Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I've been having a very cordial email conversation with a writer who's script I read a week ago, about what constitutes good feedback. We agreed to disagree, but I have to admit that both ways discussed have their merits.

As a result of that conversation I thought I would post part of one of those emails below to show my attitude to script feedback.

"I've seen script notes given in loads of different ways. The reason I give the bad news first and the good last is because I like the writer to go away with a positive thought fresh in their mind, not a negative one.

I also don't like to suggest to the writer how they should improve their script, rather I prefer to raise questions and allow the writer to come up with their own solutions, after all it's their script and they're the author of it, not me. Who am I to tell the writer what they should write?

Everyone has a different opinion on how honest you should be with notes. The Head Of Department on my BA Scriptwriting course upset a lot of students with his direct and honest approach, some very nearly quit the course because of it. But as he said if he told people their script was good, or tried to soften the blow, when the writer had actually fallen well short, they would be in for a real shock when they went out into the real world. Script editors and producers can't afford to be nice. If they're not honest from the start they're not going to get the script how they want it, which will cost them more rewrites, more money and more time.

However, what isn't acceptable in my book is rudeness, a complete slagging off of the writer and their work. A personal attack on the writer and their script isn't professional, and isn't welcome. Politeness doesn't cost a penny.

I know a writer who worked on a well know show just when a new script editor was hired. The editor went as far as telling the writer how to change individual lines of dialogue, rather than relying on the skill of the writer. No wonder he hated that script editor.

If a writer can't take honest, constructive criticism then as harsh as it sounds they are better off choosing a new career. Some of the feedback I receive still gets me down on occasion, even after all these years.

But at the end of the day criticism is subjective and the writer isn't under any obligation to listen to, or indeed act upon, any of it. However, they have to realise it will severely restrict the length of their career if they don't. Script editors and producers don't want to work with opinionated, stubborn writers only ones that do as they are told and can deliver what they want quickly and professionally."



PenEnvy said...

I agree that there's no room for rudeness, but equally there's no point in just saying a script is great to be polite as there'll always be areas to improve. However I find it interesting that it isn't popular to advise on specific lines of dialogue - it would never occur to me (a novice) that that's stepping on someone's toes! Sometimes a line just doesn't sound right or natural, and advising on individual lines can affect the overall structure. Do you think there's ever a time when that sort of comment is ok? And if so how would you present it?

Dominic Carver said...

I think the only time this is acceptable is if the line of dialogue contradicts something else earlier in the script. Then you would simply point out the error so the writer can correct it.