Often, I’m asked to provide my opinion, insight or what we call in the screenwriting industry, “feedback” on a particular screenplay, logline or project concept. I’m always very willing to oblige, but more often than not, I realize it was a mistake.
You see, in most of THESE cases, the writer wasn’t asking for MY opinion. They were asking me to echo THEIR opinion. They were really asking me to agree with what everyone else said about their screenplay- even though “everyone else” was their mother, sister, husband and best friend.
Had I known what they really wanted, I probably would have continued to enjoy the occasional short conversations and updates on their social media pages, and would still be responding to their numerous questions (even though they wanted to argue the responses when they admittedly knew nothing at all about the subject of the question to begin with).
You see, here’s the thing: I thought if someone asked me what I thought about something, they were truly interested in what I thought or what I had to say. If I’m asked to read the first ten pages of a screenplay and provide feedback, which we do all of the time for free, I generally address the screenplay in sections: logline, concept, title, character names, structure, formatting, marketability, etc. and close with more specifics about any of the more major issues with recommendations on correcting all of the above. I also include some personal thoughts as well. Sometimes, a screenplay may be written horribly wrong (the writer’s first attempt; the writer never had any training or never read a screenwriting book; etc.), but the overall concept has potential and the writer may have had a solid grasp of writing “funny”; always helpful in a comedy.
It’s never my intent to purposely set out to damage one’s inspiration, call the dog fugly, or insult one’s religion. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve done any of that- and I’ve seen some damn fugly-looking bowsers! You might think this is what happened, though, by some of the responses we’ll get in return.
The height of this insanity came recently, not in the form of a screenplay review, but as a result of a question. An actual, living, breathing OPINION question, on a social media page, and in a screenwriter’s group. The question:
“What did you think of the movie “District 9”?
That was it.
No addendum, no hidden agendas.
To me, it can be paraphrased “What is your opinion about the movie “District 9”? Without really reading beyond the first couple of responses- because an opinion question is NOT dependent on anything written beforehand so it is virtually irrelevant to me- I responded. I wrote two very short sentences about my personal experience of having seen this movie with my daughter soon after it came out.
You would think I threatened the Pope, or Obama (or is that the same thing?). The responses to MY response was incredible. Not so much in numbers; a handful, perhaps, directly mentioned me or what I said specifically. What was hard to believe was the tone and vitriol about my response. After reading the fifty or so previous responses, my opinion was clearly in the majority (ironically, though, NOT far different from the original poster of the question).
However, it wasn’t acceptable that my opinion was different- no. It was along the lines of maybe I thought I “may have gone to see a TV drama”. Yes, that’s right! My daughter and I drove for several miles to a movie- in a theater- paid the $20, sat in amongst a theater filled with sweaty strangers, thinking that I was really at home watching CSI. Of course!
One person suggested I was a “xenophobe”. So, by that rationale, we can test everyone to see if they are, in fact, evil xenophobes by forcing them to watch “District 9” giving them the reaction dials on whether or not they enjoyed it. From there, we can either set them free, or have them executed. That’s sounds sane.
The other responses were quite similar, but the point has been made.
As screenwriters, you have to develop a thick skin to legitimate feedback. The key to this success, and when you know you’re getting to be a good writer, is when the positives clearly outweigh the negatives, AND most of the feedback was given to you by people with no axes to grind, no skin in the game, not pushing a service or a product AND who don’t really care if you like them or not afterward. When you get to that point, then you’re on to something.
In the future, if you ask for feedback- on ANYTHING- tell me if you REALLY want to know the truth, or only want to hear the truth as YOU see it.
I’ll live longer.