A recent episode of the John August/Craig Mazin screenwriting podcast Scriptnotes titled Screenwriting gurus and so-called experts sparked a firestorm over on the John August website. The post garnered nearly two hundred comments before commenting was shut down.
Reading the comments it struck me that there seem to be many writers out there with deep anger towards script consultants. Where does all this hate stem from? I honestly do not understand the vitriol from Mazin and others on John August’s site who attack script consultants.
If you’ve been burned by a script consultant, that makes sense. But in the comments to the post, no one offers a story of paying for a screenplay consultation and not getting anything out of it.
Is this theoretical hate for the possibility that there might be unethical script consultants out there?
Let me end the mystery: yes, there are probably bad script consultants who make false promises and charge way too much. There are unethical people in every profession.
To avoid this, simply do a bit of research before hiring a script consultant. Read testimonials. Contact past clients. Contact the consultant; ask a few questions. And never pay more than you can afford.
That’s pretty much it.
Oh wait. Two more questions are relevant. The first:
Should I get notes on my screenplay?
The short answer: Yes.
The slightly longer answer: Hell yes!
I get notes on my scripts. John August gets notes. When we had Black List (Black Listed?) screenwriters Nick Palmer and Jeremiah Friedman on Scriptcast, they spoke about getting notes on their script Family Getaway from many different sources, rewriting the heck out of the darn thing.
I don’t know any serious screenwriter who doesn’t get multiple sets of notes before sending a draft out to agents, managers, producers, and certainly before shooting the script themselves.
For my own writing, I get regular feedback from folks in my writers group and friends in the industry. Good writing takes many drafts. Many drafts takes many notes.
The second question:
Is it worth it to pay someone to give you notes?
Anyone can give you their thoughts on your work, but screenplays look and read slightly different than other forms of writing. For quality feedback, you probably want someone who has read a few screenplays at the very least. Ideally, you want people who have given notes before.
While there are a few online options* if you don’t know anyone with experience reading screenplays, and you want good notes, you may have to buy them.
If you live in LA, have a close-knit circle of friends who have experience reading and giving notes on screenplays (professional screenwriters, readers, assistants, executives, etc.) then you can probably get away with not paying a script consultant for notes.
However, many people with those resources (myself included) still end up using script consultants.
Why do I still pay for notes? Because I want good notes in a timely manner. When I pay an experienced script consultant, I know they will read the entire script and give detailed feedback. When I ask a friend to read my script, sometimes it is fast and thorough, but other times it is not. (When this happens, I try not to read too much into what it says about our friendship…)
Also, when I rewrite a script many times, I’d prefer not to bore my friends by having them reread draft after draft. I want fresh eyes and new ideas on how to improve it.
So I give my script to script consultants who give professional quality notes. I make sure that consultant has a good reputation, and I certainly don’t spend money on notes I can’t afford.**
Okay, that’s really it. Hope it helps!
*There are a few websites that have popped up to help writers connect with one another and give feedback on each others work. I’m all for connecting writers, but how can you trust that these notes are good? Perhaps they are, but just because you’ve written a screenplay doesn’t mean you know how to give good, constructive feedback. So while connecting with other writers is fantastic in so many ways, it’s a bit of a crap shoot when you want to get good notes.
**Because I offer my own screenwriting services I am a bit reluctant to name the script consultants I use for my own work. But if you email me, and ask nicely enough, I’ll probably give up the names. Yes, I’m a push-over.