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Friday, December 11, 2009

FEEDBACK FEEDBACK: yet even more thoughts on giving notes and feedback on screenplays Part III

I thought I would end this discussion on feedback with one last observation. During the discussion in one of the internet groups, I said that in the end, as the writer, it is best if you know exactly what you are trying to do and what goals you are trying to achieve. If you do, then you will be able to figure out which pieces of feedback are helpful and which are not. If you don’t know what you are trying to do, then you might find yourself just taking anybody’s criticism and applying it to your work, ending up with somewhat of a mishmash of a screenplay.

My screenplays tend to break the rules and are often dark and edgy. I know my screenplays aren’t for everybody, but for a small, even art house type audience. As a result, I often get very polar opposite responses. Because of this, I really need to know what I’m striving for and what I’m trying to achieve in order to know which pieces of feedback to apply.

Below are two pieces of feedback I received on the same screenplay from a website called Triggerstreet (a place one goes to upload one’s screenplay and in exchange for giving feedback on other screenplays, other writers will read yours). As you can tell, the two disagreed on the quality. Because of this, I really need to know what I’m going after in order to be able to tell who to listen to and when, and what sections of the feedback to ignore.

For example, in the negative feedback, it’s obvious the person doesn’t like reactive characters and has problems with the subject matter. I know there is nothing I can do to please this reader in these areas (I do know I need to change some names). The second one gave me some food for thought when it comes to the ending. He made me wonder if I really said all I need to say about my character.

1. A Waste I'm going to try to stay away from being mean about Welcome To L.A. but, it may be difficult.

I'm going to start with the mechanics. Several spelling and grammatical errors. The naming of characters was very bothersome and quite frankly confusing. Music Kid 1, Music Kid 2, Music Kid 3, Neighbor 1, Neighbor 2, Cigarette Guy 1, Cigarette Guy 2, Three Way Guy 1, Three Way Guy 2, Street Guy, Guy in Shorts... there are more.
Characters with semi major speaking roles should probably be named. If not, then the characters need to have some differences to them. I felt like any of these people could have been interchanged with anyone else. I have nothing to attach to them or even envision in my head.

The name dropping in this felt very out of place. Colin Farrell, Edward Furlong...etc. I have to quote Mystery Science Theater here, "I hate it when they show good movies during bad ones." The constant watching of good movies just does not fit what so ever. If he's watching a movie, then just have him watching a generic movie. No specifics and no name drops. What goes on in the scenes of those movies specified doesn't even have anything to do with what's going on in the story.

Also, the dialogue was just awful. The lead character seems to be a whiny stuttering kid and when he speaks it's extremely difficult to read. This would be a general example of how the character speaks. " I, I don't really think that that it's a big deal. I'm just, just scared, you know? It's a ne...ne...new place." It usually takes me about an hour to an hour and a half to read a 100 page screenplay. This took me 3 hours because it was so frustrating to get through the dialogue. And I really felt I had to "get through" it as oppose to enjoy it.
Going through 100+ pages of that gets very old very fast. So to offer some constructive criticism, don't write in the stutter. Write it in the action, not the dialogue. Unless it's a very specific word that needs to be emphasized in the stutter. I'd leave it in the action (stutters) and leave it to the actor to stutter as they see fit.

Moving on to concept. It's a porno. It really felt like the concept was just to have a lot of homosexual sex scenes linked in a vague way.

Story. Bad. Again, the idea was all about sex. Whether it be two men having sex, a man masturbating, a man watching men masturbating, it doesn't matter... because that's all it was. The attempt of having a murder spree going on may have made the overall story better, but it was such a small part. Someone dies... no one important, someone else dies, again no one important, finally some other person dies... not important. These were really just used to link more sex scenes in. Had the story been about a struggling writer who moves to L.A. but finds himself caught up in a murder spree, then I might have been more interested. But it wasn't. The murders were even written off as just something that happens. No big deal. Who was it who was the killer? Just some guy, literally. And there ends the most interesting part of the story. No resolve and no importance. The struggling writer portion could have been more interesting, but again it took a back seat to a homosexual sex fest.

Plain and simple... there was no reason for all the sex. The entire story suffered because of it. Had there been perhaps one or two sex scenes, then fine, you can take the more important aspects of the story (the more connectible aspects) and make it a decent suspense flick. As is, there was no suspense, no sense of urgency or importance.

Structure was lacking as well. Nothing stood out to me as being grossly wrong but I do have some issues. First being the end being the beginning, then going back one week. I found it unnecessary. Same goes for the titles of chapters.

OVERALL on a star rating, I give a zero. I'm not trying to be mean, but it was truly a struggle to read. I honestly don't know how someone would spend their time writing this and feel good about it afterwards. Only marketable as a porno. Sadly, porno's don't need writers or scripts.

Now with all of this said, I am going to try to find some bright spots. Because I think it is unfair to just bash a script. The very general story idea of a writer from Chicago coming to L.A. is fine. Then adding the murder aspect makes it more intriguing. Having him trying to battle with his work and for his life seems like a decent idea. Run with it. But try to stay away from so much sex. It's just not needed. A scene or two is fine, but not 80% of the screenplay. Also, Adam and Nick as characters weren't the worst. They stood out as being the only characters with any potential for depth.

I think there is a lot of room for improvements with Welcome To L.A. but I can only say what I think about it as is. Bottom line, this was a very drawn out gay porno.

2. Welcome to LA – Notes I really enjoyed reading this script. You have enormous talent Howard. The writing, dialogue and character are seamless in this script.

I got half way through the script and realized there wasn’t a lot happening plot wise but I didn’t care because each scene was so well crafted and written and the world you created was so interesting and beautifully drawn.

It seems to me this script (and genre) is more about texture and tone than plot.

I sense you’re a big fan of the Coen brothers. Who write their scripts for themselves and no one else.

So I really don’t know what kind of notes I have for you. Perhaps some of the scenes with the ‘people of LA’ could be trimmed and tightened a little and you could, perhaps, give Adam a little more plot to deal with. (A real love interest or writing opportunity…)

The one question I had at the end was – now that Adam is accepted in LA what will become of him? Will be become another self serving LA guy? His whole character arc seemed to be about being accepted. Now that he is, what does he think of it? Will be want to turn his back on LA? Will be allow himself to be used by everyone who has a script in LA (it seems he will).

I don’t know that I’ve read another script on this site where I had so little to say. This genre isn’t really my thing and as such, I’m not familiar with all the ‘rules’.

All I can say is, it was a real page turner for me. I’m not sure how marketable this script is but it’s definitely a great writing sample.

Well done!

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