How To Get Script Feedback That Is Actually Helpful

by Jill Remensnyder

First rule of screenwriting: Don’t fall in love with your work.
Second rule of screenwriting: Don’t fall in love with your work.

You’ve toiled away countless nights on your masterpiece. It’s a big accomplishment and there’s nothing more rewarding than typing FADE OUT at the end of your script. Just don’t become emotionally attached. You still need a fresh set of eyes to point out all those little details (and perhaps some pretty big ones) you skipped over while writing. It’s time to get some script feedback.

screenwriting rules script feedback

As a screenwriter you probably fall into one of two categories:

1. The writer blinded by their own genius only to be surrounded by those who “don’t get” their craft.

2. The writer who wants to throw up after reading their first draft. “What was I thinking?!” “This doesn’t make any sense!”

Don’t lie, you know which one you are!

It’s ok to be confident, but don’t be too quick to get a big head. It’s also OK to be unsure, but don’t get so self-conscious you end up searching for a burn barrel to destroy your script. There’s always room for improvement-it’s part of the process. To my knowledge, one of the only screenplays to ever shoot from the first draft was Chinatown and you’re not Robert Towne.

The biggest problem I see new writers face is that they fall in love with every word they write. You can’t become emotionally involved with scenes that don’t move the story forward. Don’t develop unhealthy relationships with characters your audience can’t connect with. If you can’t let go, your inevitable rewrite is going to be a rough break up with much heartache.

You Can’t Rewrite Without Script Feedback

One of the most important lessons I learned in college was in one of my directing classes. It had nothing to do with character objectives, stage movement, or blocking actors. The lesson was on giving feedback and how to take it.

My professor told us that our personal opinions and taste were irrelevant. The focus of feedback wasn’t to tell the director you liked or disliked their work, but an opportunity to ask questions to better understand the choices the director made. When it comes to getting feedback it is critical to be asked questions and even more critical to have a good answer.

Ask and You Shall Receive

Most people aren’t necessarily going to be particularly thoughtful right off the bat. The best way to handle blunt script feedback and to streamline unhelpful feedback is to keep asking questions. Dig to get more information. If someone doesn’t like your main character, find out why. Was there a specific moment that didn’t feel right? Does the character remind them of someone they can’t stand? Does the character strike a little close to home? Try to get specifics. Find out what worked in your story and what didn’t from their vantage point. Ask people to compare your script to other movies. Your Lawrence of Arabia might be read as more of a Dumb and Dumber to someone else.

But before you turn your story upside down, make sure you have a consensus on feedback. If there’s a pattern, as in everyone tells you to get rid of the car chase, then you have a problem. Use your best judgment, and if in doubt, make sure you ask questions and get clarification. Remember, in the end everybody reads a different script based on their personal life experiences. The same is true with watching movies. Sometimes their opinion will bleed into the script feedback they’re giving you. Learn to discern the difference between problem areas and opinions.

Ask the Right Questions

Consider giving your readers a list of questions to zero in on what works and what doesn’t in your script. The following list contains some of the questions I ask when seeking script feedback:

  • Was the story clear? Can you summarize it in two to three sentences?
  • If not, what wasn’t clear?
  • Was the premise believable? If not, what stuck out?
  • Did the characters have clear, concise goals? Were the goals worthy of the story?
  • What did you like the most?
  • What did you dislike?
  • Any specific scenes not make sense?
  • Was dialogue excessive? Did it slow down any scenes?
  • Was the ending predictable?

These should start a good conversation regarding feedback. If someone tells you it was good or that was nice and quickly changes the subject you’re in trouble! Demand specificity and criticism. If you want neutral, go to Switzerland. Another thing to keep in mind- vary the people you let read your work. Of course your mom will be proud of you, so will your uncle. Great. That does nothing to improve your writing. When you hand off your work, start with this disclaimer: Please be honest or it doesn’t help me.

Stay True to Your Vision

This past year I’ve struggled with rewrites on a particular script. All the feedback and notes I received made valid points, but didn’t match up with any of the other notes. The crime writer’s notes wanted more suspense and thrills. The romance writer wanted more of a sugarcoated love story. The budget conscious producer’s notes suggested how we condense scenes, eliminate a couple unnecessary characters and as a result bring the budget down a tad and shorten the production time. The last set of notes from a potential director covered the character’s motives and the theme of the story.

I could rewrite the script to reflect each set of notes and have four entirely different stories. The logical step was to incorporate the ideas and feedback that best supported our vision. The feedback we didn’t agree with wasn’t in vain; it forced us to examine our story through different eyes. It actually got us thinking of new ways to address certain aspects of our story.

At the end of the day you need to trust your instincts. Know the line in the sand. Be true to your story and the message you want to convey to your audience. This goes for narrative filmmaking no matter what length, documentaries, commercial and industrial work. Solid script feedback will make sure your ship is ready to sail before you go out to sea. But at the end of the day, it’s your boat.

Read more from Jill…

11 Invaluable Screenwriting Tips Worth Repeating
Putting Your Best Script Forward
How to Write Compelling Characters
Screenwriting Structure
Your First Draft: The Easiest Hardest Draft You’ll Ever Write
How to Write Dialogue
Writers + Directors: A Working Relationship
Writers + Directors, Part 2: Working With a Director
Writing What You Know (when you know nothing at all)


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One Response to “How To Get Script Feedback That Is Actually Helpful”

  1. Mundy on August 1st, 2018 6:31 pm

    Who can critique a screenplay query?

About the Author

My name’s Jill Remensnyder and I’m a freelance writer and producer based in Portland, Oregon. I dove into film production headfirst in 1998. One term shy of earning my BA in Theater Arts, it seemed logical to put everything on hold in order to write, direct and produce a feature film. The following year I took my finished film to the Cannes Marketplace and doors started to open for future writing and production opportunities.


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