The read-through went well. There were enough readers that I could sit with my notepad and listen, and spot many of the flaws for myself. It also allowed me to watch for reactions to see if people had the right ones at the right time.
Afterward, I stood in front of everyone, they placed the blindfold on me, allowed me one last cigarette, and opened fire. And that’s the secret to getting a screenplay made into a film. You have to let them kill you. Bet you didn’t see that coming!
The added twist is that somehow, I lived. And in living answered a lot of questions and took down many comments. There was a lot of honest feedback. Martin commented after how well I took criticism, I told him that I’d been well-trained.
In the Radio Broadcast class at Loyalist we’d have our commercials, and other projects, played in front of the class. They would then be critiqued by the professor and all our fellow students. With radio being the theatre of the mind, everyone tried to keep theirs shape, and, sometimes, our tongues as well.
To improve, I had to take, and learn from, criticism. Well, constructive criticism. They’ll always be arses who just want to put you down, sometimes just to try to make themselves feel clever. With them I try to smile, thank them enormously and then toss everything they say. Unless there is a rose amongst the manure, then I pick it. The arses are the few—though they seem plentiful online. There were no arses at the read-through.
I tried not to interrupt and to only ask questions to clarify. Later, on my own, I sifted through everything and made the necessary changes and improvements. The more people criticize often means the more they like it. If it’s total garbage, that can’t be fixed, there’s no point in saying anything. Which is why, in certain cases, being silent can do more damage than criticizing. If there’s something in it you like, you become more emotionally invested in the story and want to see it improve.
One of the things I was happy about was that after the criticisms were made the discussion that the story provoked was a long one about . . . wait. Perhaps I shouldn’t say. Does it give away too much of the story? It might. Best err on the side of caution with this one. We can always talk more after you’ve seen the film.
So with rewriting, the problems that there was a consensus on was where my focus went first. Trying to fix what I now knew absolutely needed fixing.
It was also important for me to know what parts people liked so I could expand on what needed expanding.
After taking care of the things everyone agreed with I went through the individual criticisms to determine if it was an actual problems with the script, or just individual taste.
Fortunately, I had a computer (and a second job tending bar at Bar Volo, then Café Volo, to pay for it), by then so I could make the changes in my room. It’s especially fortunate since I sometimes read parts out loud, or act them out. People sure do give you funny looks when you do that in public places—even in Toronto.
After the rewrite was done, more friends read it, including my sister and other friends from radio like Mark Garrah, who also gave it to his wife, Trina, since she was a big fan of thrillers. I’d later appropriate (with their permission) one of their stories (well sort of) for some of my characters, in a novel I’m working on.
Having friends from a course that trained people in the proper way to give constructive criticism was damned handy. I still needed of more practice, study and rewrites. And to discover that just because I had training and experience in taking criticism, that didn’t mean I was immune to its sometimes adverse effects; when it becomes more destructive than constructive. Especially, when it’s focused more on the writer, or writing method, than what’s written. And when it comes from a person of authority.
While always looking to improve, as a person and a writer, and always wanting to improve scripts and stories, I also try to balance that with the advise of Georgia O’Keeffewho said, “I have already settled it for myself so flattery and criticism go down the same drain and I am quite free.”