Every screenwriter should get feedback on their screenplays. Always. You are too close to your material to be able to see it objectively.
There are so many things to consider such as who you are getting feedback from and their credentials.
What are their respective agendas? Are they well-meaning friends and family who want to encourage you, fellow screenwriters who want to make your screenwriting sparkle (or tear it down), or managers, producers, and financiers who want to make your project financially viable.
Not all feedback is created equal. Some can be a handful of hasty, generic comments such as “I love it” which doesn’t really help you develop the next draft of your screenplay. Quality feedback should identify both the flaws and strong points of your screenplay to help you realize a clear and elevated form of your vision.
You need different types of feedback depending on your stage of story development. Although there is some overlap, make sure your feedback is relevant to your goals.
Here are the key stages of screenplay development and what you should be looking for?
This is the first stage of storytelling. You could simply be brainstorming ideas, fleshing out film concepts or written a logline, one paragraph synopsis or a two-page treatment. Are you simply road-testing an idea to see if makes a marketable film or TV series, or are you rotating an idea through a story prism to see what iteration works best?
If your concept is fairly well-defined, you may simply be seeking feedback to help to expand your idea into a three-act story.
I find that these concept feedback sessions work best in writers’ groups where several people can offer their views so you can gain a consensus of what works (or doesn’t.)
It’s important for a screenwriter to at least have a basic sense of what their story is before discussing it with others for feedback. Personally, I feel you should spend some time on it yourself before asking for feedback. Even if you’re simply testing a logline.
Why? Because you need to anchor your concept first to the story you want to tell, not the one others want to tell.
Make some rough determinations of the genre, main characters, and key plot points. Decide which elements are steadfast and which are fluid. Otherwise, you run the risk of having too many screenwriting cooks in the kitchen and losing control of your story.
Say you want to write a screenplay on the rising sea levels caused by climate change. This is too broad a concept and a large feedback group won’t help you distill your story into a tight screenplay. If you decide it’s a story of an entire class of third graders who lobby their school principal to install energy-efficient devices in their school, you are less likely to go off the screenwriting rails. The people giving you feedback now have something more tangible to critique and their comments will be more useful.
This is the fleshing out phase of your concept into a solid three-act structure. You could have a logline, outline or one-page synopsis or treatment to work from.
A 2-3 page treatment is often described as an extended synopsis which helps your reviewers better appreciate the dynamics of your story.
A 10-20 page treatment is a more advanced document, a prosaic form of your entire screenplay outlining the key plot points, characters, theme, and conflict.
Getting feedback on your extended treatment will help you clearly define the story world, the scope of the story, the locale, time period and story points. Here is where irregular story beats. logic and timing issues and unclear character behaviors come to light. For instance, if you are writing a sci-fi film about sentient robots who attempt to live with humans undetected, you must clearly define the parameters of the story world.
How human-like are the robots? Which humans can sense that the robots are not human? This is all story logistics and world building. If one sentient robot can fall in love with a human at first sight, but another can’t, there had better be an explanation for it. Otherwise, your audience will get confused and disengage. You’re too close to the story since you’re the screenwriter to big up these bugs easily. What’s clear in your mind might not be clear on the page.
It’s also vital to define the main characters and their dramatic roles. Your feedback group will tell you if they’re not sure who is the main character because the story’s point of view keeps shifting. They will also point out unmotivated or uncharacteristic behaviors. Going back to our previous story of sentient robots, they [robtos] can’t strive to understand human interactions in the first act to enhance their chances of survival in the first act, then plan to destroy humans in the final act to colonize Earth without the story organically unfolding this way with sufficient explanation.
If you have completed a draft of your screenplay, you may be ready for a different type of feedback. Personally, I don’t offer first (or even second drafts) for feedback, even if I’ve sought feedback at the concept stage.
Decide if you’re sending certain scenes or the entire screenplay for feedback. Also, decide if you’re getting cold feedback or warm feedback from trusted sources who are familiar with the genesis and evolution of your project.
Decide if you are having a live read or allowing your reviewers to read your pages in their own time. What are you getting feedback on? Problem scenes, the first ten pages, or the entire script.
If it’s the first ten pages, the main point of the feedback is to assess their impact on the audience, Do they feel they’re in the hands of a professional writer? Do they get a feel for the setup of your story and a clear sense of the world, characters, conflict, theme, and trajectory right away? Is your reader experiencing the story through your characters’ perspectives? This is not the same as asking if they liked it. It’s about a tight and rewarding execution of your idea.
At this stage, the feedback becomes more nuanced. You will almost certainly get additional feedback on your concept and its development. New story threads might emerge, higher stakes, alternate endings often come out at this advanced stage of feedback.
You will also get feedback on how the story feels, how the dialog sounds, the believability of the character arcs, tone, pacing, rhythm and satisfying emotional beats.
As they say… it takes a village to tell a good story.