Home Services Story ScripThink Joe Gilford

Whenever we send out a script for evaluation there’s always the overwhelming temptation to adapt to the latest news.  Whoever was the last to comment on it usually dominates your thinking.

Unless you’re in contract with that last person(a studio person; the actual producer or director of the film), this is nearly always a mistake.

Because screenplays don’t have an absolute market value; because they are works of art with no intrinsic material value, it’s almost impossible to say “This script is good,” even if it is. “Titanic” was turned down by every major studio for six years. Ben Stiller comedies are written, green-lighted and put into production in less than a year.

It only reinforces one of Hollywood’s most famous quotes—from William Goldman the great, Oscar winning screenwriter of “Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid” and “Marathon Man”

“Nobody knows anything.”

With this in mind, it’s important that as you collect commentary on your script that you harvest only what you can use. You will find as much disagreement as there are people who give it a read. However, when there is persistent agreement or a repeated question, that’s when you can focus on a problem and make the proper correction.  My favorite axiom–-when enough people have the same criticism:

“When 12 Russians tell you you’re drunk–you better lie down.”

It’s also important to show it to only a handful of people. When you’re in your early drafts, show it to between 3-6 people who have diverse backgrounds, experience and professions. These individuals should overlap in these categories:

 Are filmmaking professionals

 Have no filmmaking or movie or show business experience.

 Who genuinely like movies and can compare your movie to others in the same category.

 Enjoy fictional literature

 Have the ability to give you constructive criticism.

--But stay away from people who always give you positive comments; who are afraid of criticising you--who can’t tell you the TRUTH.

The most unhelpful comment I can hear is “I always love ALL your work. This is fantastic.” While this is something you will probably hear from a loving friend or parent, the person you most want to hear from is the smartest in the room. The one who says: “This is good work. Now if you could staighten out that beat when the guy finds the breifcase...” That’s the person who’s actually paying attention.

Most of all you want people who READ. But you don’t want only professionals. Professionals tend to get offended at flaws in your script. They take screenplays too seriously—but they really know what makes a screen story (most of the time). Your “civilian” friends will give you that much needed “demographic” point-of-view—they are the REAL movie audience, but they may not be able to really articulate the problem outside of saying  “I didn’t get when…” or something like that.  But it’s still something that you should listen to.

So, don’t believe everything you hear about your script, but you have to be open to the flaws. What you want is a SCRIPT THAT WORKS. Like a chair you can sit in, it has a function in this world .…and you should be open to everything, without actually using every bit of criticism you receive.

“They’re only movies. They will neither save us, nor destroy us.”

                                                                              -- Dalton Trumbo


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Avoid heartbreak: Show Your Script to the Right People