The Awesomeness of Great Script Feedback
If you want to improve as a writer, you need to stop being precious and hand it over to somebody who knows what sells, what works and what doesn’t, and who can take your material and look at it without an emotional connection, critiquing it based on its merits.
There’s not much point handing your script or novel over to your Mum, Dad, hamster or best friend, if they’re just going to say “Honey that’s great!” and then hope you’ll leave them alone so they can go back to watching Emmerdale in peace.
Writers can be arrogant bastards, and it’s easy to get into a false sense of security, and believe that nobody but them can pass judgement on their work of genius. I remember listening to Jeff Goldsmiths’ interview with Oscar-winning screenwriter/playwright (and one of my writing heroes) Martin McDonagh, and hearing him talking about receiving notes from Execs during the process of making In Bruges and thinking “Yeah! You tell ’em, Martin!”:
“I always think ‘Who is this person giving me notes? What the fuck have they done? They’re probably an employee of a film studio at best…” – Martin McDonagh
What I didn’t think about at the time is that McDonagh had already done all of that genius stuff, and was a little more accomplished than this shitwit from Rutland with nothing but a few short film writing credits to his name. It was at this point that it dawned on me that I should get some professional eyes on my work.
I got the idea for my latest screenplay, The Night Force, back in 1995, when I was 14 years old. 20 years later, I still can’t believe the concept hasn’t been used in a film. At least point, I’m convinced I’m the only one who’s thought of it, and it’s killer. That’s why I’m being a little coy here. What a dick.
I started writing the screenplay in 2008, and finished the first draft that year. It was 208 pages long and complete shite. Seven years of editing (and growing up, improving as a writer and gaining experience) later, and I got to the point where I couldn’t see any other way of improving it. I needed another pair of eyes on it.
The first thing I did was put it on The Black List, and purchased two evaluations. Any screenwriter who uses TBL should always get two evaluations. That way, you get more than one opinion of your script. If they point out the same issues with the script, you know you need to work on it.
The readers loved the concept and the dialogue, but the characters and plot still needed work. I went back to work and got it to the point where yet again, I needed someone to take a look.
I should say at this point that I’m not a fan of people who call themselves “script consultants” because they have a Masters in Screenwriting and have read Syd Field and William Goldman until they threw up, and now feel that they can charge writers anything they like for their invaluable feedback.
I wanted the real deal, so I did my homework and found Phil Clarke, who has 20 years of experience in the industry and has the testimonial page to prove it. He took The Night Force and did the script consulting equivilent of kicking the living shit out of it in a boxing ring for 12 rounds, before offering it guidance on how it can avoid as many punches next time around.
Suffice to say, The Night Force is now in a pretty good place. It’s unrecognisable from the 208 page behemoth it was in 2008, and even from what it was six months ago. The difference between where the screenplay was to where it is now is night and day. I’m really proud of the script, and will be entering it into several screenwriting competitions in 2016.
Phil taught me several lessons, and the biggest is that you should always seek out a great script consultant to take a look at your work before you send it out. I’m embarrassed that I put The Night Force out into the world before it was ready. I won’t do it again. The next time anybody else sees it will be when it’s up on the screen. At least that’s the dream.