Artist, craftsman, dad, whatever. You better learn to take criticism. It’s part of the job, comes with the territory, and if you can’t stand it, you just aren’t going to grow and improve. Take criticism, maybe hear and listen to criticism is a better phrase. Oh those frail and fragile egos, let’s instead just bellow some, and insist we are right and everyone else is wrong for not thinking how great the film is.
“Winter Money”, my screenplay. it’s an “Indie Chick Flick”, and it is wonderful. Well, I think so anyway, and I may in fact be the only one who does.
So what do you do with your screenplay, your baby, oh it will just make people laugh and cry and and and. Reality check here.I asked my parents to read it. Well educated, well read, and honest. They loved it, said it was like a poem. I can still remember discussing it with them on a short car ride. Really, they said it, and I pushed, what do you think of the characters, do you believe them, do you care about them. Etc. Etc. Finally the damn burst, and the short car ride became very very long.
Now look, you can make films for yourself, that’s great. I can do that too, and they stay in my head, and I enjoy them all I want, but if I want to share them, If I want to affect an audience. I have to write the film, make the movie. You can make films for your friends, that’s cool too. However what if you want to reach people who don’t like all the same things you and your friends like. You know, sitting around the TV, drinking, smoking, watching porn and giggling like a 5 year old on a snow day. Okay, bad example, but I hope you get my drift.
So after my parents finally finished absolutely trashing my screenplay, I had to ask them what was it that they liked? “Well you wrote it dear” was their answer. Listen, you ask for a critique, you ask someone what they think, do not be upset just because you didn’t hear what you were hoping for. Hey it was draft one, and who could expect perfection? Still I thought the dialog was authentic, they said that “No one talks like that”, like the way I wrote them.
I am not upset about hearing the truth, not at all. It’s a journey, and one you’ve got to take. Now there are rules to this, to giving critique.
Always start with something positive. ALWAYS. Hey, make it a game. When you read or watch absolutely the worst thing ever. Find something positive. “Hey I like the title” “really?” “Yes, the font style was very nice.”
Bad example, but that’s the point. Find something positive, don’t lie, be inventive. If it is a hard subject to write about, then tell them they are brave. Being brave is a good one, because most people think they are baring their soul when creating. Congratulating someone on finishing their script or movie is also a good way to begin. Why do this? It eases the person into being critiqued. The defenses drop, and suddenly they are ready for you to tell them the hard stuff.
And don’t smack anyone around either, someone is asking you for help, it isn’t an invitation to make yourself feel superior – I used to give really poor critiques by the way Classic mistakes, lead with the negative, thinking that finishing with a positive was the way to go. Then one day I read some critiques by this guy named Ben “Slappy” White. I asked him why his were so effective, he suggested the positive comment thing, and then suggested staying away from definitive statements such as good or bad. Stronger and weaker work extremely well without being so judgmental. I even started going to the NY Screenwriter’s Collective to improve my critiques. Okay, I wanted to improve my screenwriting, but part of that is giving and getting and listening to others give critiques. Maybe some people have a gift for it, but for me, it takes practice, and concerted thought, and that is just fine.
Hey no one says you HAVE to implement all the ideas in the critique, after all, it is your baby. Take what you like, and use the rest in the next one.
Why do I bring this up. I was talking with a guy at work. Let’s call him GUY. I mean, he is French, and that is his name (pronounced GEE.) He’s made a few films, and I invited him to watch my film Shades. He said he liked it. Raved over the look of the film (dear departed Kodachrome). So be it. The next day we discuss it a little bit more. He says he doesn’t understand the story – because it is M.O.S. he found that difficult. You know, the story isn’t all that important, the characters are what’s important. The story is just an opportunity for us to find out about the characters and care about them. Now I think there is enough in Shades, that you can care about the characters, even if it is a tough film to watch without having people tell you what they are feeling. Bad films are filled with people telling you what they are feeling and what they are doing, Good films are filled with characters who tell you nothing about what they are feeling, but what they do reveals everything about them. Guy doesn’t understand the film, and so even though he admits to being moved by the images and editing, he doesn’t think he should like the film, because he doesn’t understand exactly what is going on. Okay, I get you. I made the film a certain way, and I get the weaknesses, and I appreciate the critique. The film I made after getting all the critiques from Shades – Hellion – that had dialog and a very straight forward narrative structure.
Now Guy, doesn’t want a critique of his films. He thinks one film is bad, and doesn’t see the reason. Look, I wrote a screenplay with a friend of mine. Joe Randazzo. It is called Resurrection of Blake House. Often when writing together, or helping out on other screenplays, we would toss the dumbest of ideas out to each other, “No, No, that sucks, forget it.” and yet, sometimes it was those sucky ideas that would generate something great. If we never looked at them, then the script wouldn’t have turned out as well as it did. Another thing about the screenplay, I got a lot of feedback on that screenplay, especially the title.
You’ve written your film, or you’ve made the movie. Now what? You got to ask people, you got to get critiqued, learn to take it. I know it is scary, and it can hurt, but don’t let fear stop you, you’ll be amazed at just how good your screenplay really is, just hiding behind a few rewrites.
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