Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Friends don't let friends write bad scripts

On Sunday Piers Beckley and I had a table read of a radio sitcom pilot we wrote some months ago and recently polished up. Basically, we invited actors round, handed out parts, stood back and watched, and then made everyone tell us what they thought. I must say, I was very pleasantly surprised at how positive the feedback was. I was all warm and fuzzy inside, and it wasn't just from the post-reading beer.

But being the paranoid person I am, the next day I got to wondering if people were being artificially nice about our script because they didn't want to hurt our feelings. This ties in with a conversation I had last night with some other writers (most of whom weren't at Sunday's reading). We were discussing the various writing groups in London, and I ventured an opinion that many of these groups are too 'nice', i.e. they tend to withhold valid criticisms of members' scripts in an effort to spare feelings. In my opinion at least, this is counterproductive. It's no good workshopping something if you don't find out what's wrong with it as well as what's right. Producers are unquestionably going to point out what's wrong, and probably not in a gentle or encouraging way either.

The counterargument, of course, is that writing groups are about supporting each other and creating a 'safe' and encouraging environment in which to develop. So am I being too harsh? I'm not advocating reducing people to tears or telling them to pack it in and sell insurance -- but I am advocating total honesty. Which is easier said than done when the members of the group are mates. Can I really expect friends to be as critical of each other as that?

Erm, discuss?


Blogger Piers said...

Kinda depends, he says helpfully.

When you're getting writers to give notes, I think you can count on getting notes about structure and plot.

When you're getting notes from actors, you're looking for notes about motivation and character.

As for being nice, there's an easy test: can they tell you why they thought it was good?

A critical faculty should be able to work both ways; and anyone with a critical faculty shouldn't have a problem giving notes.

Because if they can tell you why it's good or bad, they're talking about the work. Not you.

9:58 AM  
Blogger Phillip Barron said...

I've never had anything better than:

"Yeah, it's good."


"I like it."

from friends.

The only table reads I've done were during the production of a sitcom (The Wow Life) which was among the writers. Although we all became friends during the course of the show, it was a work environment: if something wasn't funny, nobody laughed.

So if you're workshopping a comedy, I'd use that as a barometer - if people laughed, it's funny. If they read it all without laughing, or just tittered nervously occasionally, then it probably isn't.

Friends will probably be predisposed to be nice about your work; but faking belly laughs and incessant chuckling is quite hard.

2:01 PM  

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