Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Someone Hated my Script

When I was not too far out of film school I entered a screenwriting contest. I made it to the final round – a good accomplishment, certainly, but the early rounds were judged by volunteers from the group sponsoring the contest. The final round was judged by a panel of industry professionals. That would be the real test of the caliber of my writing.

The contest did a very cool thing. They asked each of these judges to fill out a three-page form giving their opinion of things like the dialogue, description, characters, etc. for each script. They then sent these forms (anonymously) to the contestants. Before sending the forms the contest coordinator called me to warn me that one of the judges had been pretty hard on my script.

He wasn’t kidding.

The first line of the feedback from this judge was: “Absolutely repellant. It’s hard to believe other people have actually recommended this script.”

Other juicy bits included:

“I would pay not to see this movie.”

“The script violates all Aristotle’s dicta of probability & necessity.”

“Obstacles occur or are conquered willy-nilly with no sense of reality.”

“The whole point of structure in a screenplay is to bring order into the chaos of real life. This script manages to thrive on chaos without ever brushing up against real life.”

“Characters have no emotional reality or believability across the board.”

“I do not want to know these people, much less spend 2 hours w/ them.”

“Dialogue is extremely on-the-nose. No subtext, no subtlety.”

“Characters are virtually indistinguishable.”

“Good title.” (I guess they felt they had to say something nice.)

“Truly an awful script. I wanted to trash it by pg. 2. By pg. 6 I was convinced.”

Ouch. So why do I bring up this scathing review of my writing? Because I won the contest.

Clearly this very qualified judge loathed everything about my script. But at least three other industry professionals thought mine was the best one of the bunch. I’m told the debate in the judges meeting was quite heated. I can imagine.

I have this coverage displayed in my office right next to the plaque I got for winning the contest. It’s there to remind me of two things I think you would do well to consider:

First, no one person’s opinion matters that much. If I really took that scathing assault on my abilities to heart I wouldn’t be a professional writer today. You can’t take criticism too personally. Of course that means you can’t take compliments too personally, either, but that’s probably also for the best.

Second, passionate responses are the goal. I’m sure there was a finalist whose script was liked by all the judges. That script didn’t win – mine did. That’s because enough people cared enough about it that they fought to give me the award.

You won’t win a contest or get an agent or sell a script because a lot of people like your work. You need a few people to love it. And it’s a fact of the wonderful diversity of human taste that when people love something other people will hate it.

So if you get the kind of vitriolic feedback on your work that I did, be proud. At least you weren’t boring!


Sanket said...

Good one. Thanks for sharing it.
We all need a little dose of encouragement now and then.

Sanket said...

Could you please analyze American Beauty , just the way you did E.T. ??

Thanks a lot.