Let's talk about feedback. Let me start by saying that there are not many people who love the feedback process (and I haven't met any of them). It's tough to open yourself up to critique for something that is personal to you. It still has to happen though. There is no way to avoid it. OK, there is one way, but that is to never show your script to anyone and that kind of defeats the purpose of being a writer. What it really comes down to is that feedback is the suggestion of one person trying to guess what another person (the one with the check) is going to like, and everyone likes different things.
Let's take our script, The Lucky Ones, as an example. The Lucky Ones is a zombie movie (I know, everyone who has ever written one swore at one point they weren't ever going to write a zombie movie) that focuses on the guilt of the survivors and the different ways they deal with it. Zombies were never meant to be the stars of the film. It is a heavy action piece that really could be set against any world breaking backdrop. The feedback we have received has run the absolute gamut of opinions, from "this is a genre redefining script" to "you haven't done anything new in the genre". Love it or hate it there didn't seem to be any in between and it took me many months to figure out how to interpret where they were coming from. Let's take a look at some of the feedback we have received:
- From a well regarded screenplay competition we heard "This script is wonderfully textured where even the minor characters are rich and detailed..." Perfect score 100/100
- From a different judge in the same contest "The characters are stock and thin with many seeming to only be there to die" 68/100
- From one reader "Becca (a child) needs to have some rough edges added as young characters there only for innocence can become grating on an audience". The reader then made some excellent suggestions we took to heart and made some changes to Becca to grow her up a little without making her a stock "older than she should be thanks to the crumbling world" kid.
- From another reader, after we made the changes "Becca is too grown up. A character like hers needs to be kept innocent to show there is still hope in the world.
- Another comment was "This script is too funny to be The Walking Dead and too serious and violent to be Zombieland. That was meant to be a ding but we took it as a compliment because we weren't trying to make either of those, they've already been made.
- One reader told us that our main character was a thoroughly unlikeable brooding asshole with no arc that no one would be able to relate to.
- Another told us that the main character is a thoroughly fascinating brooding antihero with the best character arc in the story. (At least they agreed on brooding)
- 99.99% of readers gave us high marks for strict adherence to the three act structure while one person actually told us to research what the three act structure is.
It's funny to look back on now but it's a hell of a roller coaster ride to hear one person gush over and over about your script only to hear the next person savage it while it's happening. But that is the nature of this business. Obviously many of these notes are mutually exclusive and cannot all be executed. Becca cannot exemplify Innocence Lost and Innocence Personified at the same time. So what did we do? First we realized how the feedback was falling. The people who hated the script were looking at it as strictly a zombie script and were checking off the boxes of what they have seen before (which is pretty much everything if we can all be honest). The ones who loved it were looking at it as a character study put against a zombie backdrop, which is what we were trying to do so we knew our message was being received.
That at least gave us a baseline for how to sort through the feedback. Of all the feedback we received I would say we executed about 70% of the suggestions and it is a better story because of it. The key was finding that fine line between opening up to accept outside ideas and knowing when to stick to the core of our story and set other feedback aside. Can I offer you some magic formula that will allow you to figure out where that line is? No, I can't. But if you open yourself up, set aside your ego and take a good objective look at the feedback I'm sure you'll find that line for yourself.