Have any of your friends ever asked you to read their screenplays?

It can be a big ask to get you to sit through 100+ pages of story and type things up. It's a lot of work and can take a few hours. But that does not give you the license to be a jerk. One of the best skills to acquire if you're aspiring to work in Hollywood is the ability to give great critiques on people's work without being critical of it. 

Giving script notes is a skill that directors, actors, writers, producers, and executives all need to handle. At some point in your career, someone will ask you what you think. Since everyone is working to create the best product possible, no one likes being raked over the coals for what someone says they did wrong. Instead, you must learn to be a collaborator in the process. But that can be easier said than done. 

Just how do you give good script notes? Let's look at some strategies. 

How to Give Notes on a Script 

Off the top, I want to say that the majority of this article is working to get you to understand the graceful way to work with people.

Still, I totally understand the need to "tell it like it is" and to not sugarcoat it for the people who need to hear it. There's a fine line to walk. So let's look at note-giving techniques. 

State What You Think It's All About 

I like to start my notes off by working to identify the genre and tone of the script. If you know the author's intention, then you can build your suggestions from there. You can also quickly identify what won't happen.

If they are writing a farce, they probably don't need to make it less goofy. If they are making a harsh drama, you don't have to tell them to add jokes.

When you get the tone and genre, you can also pull ideas from tropes they might hit that need reinvention or ones they miss that might actually broaden the appeal of the story. 

Start Broad 

When I give written feedback, I start with a few sentences summarizing what I felt reading the entire script. Was I on the edge of my seat? Did I connect with the love story? Was there a character that stood out?

I like to make sure I add a few things I liked up top, but also start broad with suggestions. Do I think they need to cut 15 pages to make it feel faster? Is there a major moment missing, or do I feel like the first act goes on forever? 

Go Topic by Topic 

Once you give the lay of the land, I like to divide my notes by topic. I'll talk about The World, Characters, Structure, and sometimes the general writing. I like to give a sense of if I am buying the world and the stakes of it.

Maybe they need to establish the rules of the world more. Maybe they just overexplain the world when nothing actually pays off.

When we chat about characters, I try to focus on whether or not I find them interesting. Do I want to follow them on this journey? Do I find the villain scary? Understand their motivations? Are the emotional beats coming together? 

When it comes time for structure, I am looking at the story by acts. Are things coming too late that should come earlier? Are things coming so early that they don't feel set up? I also want to know if I feel like the story is appropriately paced. Is it ever slow or boring? Ever falling apart? 

General Writing 

The final thing I like to focus on is the general writing of the story.

Do I hear the writer's voice? Are the action lines invigorating, moving? Do they contain things that pull me into the story, or are they too wordy and need to be cut down?

You can also point out spelling errors and typos here, in case they missed some. 

Break It Gently

In the end, sometimes you hate what you read. It happens to all of us. But as I said in the opening, people are trying to make the best movie possible. When you have to cut to the chase and tell them it sucks, find the best way to do it. Talk about how they are aiming for something and missing. You might want this to be a comedy, but the jokes aren't supporting the story, and each scene feels repetitive, instead of building toward a bigger story. 

Don't be a dick. That's all you need to do, really. Write great notes that support the way to make the film into something good, and you'll be an invaluable part of any team.

Anyone can read someone's work and tell them how much it sucks, but only really talented people can come up with tangible things that need to change and executable ways to make a project better. 

Want a long career in Hollywood? Learn how to do this stuff. The more people who know you have smart opinions, the more likely it is you'll be hired.  

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