific something, and even they can change what they specifically want at the drop of a hat. It's a fickle business at (most) times, and if I were in their shoes, I'd be fickle, too. Crikey - I am right now. I am trying to decide which one of my low-budget scripts I want to try to make on my own and with the resources that I have, and then I keep saying to myself, "I should just write a new one that takes the most advantage of my resources." I mean, jeez....I have access to tigers, and I don't have a tiger in any of my scripts! Aye-yah. Just some words of encouragement that I hope you find useful.

Bill Costantini

T.D. - that's funny/sad. When I used to do political ads, I'd give the candidate my first cut. They'd tell me what they didn't like, and then I'd bring them the second cut based on that. They'd tell me what they didn't like, and then I'd bring them the third cut based on that. They'd tell me what they didn't like, and then I'd bring back the original. Then they'd say "that's perfect!" That happened around 58 out of around 62 times. Go figure. Well, at least I did. Heh-heh.

Terri Viani

Annie, for me the two go hand in hand: give me feedback and then your thoughts on addressing what's not working. This helps know what to work on - and what not to work on, because sometimes the reader doesn't connect with a story/choice/character because of his or her own experiences, nothing to do with the writer or the story s/he has presented. Also, I think we should keep in mind when giving notes that brutally honest feedback is not the same thing as constructive or useful feedback (I feel like the two are being mashed in together here). "This sucks, you have no craft, and reading it was like watching the drapes fade" might be honest feedback - and it's certainly brutal - but it's not constructive at all. All writers committed to improving their craft want honest, real, plain feedback and solid ideas on improving. The delivery of those things does not need to be brutal, ever.

Annie Mac

Terri, maybe honest, direct, and frank feedback, when it's not what one expects, always feels brutal. It could depend a lot on sensibilities and context. In the context of feedback, I would understand brutal to mean lacking any attempt at masking unpleasantness.

Bill Costantini

Patricia - in the early days of the Internet, many of the bigger-funded start-up companies - and smaller-funded companies, too - had a title in their executive level: the title was "Evangelist". They were, quite simply, the preachers. Sometimes it was the CEO, sometimes it wasn't. When it comes to marketing, think of yourself as a preacher. Believe, rejoice, proclaim and preach! Today in America, of course, is Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Even throughout his civil rights campaigns, he thought of himself as a preacher first, trying to spread the word of God and to achieve excellence in the Christian ministry. In his honor today, please take a few moments to read one of his great speeches. And may the heavens bless artist extraordinaire Suzanne de Passe and her co-producer, Steven Spielberg, in their attempts to make the King story, which has been in pre-development for something like seven years now. Even the biggest of the big know those feelings. RIP Glenn Frey (November 6, 1948 - January 18, 2016)

Jorge J Prieto

So, true, Patricia. I remember reading in college, The Narrative of Frederick Douglass, and how deeply, his story changed my mind set at an early age. So many struggles, before us, so we can all now enjoy, but should never forget those who paid a price for us. Thank God for teachers, who opened our minds and hearts. Thank God, for you being a part of this community, my dear Patricia.

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

Isnt it heroic and incredibly inspiring what lengths some are willing to go to see their dream come to fruition? M.L.K. gave his life for what he believed. Loss for words here....

Jorge J Prieto

I hear you, T.D. Freedom is something, I cherish and value, for in my country, Cuba, freedom was taken from my people since 1960 and my mother had the courage to get us out and this great country received us, with the help of friends, family and neighbors, we pushed ahead. We as writers need to tell our stories, for we are the voices of history, our own history and ancestors. Rejoice, buddy and keep writing, it saved me..

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

Agreed Mark. One has to be careful however with some "constructive" criticism. There are those who give criticism that arent in your best interest. The reasons vary but, some critiques have swayed some people from their path because the feedback doesnt actually make the writer better, but simply chop them down, bringing the writers aspirations with it. I'm sure we all have gone through it. It is at those times when the author or creator of the work must discern for themselves if the critique is of value to them and how. Again, I desire honest feedback as I've learned to not take any of it personally, although I did at the start of my writing career. It's natural for writers to want to protect their work, and I try to respect that because I've been through it. Yet, I know and work with a few aspiring writers where a support system doesnt exist. The writer has relationships that arent really supportive, and they are surrounded by "realists". This industry does require a thick skin as well. I remember my professor in college telling us in the beginning, "this business will weed out the people who are serious and who are not. Professionally and personally." I've seen many, many come and go.

