Last week I had a phone conversation with a friend of mine who moved to LA in pursuit of similar goals to mine. He had read my latest project, The Inhabitors, and was ready to give me his critique.
Needless to say, I was skeptical. It’s rare to get really solid critiques, especially in screenwriting. Part of this problem, for me, is not having reliable and knowledgeable people to read for me. Most of the people I know that will read for me are friends with no connection to screenwriting. Many of them are writers or editors, but screenwriting is an entirely different beast. I’ve also noticed that a lot of people who don’t typically read screenplays are swayed by the fact that it’s a screenplay. For some reason this difference in format affects reviews.
Writing groups aren’t always much better. You’ll get decent criticisms on occasion, but because you have to be established in a writer’s group to get to know people and get comfortable, a lot of times people critique you with kid’s gloves on. This is a problem. Another problem with writer’s groups is the time limitations and amount of writing. In most writer’s groups I’ve been in we read at least three pieces of work per meeting. That means people aren’t focused only on your story, if they had time to read it at all.
This is what brought me to my friend. I had critiqued a script of his back in summer and hoped he would return the favor. My hopes weren’t particularly high due to the reasons outlined above but I have to say, dude really helped me out. He didn’t bullshit anything and just gave me what I needed: A different perspective. Sure, he pointed out flaws in the script, many things I had been vaguely worried about myself, and I won’t end up using all of his suggestions or fixing all of his criticisms (remember, writing is subjective), but his perspective on the themes and the story were most valuable to me. As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even 100% sure what my theme was until we started talking about it. I had a vague idea of what I wanted it to be, but oftentimes while writing things change. Characters take you in a different direction than you had originally intended they go. You think of a killer plot twist for the midway point. So on and so forth.
He helped me to realize that A.) the script was lacking in fun at the beginning, which lessened the impact of the second half of the script, B.) the characters take too long to develop and there is a shift in “B” story midway through that doesn’t transition well because of it, and C.) there were several things set-up that never paid off. I tried to be very careful with this script about set-up/payoff, but there were things I missed that he caught. That sort of thing is invaluable.
There are times when listening to a critique that you want to say, “No, you didn’t read it closely enough,” or “What I was trying to do was…” but those are mistakes. I felt like that at times as he went through his list, but I held my tongue and tried to digest what he was saying. Even if I didn’t agree with everything or felt like he missed certain things, his perspective was important for me to see because I only have my own.
Because of his reading I can better pinpoint the things that can be better, and already have several ideas along those lines. And if this script makes me super-famous, maybe I’ll get him a card or something.