How do you make sure you've got a great script that is really worth shouting about? Whether you're convinced that you've written an Oscar winning screenplay or you think your script is terrible, you need to get the opinions of others to be sure either way.
Script feedback is an essential tool for screenwriters to know how they're doing and what they need to do to get better.
1) Enter your script into screenwriting contests. Your script will be judged alongside those of your peers, and ranked accordingly. Of course, if it's a small contest with submissions in the hundreds, rather than thousands, you've got a better chance of placing highly. Be warned though, if you're only being compared to a small number of others it may not be a true indicator of your rank within the screenwriting community. Bear in mind also that contests can be subjective; a script that places highly in one may not do so well in another. That said, if you're placing highly in the most prestigious contests, like the Nicholl Fellowships, it's a pretty good indicator of your progress. If on the other hand you're consistently not getting past the first sift in a multitude of contests, it's time to find out why.
2) Send your script to a production company. If you think your script is ready you can always send it to a producer and find out if they agree. I've compiled a list of UK film and television production companies that accept unsolicited scripts here. If you know of something similar for U.S companies I'd love to hear about it. The other way to get your script read by producers is to query them and get them to agree to read your script. Even if you do persuade a producer to read your script, the disadvantage of this approach is that you're likely to just get a 'thanks but no thanks' and you'll have no idea why or what you can do to improve your script. This one also comes with a huge health warning - you only get one chance to impress a producer so this approach is only advisable if you've already had great feedback on your script.
3) Peer review. Fellow screenwriters can be helpful, constructive and supportive, though there's always chance that they might be bitter, negative and unhelpful! Many writers find the feedback of fellow screenwriters incredibly valuable, whether as part of a writers group near them, a writing group online or from a screenwriter they've bonded with on Twitter. Do beware though that not all writers are great script editors. It's also worth bearing in mind that you may be judged by writers at the same level as you so they might not have the experience and skills you need to move your writing on. The huge advantage of this kind of feedback though is that it's usually free and is usually a reciprocal arrangement whereby you read their scripts in return, which means you also get to improve your script analysis skills which you can then use to improve your own script.
4) Script coverage assesses your script as if it is being read and rated by a studio reader. It's great for knowing where you rank but the feedback can be pretty blunt and there is limited emphasis here on offering you solutions to help you improve your script. There are a lot of people offering this kind of service to new screenwriters so make sure you research thoroughly before you spend your money. Given that the value here is in a studio-like assessment of your script, make sure the person offering this service has recent credits reading for studios or production companies who have made things you've at least heard of. Watch out for those who merely list the big studios they've worked for but don't tell you what they did there. If they don't say that they were a script reader, script editor or development executive they probably weren't, and someone who made the tea and or was the office runner isn't necessarily qualified (at least not yet) to judge your script.
5) Script notes / script analysis from script consultants offer a similar level of assessment to Script Coverage (a term not as widely used in the UK) but usually also offers solutions. The feedback should assess the strengths and weaknesses of the script and, crucially, suggest specific things you can do to address those weaknesses. Again, make sure that you research the person offering this service. Check out their script reading credits and, since they're going to be offering constructive criticism, check out testimonials from writers who have worked with them.
6) Script editing notes / development notes should offer both an indication of how good your script is (though you may have to read between the lines for it) and, crucially, detailed notes on what you need to do to improve it. Script editing is a different skill to script reading and if you're going to spend money on this level of feedback make sure the person you're paying has industry experience. That experience may be in production, in which case they should be credited as the script editor on the film or tv show's IMDb page, or it may be in development, in which case they will have been a Development Executive or similar in a significant studio or production company whose credentials you can check out.
7) Mentor. You may be lucky enough to be taken under the wing of a very experienced screenwriter who is prepared to give their time for free to help you develop as a screenwriter. This kind of mentoring is hugely valuable but hard to get. Alternatively, you can pay for a mentoring service which usually combines detailed script notes, with follow-up discussion, on your projects as well as career guidance and advice. I offer a mentoring service at Script Angel but only take on a handful of clients each year because it's important to be able to go above and beyond in this role as personal script editor, career guidance counselor, accountability buddy (deadlines are key!) and supporter. I think it's a very nurturing role and one I enjoy enormously, but whatever kind of mentor you're looking for make sure it's someone you really click with if you're to get the most out of this investment of your time and money. Again, the key is doing your homework on both their script development credits and what writers say about working with them.
Once you're a commissioned writer, script feedback will be a regular part of your writing process so why not use it now to make sure your spec script is the best it can be.
- More Script Angel articles by Hayley McKenzie
- Indievelopment: Taking Feedback Notes
- Balls of Steel: Getting Honest Feedback
- Script Angel: The Script Development Process
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