Pierre Langenegger

I agree Mark, but it also comes down to the maturity of the writer to accept that feedback for what it was intended. Even though I ensure my feedback is constructive, there are still some recipients who take it as negative criticism, will become defensive, will argue their side, who will even become abusive or hide in a corner and lick their wounds and won't be heard from again. Another member here mentioned something in another post, something about the absurdity of the phrase, "develop a thick skin". As writers we do need to develop a thick skin which basically means learning to accept criticism, both positive and negative. We spend months, sometimes years, crafting and molding and shaping our baby. All that time and effort before sending it out into the world to stand on it's own two feet only to be told that our baby is not a good example of what a baby should be. As a new writer, it's natural to take offense and to feel hurt by that but it's only after we have developed a thicker skin that we can see those comments for what they really are -- suggestions on how to improve.

Jorge J Prieto

You guys, you know what I can't imagine how someone can read a two page synopsis and already knows what your what kind of work your screenplay needs?? Amazing! As JOEY Tuccio would say it. I preferred that you just say pass 12345 and lets both move on.

Pierre Langenegger

I couldn't agree more Jorge, who gives constructive notes on a two page synopsis? I use a synopsis as I would a loglne, to determine if I'm going to read the script. The only time I'd ever give notes on a synopsis (if at all) is after I have read the script and found it doesn't match the synopsis but usually I just make that point and move on because it's not my job to fix someones synopsis.

Bill Costantini

Jorge - I think the most important takeaway from that process is quite simply this: it just wasn't exactly what they were looking for. Every genre is so broad, and there are many different "types of story" within that genre. If I'm looking for a horror-script, and don't tell you exactly what kind of horror script I'm looking for (a self-contained by-the-lake supernatural horror story that is based on a "spirit" of some sort) and you give me a two-page horror synopsis about zombies in the desert....well....you get the idea. And maybe they just don't think, based on someone's poorly-written synopsis, that the writer will even be able to put out a script worth reading. Either way, I could understand why people pass just on a synopsis, and even just on a logline. It's great when you know exactly what someone is looking for; are a capable writer; and can pull it out of your box of scripts and be able to say "I have exactly what you're looking for."

Jody Ellis

Feedback and criticism are interesting things. I have a pretty thick skin and I try to keep in mind that so much of it is subjective. One of my screenplays was in a contest in which there were two rounds of feedback based on a point system. The first reader LOVED it, I got a 97 out of 100 points. The second one hated it and I got a 38! Rather than getting upset, however, I read his notes and took the constructive part of the criticism and did some revisions. I ended up making top 10 in the contest, but I did have to laugh at how far apart the two rounds of feedback were!!

Jorge J Prieto

Pierre, another point : We are told here to when pitch, to compare our screenplay to other already produced films, I get a feedback, telling me that my story is too similar to blah blah, which is completely untrue, just because my story is a high school drama and the lead is a teacher, now none of us can't write a teacher, high school drama? Second this is my own true, teenage, high school, teacher experiences. My mistake, I'll admit it, was giving away to much play by play plot, comparing it to two other school, teacher dramas and given away the ending, like I've been told over and over to do right here on Stage 32 and what horror (S32) screenwriter, initials F.P. told me NOT to do, to NEVER give away my ending. You live and learn, my fellow writers, you live and learn.

Jorge J Prieto

I must add, I'm saying all of the above, because not all, Exec assistance, agents, studio people, consultants, you get the picture, are created equal. This pitching process is like , what Forrest Gump use to say, " pitching is like a box of chocolates, you never know what or how far you're gonna get" Thanks, Forrest, you were right, my friend. Now let's ALL laugh a little and keep writing, I know I am. Writing my first love story, with a female protagonists. Also, let's tune in on Thursday, Jan.21 when JOEY, once again, is going to go over, what managers and executives expect from us when pitching - #1 on the list, always GIVE AWAY YOUR ENDING!! Okay, F.P.??

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

Sell the sizzle not the steak. ;)

Jorge J Prieto

Love your metaphor , T.D. Gotta remember that. Thanks, buddy.

CJ Walley

Pierre, that's very likely to be me who finds the thick skin mentality absurd. I can't stand the concept and feel creatives should be proud of their vulnerability. But I accept I'm completely on my own with that line of thought.

Pierre Langenegger

Why's that CJ? It's simply a matter of realising that feedback is not a personal attack, it is suggestions of improvement.

