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Sunday, July 6, 2008

Dear Reader

In response to the post by PJ about getting good or bad notes, the Wave-inatrix received two comments way too long to post. Suffice it to say there seems to be confusion about who readers are, what they do and what their intentions are.

So - as a refresher: Readers work for either production companies, agents, managers or script coverage services like The Script Department. Readers are not allowed to be "mean" - ever. It's a great way to get fired. For a production company, agent or manager, the reader is required to simply weigh and measure the material against a template and note whether the script should move on to the next level. A tone of snarky somethingness can sometimes be present when readers provide coverage or production companies and agents and managers. But it really isn't condoned and isn't considered professional. Nine times out of ten, you will never see the coverage written up about your script. You'll just hear "pass" or "consider". So it's not really germane, exactly what the reader said beyond that.

Coverage provided by companies such as mine (I can't speak as much for other companies) is required to be honest and kind - in that order. I consider it a breach of ethics to return notes which are dishonest. If the script is not good, we need to tell you so and we need to tell you why. Otherwise, talk about ripping a writer off - now we've taken your money and lied to you. On the flip side, I consider it a complete no-fly-zone for one of my readers to be unkind in the name of honesty. Readers like that don't work for me.

Readers are not bitter, angry failures, as someone suggested in an email to me. Readers are smart people who are usually also writers, who happen to be articulate and quite skilled at analyzing what is working and not working in a story. Don't let a few bad stories fool you into thinking of readers as the enemy - they aren't.

Where the real damage can be done is when a writer gets notes from a colleague or peer who just might have a hidden agenda - to tear you apart so as to make themselves feel superior. Please note the distinction between professional READERS and in this illustration, a FRIEND or another WRITER who has volunteered to give you notes. Writer - beware. Please.

We've all had this awful experience. And if you haven't - count your blessings. It can be terribly destructive. So be careful who you get your notes from and really search yourself before you give notes to a friend. Where are you coming from? A place of objective honesty and kindness? With a true desire to be of help to your friend? If the answers are not YES and YES then don't do it. And if you are a new writer and don't feel certain that your script will be read with that kind of intentionality - then skip the read and go to a professional where you know that will be true. You don't have to use my particular business, there are many who can help you. It's just at the Script Department, this kind of intentionality is in our mission statement, which, obnoxiously, I ask all my readers, colleagues and business partners to read and reread before every meeting. It is central to who we are.

And how did I come to find this kind of intentionality to be paramount to the way I run my business? Because I have been on the receiving end of cruel, unprofessional notes which set me back months if not years. It is poisonous. Be careful who you work with on a personal level when you receive notes on your stories or scripts. Unfortunately many have agendas that are not so great. Even if it's not on a conscious level.

Please, remember, readers who provide notes for a living at production companies, agents and managers - these are not people who have anything against writers whatsoever. It's just a job. Maybe not a job with a code of ethics, particularly, in terms of kindness but it's just a job. Don't personalize your notes; you'll go nuts and you really do need to grow a pretty thick skin to possibly make it in this rough and tumble industry we call entertainment.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Julie,

Written with heart and brains.

This is the kind of readers we look for. The end of the rainbow is TheScriptDepartment.

Thanks for being a true leader on this topic.

You're really making waves in your first year.


PJ McIlvaine said...

And just to echo Julie's comments. Screenwriting is NOT like a writing a novel. Filmmaking is a truly collaborative process and you're going to have to jump through many hoops. Readers at a production level, agency or management co. are the "gatekeepers", so to speak.

Getting notes from friends or other writers, as I said, that's a different bag.

Readers SHOULD NOT BE frustrated writers who couldn't reach their goals and unleash their venom on other writers due to jealousy, etc. I have gotten "notes" from this kind of "reader" and they serve no other purpose than to destroy and drag you down.

Julie Gray said...

Thank you so much, Anonymous, we try to be the end of the rainbow. It's a lot of pressure :)

First year?? We've been doing this for two and a half years and it feels like ten!