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09/30/2004 - CRITICISM - TAKE IT OR LEAVE IT?
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You've finished your script and you're proud of your little baby. You've spent months, years even, fine tuning, reading books and taking classes. You've used time, energy and money to get yourself to this point and now you have, in your hands, a screenplay that, you are sure, is going to CHANGE THE WORLD. Excellent. . . but now you've got to let someone read it. And, well, if they read it, they may GASP! not like it or suggest you make changes to it. This is criticism.

Criticism, by it's very nature is there to make something better. Provide a different point of view. Give you a different take on what you've done. Criticism, bottom line, should help YOU create a better script and help YOU become a better writer.

But. . . there should be ground rules first. First rule! Be able to have a dialogue with the person who is critiquing your screenplay. Second rule! Value that person's opinion but remember it is just that, AN OPINION. And, Third rule! All parties involved should understand and push towards a better screenplay and a better writer. Criticism does NO GOOD if it doesn't make the screenplay better or make the writer a better writer.

Just recently I received a critique of one of my scripts and, right off the bat, I was frustrated by what I read. The person critiquing my script did not like the fact that I used "voice-over" in the first few pages and then, eighty percent of the other comments were in regards to trimming this and cutting that. It was only after I looked over the notes that I realized that, for some reason, his copy of my screenplay was 170 pages long. Of course he's looking to cut pages - I would, too. (As a WORD document, it currently stands at 122 pages.) My argument for "voice-over" was the fact that the screenplay is supposed to be a "film-noir" type script and that would add depth and homage to that type of film. Now, I'm not saying that ALL the comments were bad, or out of line, but I would have LOVED to talk to the person and argue my points - be able to have a dialogue. (NOTE: If you do criticism or receive criticism there should ALWAYS be some sort of synopsis page written by the READER that describes the story and characters - this is common with professional coverage. IF you wrote what you thought was a comedy and they somehow thought it was a thriller, you'll have a better idea of where they are coming from with their comments.)

Remember that opinions are what they are: OPINIONS. Just because someone says or suggests something doesn't mean you have to jump and down and agree. In creating a dialogue both the writer and the reader should understand this. When I critique someone's work, I ALWAYS remind them that it's an opinion and they are, ultimately, responsible for what they put on paper. It doesn't mean I'm right and they're wrong, what it means is that THIS is the direction I would go with it - if it was mine and I would explain that in detail.

The person who is critiquing your screenplay should remember that it is YOUR screenplay and your dream, not theirs. The ultimate goal is to make you a better writer and make this a better screenplay.

Criticism is not the easiest thing to give OR take but it is paramount in the creation of a screenplay. At some point someone is going to read your script. Make sure the channels of communication are open, that you value the opinion of the other person and that they are looking out for the best interests of you and your written words.

At the very least, you'll be a better writer. And that's a good thing.

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