Dan Guardino

CJ. You aren't completely alone. Good or bad I don't care what other people think so I don't ask them.

Annie Mac

I'm curious, who do you write for Dan?

Rachel Walker

I love honest, because I can grow from it, even when it is coming from an angle I hadn't thought of before. :-)

Dan Guardino

Annie. Today I only write and rewrite screenplays for projects that I am involved in producing myself with other producers.

Annie Mac

smart move, Dan!

Dan Guardino

CJ. I agree. A professional can always hire a professional consultant to get professional coverage which is much different than someone giving you brutal feedback.

Pierre Langenegger

I'm not talking about brutal feedback CJ. I don't give it, I don't agree with it and the thick skin phrase does not equate to brutal feedback. I'm just talking about feedback that a writer will receive on their first one or two scripts. To them it feels brutal and they feel hurt because they're being told something in their story may not work and perhaps they should work this scene another way. That's not being brutal. Have you never received feedback? It seems apparent that you never seek feedback unless it's from someone directly related to the project. How did you grow as a writer before you reached your current stage? How did your writing improve? How do people get to see your script to decide they want to be involved in the making and, if they make a suggestion, how do you feel? Hurt? It sounds like only those who want to be involved will make positive comments and everyone else, in your mind, will make brutal or mean comments. I think very few people like that exist, most people "want to be a part of making it even better" and they do this simply by offering suggestions of improvement. People who offer feedback are not out there to destroy your work. Feedback is essential for writers. It doesn't have to be in the form of reviews and notes, it can simply be in the form of ticket sales or book sales. If the general public doesn't respond favourably to your finished product are you hurt and offended? How would you then improve your work the next time? Simply try something different? You don't have to get feedback, that's up to you but it's got to be a much slower road to become successful.

Annie Mac

May be it's all academic by now, the question is NOT about brutally honest feedback, but about how blunt can you be when a screenplay sucks?

Regina Lee

Depends on what you want at the end of your feedback meeting. Do you want to motivate this person (whom you like and believe in) to do your notes? On the other side of the spectrum, do you want to motivate this person (whom you couldn't care less about) to please leave you alone or stop wasting your time? Where do YOU want to end up? Strategize accordingly.

Pierre Langenegger

Victor, no one has to accept any feedback at all and obviously if you don't agree with it, don't use it. Annie, apologies that this thread has headed off in a different direction and you're quite right, let's take it back to your original intention. If someone's screenplay does suck, they need to know. If someone has spinach in their teeth or their fly is undone, they need to know. The way that news is delivered is what makes all the difference. With regards to writing, this is where being constructive helps. Telling someone their script sucks is mean and useless. Telling someone their story structure doesn't really work and giving them the reasons why and suggestions on how it may improve and why (if they have asked for feedback) is the right thing to do.

Regina Lee

Do you want this person to walk away and spread good word of mouth about you and your POV? Consider the whole playing field. Try to be kind to yourself and to the other party. Good luck!! Your common sense will guide you!

Tamario "Marty" Dixon

This is why I practice telling my clients their strengths and weaknesses. It kind of avoids the question of my personal opinion of the screenplay, which is something else all together. That is of course, unless its a script I believe its something my people would like to look at. Then, I allow them to make the call. I also structure my clients by telling them that if my people call you, then you can be pretty sure I enjoyed your work and thought it had potential. In essence, it's good! If you dont receive a call, then I didnt think too much of it. Sounds complicated but it works. I stand with CJ on this one. I dont think its my place to tell someone if their script is bad or not. Ultimately, its going to happen in some way or the other but I dont see that as my job. I want to help you fix the problems in your story. That's it. What may not be good to me, may be great to someone else.

Julianne Wargren

Top and tail the bad news with good news and even then it can still upset some

Annie Mac

Clarification, by suck I meant when a script is written without any regard for the basic principles of formatting, grammar, spelling, structure, characterization, and dramatic narration, to name a few. I wasn't speaking on some subjective dislike of the subject matter or style :o)

Annie Mac

Thanks Anthony for those good points.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

In giving feedback, it is almost always possible to find something you like. Begin with that. And try to figure out what the particular story is that the writer wants to tell and in that context, offer your suggestions about how to do so. Also mention what you think the writer is doing which does not work toward telling that story. Hopefully, the writer will find your suggestions helpful.

