So I'm currently going through the agonizing process of slipping my latest script to friends to read, in preparation for what hopefully will be the last rewrite/polish before it reaches that temporary stage known as "ready".
The irony, of course, is that I analyze scripts for a living, and in theory I should be perfectly capable of telling if my own script is good. And to a certain extent, I can. Maybe.
But like all writers, I suffer from just being way too close to my work to analyze it effectively. Familiarity breeds contempt. I've lost touch with what it is that really grabs someone the first time they experience a story, a moment, a character, a surprise.
I can remember reading an interview with Andrew Kevin Walker years ago, where he talked about hating all of his scripts. And this was after he had written SEVEN.
More recently, Paul Haggis sat through an early screening of CRASH, listening to the audience react appropriately to every beat, and still he was thinking "These fools! Can't you see how flawed this is?"
(Those of you who hated CRASH, and think he was right? Nah. It's a great script).
You get to the point where you just can't tell any more. Which I like to think explains Woody Allen's struggles. I'd like to believe that he could benefit from someone reading drafts of his scripts before they go into production, and telling him "Hey Woody, what if you..."
M. Night Shyamalan too.
So, the script slip. We've had debates about this on websites; some experienced writers claim that an important step in getting to be a great writer is not needing to show your scripts to anyone, to be able to fix them yourself.
Others point out that most great writers -- screenwriters or novelists -- still had a close group of friends they'd slip their work to along the way.
I'm in the latter camp. It's fine to say that you can tell what's wrong with your script and fix it, but a fresh, knowledgeable eye can be a major help.
The secret, of course, is finding the right friends to slip it to, the ones who will give you honest, helpful feedback, and just not tell you that they liked it.
I mean, it's nice to hear "I liked it". But it isn't really helpful.
I'd much rather get a bunch of notes from someone who understood what I was going for, and can delineate the things that didn't work for them.
Then yesterday, I got a bunch of critical notes from someone who didn't get the script at all; clearly he wanted the script to be something that it was never intended to be, and he was unhappy when it went down a different path.
He had some interesting notes, but at the same time it was clear that, as a whole, the main problem was that the movie I was trying to write wasn't his kind of movie. So there was a disconnect there.
But it's tough. When I give notes, I try to think about what the writer wants to do with the story, and where it is falling short. Sometimes I'll give notes on how to make it better, and there are times when my suggestions are probably totally not where the writer wants to go.
But I like to think that I'm being helpful anyway. I like to think that any note can be helpful, if you know how to take it.
And that's the juggling act, both as a note-giver and a note-taker. My best advice to someone giving notes is to be honest; if you read someone's script, and it really doesn't work for you, try to communicate this to the writer, rather than just saying "I liked it".
Make the "I liked it" really mean something.
And, as someone getting notes, it's all about learning which notes to give weight to and which notes to let flow off your back. It's not easy; I've listened to notes from people that sounded good at the time, but which led my scripts down the wrong path, because I believed the criticism too blindly.
It's best to just send the notes through your own creative filter. Pay attention to what the notes are saying, but ultimately it needs to make sense for what you are trying to write.
Meanwhile, I'll continue to sift through the notes I'm getting back, and try to figure out if my script has merit or not, and how to make it work better.
I'm not a great writer yet. But I'm trying.