Thoughts from the Non-Pro Screenwriter – The Shit Sandwich (or ‘How to give feedback’)

5 years, 7 months ago 2
Posted in: blog

(GUEST POST from Catherine, in response to ‘Feedback‘)

I am not a writer. I am the person who wrote ‘Painful.  Dull.  Boring.’ at the top of several pages of Alex’s script when he first asked for feedback.  I am also his girlfriend.

I am not someone that likes/dislikes. I tend more towards intensely loving or hating things.  I have no attention span, I get frustrated easily and have been known to heckle in a cinema.  I walk out of films. I cannot lie.

I realised very quickly how this request for feedback could be detrimental to our relationship.  Alex must have been very nervous.

We made some coffee, found somewhere comfortable and settled down for the long haul.  I read the first few pages – phew! He could write.  I was relieved.  A few more pages in… I flinched.  I probably pulled a face.  I wrote on the script.  Alex flinched.

My pen danced over the next 90 or so pages.  Alex attempted to look disinterested.  Finally it was time to discuss….

 

Lessons I have learnt from this experience:

Giving feedback

Be honest – but think first.

If you are reacting to something positively/negatively it’s better to first spend some time thinking why it makes you feel a certain way before speaking.  ‘Yay’ or ‘Boo’ is not useful feedback.  What’s useful is analysing why it made you respond that way.  It makes it more specific and gives direction to the writer.

For example –  I hated it one of Alex’s scenes.  Absolutely hated it.  It took me time to figure out the reason, but eventually I realised it was because he had weakened what was a previously feisty female character, just for the purposes of the scene.  This was much more useful feedback than ‘CHEESE’ (which I saved for another page).

The Shit Sandwich.

I work with very vulnerable people in an environment where I often have to give bad news.  The shit sandwich method is helpful because the negative feedback (the shit) is cushioned with more palatable positive feedback (the bread).  Always be sure to give them more bread than shit to build confidence and protect the ego.

 

Receiving feedback

Be open.

Remember, as nervous as you are about receiving feedback, the person giving it may be nervous too.  Listen carefully and try not to react – trying to justify why you wrote something will probably not make the person like it more.  Don’t keep interrupting. Wait until it is appropriate, and then ask questions.  Discussion will help to develop your ideas.

Be positive.

Take feedback on the chin and say that you’ll think it over – even if you think that what you’ve been told is total horseshit.  Say that you really appreciate their feedback.  An ego-boost for the reader makes it more likely they’ll do you a favour and read another draft further down the line.  It also helps you make sure you’re not building a little protective wall around you and your script – if you cut yourself off like that, you’ll never see the benefits of healthy discussion.

 

Further suggestions:

– It was useful reading the script with the writer present, as this allowed me to raise issues when I wanted to, rather than just providing a summary at the end.

– Write lots of notes, clearly explaining what your thoughts.  These will be invaluable for the writer on the next draft.

– Painful. Dull. Boring.  I hang my head in shame that I cut be so cut-throat, but I also am proud that I could be so honest.  It’s not easy to give your script to someone close to you, but equally it’s not easy to give honest feedback.  Resist the temptation to blow smoke up their ass – the more analytically honest the feedback, the more chance they’ve got of actually improving.

 

Alex gets feedback from multiple sources for each draft.  Personally I’ve read about three or so, and each one has got better.  So has my feedback – Now I don’t just write, ‘CHEESE’, I give him an example of a particular brand:

Cheese

Cheese

 

 

 

 

2 Responses

  1. Hi,
    Interesting perspective on giving feedback from someone who wants to (presumably) continue a personal relationship with the writer afterwards. I too have dealt with this dilemma.

    As a writer I have found it almost impossible not to ask that person nearest to me to read my work in progress as I become frantic for any kind of feedback after weeks of cutting sentences into origami pieces and then putting them all back together again.

    The most important thing I want is honest feedback because that is what my writer needs but there are ways of doing this as you quite rightly point out Catherine. If the feedback is well argued I can take anything.

    BUT I don’t think I would like to get ‘Jarlsberg’. This stinks a little. My sympathies Alex. Chin up.

    David

    • Alex says:

      Ha… in fairness, the feedback I receive is always good-natured – as are the discussions we have. Sometimes it’s just easier to take a bit of negative feedback if it’s deliver in a comedy wrapper – like ‘Jarlsberg’…!

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