When you finish the latest draft of your screenplay, how do you pick the right person to entrust with a peer review?
This is a question that came from our Twitter feed — and it’s an important one.
What Is a Peer Review?
A peer review is a necessity when first starting out as a screenwriter. Many screenwriters would be surprised to learn that even some of the most acclaimed screenwriters still utilize peer reviews.
The idea is to give your latest draft to someone that works as a sounding board or test audience. This is before you submit the draft to any studio production company, manager, agent, contest, competition, or fellowship.
With a peer review, you aren’t gambling by submitting to an industry insider that will pass judgment down upon you, affecting your career prospects. And you aren’t paying any money to any script coverage consultant either.
You’re just giving it to someone that either writes scripts themselves or happens to be in the same industry.
All ScreenCraft contests’ semifinalists and above will receive an invitation to a private Facebook group with hundreds of talented emerging writers where they can trade scripts, share advice and ask questions from talented rising peer screenwriters.
Our partners at Coverfly have created a peer-to-peer script exchange called coverflyX. Check it out for free here.
But Before You Hand That Script Over…
You need to be sure that the script is ready to be read.
Before you worry about who you should give the script to for a peer review, you need to ensure that it’s your best possible effort up to that point.
After you’ve finished the script, your first step should be to walk away from it. You need a vacation. You’ve just spent weeks upon weeks or months upon months writing this script. It’s not ready for you to hand over yet. You’ve got some work to do.
But before you do any work, take two weeks to a month off. If you want to start some work on another script, go for it. The important factor is that you don’t think about, talk about, or worry about the script you’ve just finished.
Once you return to it, read it cover-to-cover — twice.
The first is a story read. The story read has a specific purpose — for you to experience the read as a script reader. While you may know the story from all angles, you’ll be surprised how much a break from it will help. You’ll see the plot holes, the tone issues, the atmosphere inconsistencies, the characterization issues, and everything that it lacks. But you’ll also see what works.
The second is an aesthetics read. This is where you do your checks and balances in regards to spelling, grammar, and format checks.
These two reads will give you the information you need to make the proper revisions, edits, and rewrites.
Until you do that, you should keep the script to yourself.
Learn how to master the art of the rewrite with this free guide.
Who NOT to Give Your Script To
When it’s time to hand over your script for feedback, you have to choose your peer reviewers wisely.
First and foremost, you have to select a peer. Family, relatives, and friends that aren’t in the business or don’t practice the craft of screenwriting are usually not great sounding boards.
Most of them will be polite. Some of them will hold the script to a much lower standard. Others will look upon it as the next surefire box office hit or Oscar contender.
Kudos are always great, but false, misguided, or uneducated kudos do you know good as a screenwriter.
You have to find a peer.
How Do You Find the Right Person?
Just because a person is a peer, doesn’t mean they’re the right person to read your script.
Some peers will let the request go to their head. They’ll look upon the read as a way to position themselves on a pedestal with an “underling” asking for their advice. Chances are you know which peers of yours fall under this category. Avoid giving your script to them.
Other peers will take what they read and put their notes within the context of how they would write it. They’ll make it more about the style they prefer, rather than look upon your script with a more objective eye under the context of what type of style you have.
Neither of these types of peers will do you any good. In fact, they can cause some damage to not only your script, but your self-esteem and psyche as well.
You need to find a peer that can be as objective as possible about your work. Someone that can put their own preferences and styles aside. A peer who isn’t just looking for what’s wrong with your script and one who isn’t going to just give it glowing accolades.
Read ScreenCraft’s How to Write (and Assess) Amazing Screenplay Coverage and Feedback!
You want someone that is ready and willing to be honest, but constructive. Giving feedback is not just about showcasing what is wrong with your screenplay. Great feedback weighs both what doesn’t work and what does.
You’re not always going to find the perfect peer reviewer right away. It will take some trial and error. But you’ll know when you find them. You just need to know what to look for.
What You Should and Shouldn’t Expect with Feedback?
Responsibility doesn’t fall solely on the peer reviewer’s shoulders. Half of the experience is to gauge what your expectations on the coverage will be and what you will be able to do with it.
As we mentioned in ScreenCraft’s What You Should and Shouldn’t Expect From Script Coverage, you need to understand that script coverage and feedback are tools, not crutches. You can’t rely 100% on peer review notes to decide how you write your script.
Too many screenwriters rely heavily on writers groups, peers, and script consultants. They will take draft after draft to these people to decide how to go about crafting their cinematic story. There is some excellent information to pull from those notes for sure, but, in the end, it’s all going to fall on your shoulders, and you won’t be able to utilize any crutches if you manage to get that first writing assignment.
You must always remember that feedback isn’t the be all end all answer either. It’s an opinion. You can certainly expect a lot of opinions with whoever reads your script, but you also need to understand that the notes can be applied or thrown out, all depending upon what you believe and feel in your heart.
Finding that special someone to do that peer review of your script is an important step. And as we mentioned above, even the professionals do it.
Find a peer that you can trust. Agree to return the favor if that peer is a screenwriter as well. And remember that the best screenwriters are those that can receive notes and know when to apply them or deny them.
Ken Miyamoto has worked in the film industry for nearly two decades, most notably as a studio liaison for Sony Studios and then as a script reader and story analyst for Sony Pictures.
He has many studio meetings under his belt as a produced screenwriter, meeting with the likes of Sony, Dreamworks, Universal, Disney, Warner Brothers, as well as many production and management companies. He has had a previous development deal with Lionsgate, as well as multiple writing assignments, including the produced miniseries Blackout, starring Anne Heche, Sean Patrick Flanery, Billy Zane, James Brolin, Haylie Duff, Brian Bloom, Eric La Salle, and Bruce Boxleitner. Follow Ken on Twitter @KenMovies