Al Hibbert

I'll throw my two cents in on this topic. Really interesting. I think that there are different levels and stages of what 'kinds' of criticism are needed. I mean it can range from critiquing something that is so far off from ready for prime time, to critiquing a professional piece of work and pointing out extremely subtle things. A couple of years ago, a friend that I work with told me that he had written a novel-- part one of a trilogy.To make a long story short--really great premise, and desire to teach some really great lessons to young people, interesting ideas for the characters (it was about teen triplets who had 'super powers'). I really thought that he had some really good things going, but, there was some serious problems too. He had had people read it, but no one had the guts, or knowledge to tell him the truth, which was- hey--you got great ideas, and some interesting characters, and a cool over all story- but you got to work on the basics a little--give your characters a world to live in--try to be a little more 'poetic'--you don't have to go over board-- but use some of the devices of language, so you can communicate your ideas more 'effectively. I could tell he was a little 'hurt', but I could also tell that he was relieved to have someone finally level with him! He was a good boxer, and, if you can take a punch , you can probably take a little well intended advice- and he did- I bet his second book is way better- I'm going to have to e mail him and ask him how it's going.

Jorge J Prieto

Suggestions are just that, an observation from a reader, as an audience member, but be very careful, some may see as more than an observation and it can backfire on you. Trust me. Time consuming as well.

Rachel Walker

I think you can learn from anyone, whether it be good or bad, and as their mind brushes against yours, you may suddendly be hit with a new idea! :-)

Rachel Walker

:-)

Joyce Davidson

I have given the same to novel writers. Some don't go on with their project with any help whatsoever.

Annie Mac

Thanks you all! Looks like this topic is almost exhausted -- one parting thought, when someone asks you for "brutally honest feedback" it's best to take it as a figure of speech :o) The writer may simply need genuinely truthful observations, maybe because s/he has doubts about it. IMHO The best way to ask for honest feedback is still to be specific in what you need to know. For example: Do you think this screenplay is ready to enter Nicholl's Fellowship competition? Or, what specifically touches you, makes you cringe, or laugh in this screenplay? Or, I need sound advice on formatting... Have fun writing today!

CJ Walley

That's an excellent point, Annie. I think many of us would benefit from knowing and communicating where we want to be as writers. That's something useful beyond feedback but also in networking and even into personal development.

Annie Mac

Yes, absolutely, CJ! Also when asked to look at someone's work, as friend or professional, best to practice alert, appreciative awareness and praise them for taking the initiative, then make an effort to contribute helpful ideas toward enhancing their writing. Victor and Joyce, I agree some people are better off without any kind of help.

Jorge J Prieto

I'm, CJ, great points, Annie and good discussion here in the passed weeks. Time to move on. Keep writing, keep creating, keep us engaged, stay active in the best screenwriters lounge in the net - Stage 32. Peace. HOPE never quits.

Joyce Davidson

Not everyone is a teacher. Not everyone can be a critic. Not everyone has the character, the knowledge, or the humanity to do it well. Be careful about the person you choose. I am still being asked by memoir writers, a daughter-in-law screenwriter, a minister, a play director for feedback, and I don't squash them with my remarks. Some will do that. But I don't charge. And I tell them, "It's free; maybe worthless. You decide."

Annie Mac

I'm sure they all appreciate your generosity and the spirit in which you freely give of your time, Joyce. All the best in all your endeavors.

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Good thoughts Joyce. I do differ a little bit. I think in a sense that everyone is a critic in that everyone has a reaction to a story or anything which might impinge on a writer's career. Recently, I told an actress whom I know pretty well that I did not like the new photo she posted of herself on a web site. (I had seen head shots of her which I thought were a lot better.) It turns out the photo is getting rave reviews from most people she knows professionally. So she discards my comment and moves on. I think the same idea applies if someone asks you for comments on their writing. Go ahead. Be a critic but be courteous and honest. And make clear that if the suggestions are not useful, they're just suggestions, which means they're 'throw away'.

Joyce Davidson

You are right, Douglas. I should have worded it better. I'm mentoring a new pastor right now, and I must not interfere with his goals or his drive to do what he feels he must do, but I want him to present himself the best way so nothing distracts the congregation from his message.

Joyce Davidson

Annie, your resume is spectacular. You're a wonder!

Douglas Eugene Mayfield

Joyce. Thanks for clarifying. It sounds likely that he and the congregation will benefit.

Annie Mac

Joyce, thank you. Coming from you, I accept the compliment with humility. You young protégé pastor is very fortunate to have you. Happy Valentine weekend to all who love what they do!!

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