Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Can't please all the readers all the time

The BBC writersroom is a brilliant resource. Anyone with a drama script - radio, TV, film, etc - can send it in and get some kind of feedback. The majority of efforts get a brief, negative response, while a fraction get detailed feedback and are invited to submit another script. It's one of the many ways the BBC finds and nurtures new writing talent. Every year one or two scribes are selected from the pile and get recommended to producers or script editors.

But there's a caveat worth bearing in mind if you submit material to the writersroom. Every person who reads a script is subjective, whether they work for the BBC, a screen agency, a production company or a literary agency. Readers bring their own notions of what constitutes a good story, compelling drama, an emotionally satisfying journey on the page. One reader's meat is another one's poison, to paraphase an old adage. You can't please everyone.

A few months back I submitted a script to the writersroom for the first time. [It was the pilot for a WWII soap I devised as the final project on my MA screenwriting course.] The first ten pages were considered good enough for the whole script to be read. I got some detailed, useful feedback, along with an invitation to submit another script. I didn't think I had anything suitable, until I heard the writersroom would consider any script over ten pages.

So I sent in DANNY'S TOYS, a short film script of 18 pages that's gotten me lots of meetings and attention. It won first prize in the short film script category last year's Page International Screenwriting Awards, and was placed in the Blue Cat Screen Lab contest. An Edinburgh producer spent several months trying to raise development funding for an animation version. I was interested to see what the writersroom would make of DANNY'S TOYS.

They didn't like it.

Does that make DANNY'S TOYS a bad script? No. It's simply one person's opinion, just as valid as any other person's views. You can't place too much stock in a single response, unless the person involved has the power to commission or torpedo your story. For example, someone further up the BBC food chain phoned me at home to say how much they'd enjoyed DANNY'S TOYS and suggested several independent producers that might help develop it further.

Feedback is always useful, but you shouldn't judge your worth as a writer on the opinions of others. You have to believe in yourself, believe in what you're writing. Take responsibility for the quality of that writing, push yourself to make it the best you can possibly do, here and now. Keep learning, keep listening, keep striving to improve. Don't expect everyone to like everything you write. You are your own, best audience, so trust your voice.


Robin Kelly said...

I really needed to hear that today. I've just read my Sharps again and still love it.

Lucy said...

Amen to that Daddio... Sometimes writers will BEG me to tell them whether I "like" their script - or not - as if somehow that will vindicate their own feelings about their work. End of the day, doesn't matter one inch whether I LIKE a script or not. I've read scripts I've hated that have got out there; I've read scripts I adore that have sunk without a trace. The only use a reader has is in helping DEVELOP a work - and that's ultimately up to the writer how they do that.