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Dec 2016 0 Comment

Entry 34: A Harsh Assessment of Our Work


Something happened to us as writers. Something unusual.

Our screenplay for Contained was assessed, and heavily critiqued. Like, a crushing weight of criticism. As in, it’s time to get out the ol’ pen knife and start hacking away at your arm that’s stuck under that boulder kind of weight. That’s how heavily critiqued it was.

I know what you’re thinking, Dear Reader, and you’re right; this is not unusual for us.

You’re hilarious! No, what happened next was the unusual part. Are you ready for it? Here it is.

People rushed to our defense.

And not just any people. Qualified people. People who’s opinion professionally matters.

In other words, not just our mum.

This rushing to our defense, this collection of professional and emotional responses to someone pointing out that our work was not ‘up to scratch’ is not something that we’ve really experienced before. Instead, when we usually get that kind of a response, it means the project we had been busting a gut for a few years to try and get up is instead going down in a flaming heap. Everyone around is either saying “no”, or agreeing with that sentiment.

But not this time.

This time, there were brilliant, creative people who were also professionals that have read our writing and agreed to work on this project, speaking up and saying that the assessment was flat out wrong. They had found enough things to like in our writing to agree to work on this project and have their name attached to it. And so, when someone came along and said that the same writing that made them commit actually needed a lot more work, they took it personally. They weren’t just defending us, obviously. In fact, I think they were defending themselves first, and us second. And we loved it. It was an awesome bi-product of this collaborative process that we call filmmaking. Actual filmmaking, with money and expectations and performance pressure and stuff.

Here’s the thing, though. When we first found out about the assessment, we simultaneously found out how everyone else involved with the production disagreed with it. At the very least, people were at pains to point out that assessors from government departments, such as this one, were often ruthless and didn’t understand the requirements of commercially viable stories.

You can imagine how bad Ryan and I thought the assessment was, before we had the chance to read it.

When I opened the document, I half expected moaning spirits and thunderclouds to burst from my computer screen as the manifestation of the hateful vitriol that was contained therein. Instead, I got a good lashing of compliments, such as: “There is a lot to like about this script”, “admirable low-ish budget thinking” and “The prop based plot is cleverly conceived. The gradual acceleration of the threat posed by the leaking container is very well managed but…”

Ah. Then we came to the ‘but’. I paused, took a sip of whiskey, gripped the armrests of my chair – and kept reading to find…

… very reasonable criticisms that were demonstrated and delivered constructively.

Now. Was the assessment written ‘nicely’?

No.

Was it matter of fact? Sometimes harsh in it’s wording?

Ooh yes.

Did Ryan and I care about any of that?

Not a bit.

We know what we can do. We know what we can do as individual writers, and more importantly, we know that what we can do as a team is better than what we can do by ourselves. This knowledge is scaleable, we think, in that the more people we can get to help us, the better our work will be.

Now, this doesn’t mean that all the feedback we get on our work is good feedback. It most certainly doesn’t mean that all the feedback is nice. In fact, it’s pretty rare that it is. But nice? Is that what we’re looking for, here?

Our position is this: if writing is re-writing (and holy crap, it is), then every bit of valuable criticism we get on our work saves us an exponentially greater amount of time in re-writing than the time it took to read it. Or listen to it. So, we could get that kind of invaluable help, or we could reject it totally because our feelings are hurt.

When you’re writing a screenplay for a movie, you are creating a blueprint for a massive project that many talented people will be working off to express their own art. All of that expression comes together to result in the film that many more people will then see. It’s an incredible amount of responsibility, when you think about it, because the success of a film is dictated by the quality of the story above all other factors.

So who gives a shit about feelings? Not us. Bring it on – and accept our genuine thanks in return.

Right after you do, Ryan and I will be hard at work, incorporating the best of your suggestions into our art for our own sakes, and for every fellow filmmaker relying on us.

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