I read a lot of produced screenplays. These past couple of weeks, I've also perused screenplays on Zoetrope and Triggerstreet and tried to get into the whole online screenwriting feedback thing. I won't post my work on those boards but I thought maybe if I reviewed some screenplays, I'd learn to better identify problem areas in my own writing. I tried these forums a couple of years ago but I figured I was just too much of a newbie. Turns out, I'm just a lousy reviewer.
I do read for friends now and then even though I'm not any good at it, but they don't care. My notes pretty much consist of comments like "the wife's dialogue was dead before she was" or "no way I'm buying the reveal". Friends can say those things to each other, but you can't talk that way to strangers on Zoetrope and Triggerstreet. When I'm reading Zoetrope and Triggerstreet screensplays, I can't stop reading to get clarification, ask the writer a question or email a smart remark. It's no fun and eventually, I just stop reading.
I know. Shut up. It gets worse.
I won't finish reading an awful screenplay. I can't. I won't. I don't care if you think I'm a poor mentor. If I start a screenplay on Zoetrope or Triggerstreet and it's clear this person is clueless, I'm done. Not fair you say? I was an immature writer once? True. But I wasn't writing screenplays and posting them on the internet. I don't want to waste a couple of hours reading crap. I don't. Life is short and on top of that, I don't want to spend MORE time writing story notes that (a) the writer is not going to understand anyway (b) will only hurt the writer's feelings and (c) will convince the writer that he is persecuted and I'm an idiot.
I probably won't finish reading a mediocre screenplay. Why? Because I WRITE mediocre screenplays. Even if I finish reading one, it would then take hours to write story notes pointing out what doesn't work, where the story breaks down, and explaining what needs to be done. I'm still doing that on my OWN work. And, as a mediocre writer, I'd be giving my input based on what? My expert knowledge? And I got that WHERE?
Sure, there are simple inconsistencies, unanswered questions, and little problems that it doesn't take a genius to point out (friends do that for each other all the time) but that's not what Zoetrope and Triggerstreet are about. They don't want a quick note or two. They want comprehensive reviews and these reviews are time consuming and require commitment. My commitment is in putting every free hour I have into my screenplay revisions.
I may not even finish reading a really good screenplay. What kind of story notes can I possibly write other than pointing out a minor thing here and there? Again, that's not what they want on Zoetrope and Triggerstreet. I'm not a story consultant. Besides, what I really want to write is "you're a much better screenwriter than I am so would you please take a look at my mediocre screenplay and offer ME some advice?"
So, basically, I'll help friends, but I don't think I'm able to do these other kinds of reviews.
A professional screenwriter once told me that a writer should know his story so well that feedback from others is superfluous. I wonder if that isn't part of the reason (among many) I rarely ask for anyone to read my own work. I don't want to waste people's time. Plus I'm territorial, possessive, and all those other ugly writer stereotypes. Yet, I know inwardly we all think somebody out there must know something we don't or have some secret we're missing.
By the way, I did solicit input on my Nicholl entry from a small group of trusted people. While I got a few helpful comments, overall I didn't learn very much. Why? Well, I wish I could tell you that the screenplay was so tight and well crafted that there wasn't much to say. But the truth is that most of my readers never got around to finishing it.