ATQ40: What’s the best way to get script feedback?

How do you like to give/receive feedback and notes on a script? Do you use questions, like Adrian Mead suggests: his 'Power of 3' idea? Are there certain things that can really help (or screw up) writers?

Jonathan Young
jyoungcreative.info

Adrian's Power of Three idea is pretty close to a lot of professional script development processes.

The Power of Three

    Basically:

    Find three people to read your script.

    (Professionals should know how to give notes already, but if you are pulling favours from your friends you may have to educate teach them to give notes by asking questions about why things happen instead of telling you they think the story should be. It's very, very important that other people don't start driving your story.)

    Once they've read it, see them individually, to stop strong personalities dominating.

    Work out the issues they all have in common with your script.

    Go away. Address those issues.

    Repeat twice more.

    So three readers, three rewriters, leading to, er, four drafts in all.

    I have no doubt that following this method will strengthen your script.

    Adrian is here if you want to ask him more.

    Script feedback and notes in production

    When you're in production on a TV show a similar thing happens.

    In an ideal world the script editor will write their own notes, gather notes from the producer, sometimes the executive producer, and, as production approaches, from the director.

    The editor will combine all these different viewpoints into one set of consistent notes, and they (and often the producer) will meet with the writer face to face discuss them.

    The writer goes away, writes another draft.

    The process gets repeated two, three, four more times.

    Three, four, five drafts would be a reasonable target to get a script ready for production.

    There'll be polishes on top of that, there always are. But ideally that's the process.

    Reality of script development

    Of course the pressures of production can take you a very long away from this ideal situation, and when things get tight it can often feel like the production company is totally steering the story.

    Notes are often brief, to the point, and given via email.

    Later on you may even find yourself being given a beat-by-beat version of your story that they have concocted and they want you to write.

    That’s a very difficult situation.

    Bottom line, finding yourself in this position can mean several things:

    The production team is inexperienced enough to realise that asking the right writer the right questions is by far the best way to get to a great script.

    Or they do know what they are doing, but they are unhappy with what you have delivered and they have lost faith to the point that they don't feel you can make it 'better' (ie the way they want it) without help.

    Or simply that they have run out of time and the shoot is approaching fast and they feel that direct approach that's the only way they will get a script they want to shoot.

    Or they feel the communication between you and them has broken down.

    Though this is a very difficult situation, and can cause a lot of frustration and tension (on both sides it's fair to say!) it's one you'll be lucky to escape at some point in your career.

    Script development for the new writer

    I'd strongly recommend repeating your own version of the Power of Three with the readers you have available.

    And if some of them are professional script readers, with a strong background of developing scripts for broadcast drama, all the better.

    Read more on dealing with big script notes.

    Here are some general comments on script notes.

    My thoughts on what you do if you believe the production team is really damaging your script.

    Find out about our own script-reading service.

    Read more about the realities of the production process in our monthly newsletter Open Door.

    And finally, just in case you haven't seen it, there is this. The finest depiction of an editor meeting a writer I've ever seen.

    ATQ41: “What is the preferred amount of episodes for a TV serial?”
    ATQ39: Should I pitch a single drama or a series to a production company?

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