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6 Tips on Giving Constructive Feedback to Screenwriters

Screenwriters have a tendency be overprotective of their work, whether it’s their earliest draft or thirtieth rewrite, and understandably so.

As part of the first phase of filmmaking, writing the script can be considered a creative endeavour. Only after the script is realised does it enter the production pipeline where it will be looked at by others with a more commercial—and therefor more critical—lens.

Those whose job it is to comment on the script have their own ideas and approach to doing so, and this can at times be jarring for some aspiring screenwriters and even seasoned professionals.

Any suggestions or notes given during script development should be targeted at advancing and improving the story as a whole, not tearing down its trajectory or validity.

So let’s get into talking about what we’re here to talk about. Here are our top six tips to script developers on giving constructive feedback to filmmakers.

1. Prioritise Story Structure Over Dialogue

At its core, writing a good script is really about writing a good series of interactions and reactions between people, places and events. This is why it is so important for the writer to get the dialogue right.

That said, dialogue is one of the easier areas for script developers to address and tighten up. And in many cases a writer would much rather receive plot-related feedback to improve things like pacing, story structure and clarity of vision.

2. Recognise What the Writer Got Right

Nothing is as devastating to a writer’s ability and mindset as negative criticism. Writers expect to be told what they need to go away and think about or do in order to improve—it is how they learn—but part of the script development process is acknowledging the strengths of the writer.

Making an effort to include a positive word or two on what is working within the script can help ground the writer and let them know their project has merit.

3. Refrain from Giving ‘What If’ Advice

Offering feedback in the form of ‘What Ifs’ is not actually constructive. It tells the writer you feel their ideas need to be completely overhauled in order for the project to work.

Be respectful and limit your feedback to advice that fixes weak points in their story, not what you would do if you were in their position. Writing is hard enough as it is.

4. Criticise the Characters, Not the Creator

When writers form attachments to their characters and vehemently defend what they do and say to the point of exhaustion, you will have your work cut out of you as a script developer.

Just remember you are in the business of giving constructive feedback, not handing down the Ten Commandments. What the writer chooses to do with the advice you provide is up to them so try not hold it against them.

5. Be Formal Unless You Know a Writer Well

If you are asked to submit written or typed notes to a writer without ever having met them, take care with your tone. Be polite and remain formal until you are more familiar with their writing style and the way they like to work.

This is a practical and professional way of dealing with the writer-editor relationship. And once you both feel more comfortable communicating in a kind of shorthand, feel free to break the mould.

6. Always Anticipate Being Asked for Clarification

On the flipside, if you are giving feedback in person, make sure you aren’t talking over the writer or negating their point before they have been given the chance to articulate their point of view.

Take everything on board, say your peace and then give the writer the opportunity to respond in full or to ask for clarification regarding specific points.

And there you have it. Hopefully our six tips on giving constructive feedback to filmmakers will help you out the next time you involved in developing someone else’s script for a film or television commercial.

If you have a finished script and would like to explore the advantages of script development, contact our team and let us know how we can help.

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