Posted by: steveonfilm | May 29, 2011

Regarding Feedback and Marketing

Bill Donovan, publisher of Creative Screenwriting Magazine and currently the manager of their contests was kind enough to stop by and make a nice comment on my post “2011 AAA Screenplay Contest Semi-Finalist.”

Bill was “…scouring the web and message boards looking for negative comments, actually, because as much as they hurt, they help [them] improve” the contest. It’s good to hear that they take all feedback into consideration when looking at ways to improve the contest experience. My blog came up in his search results, so he stopped in and left a comment.

In his comment he made some remarks about judge’s feedback and the marketing aspect of the “Overall Merit” scoring rubric. I thought they were important enough that I should share them on the blog. I asked for his permission to do so, and he granted it… so here’s what Bill had to say:

Regarding the feedback

This is the second time we have given brief feedback to each contestant whose email address we had. And it is the second time that most of those who received positive feedback were happy with us, and small portion of few of those who received mostly negative feedback wrote us to argue vehemently.

I think the people who wrote in to argue “vehemently” are likely in need of a reality check. But hey, that’s just what I think. I’d like to see them post up samples of feedback so people know what to expect. That might help alleviate some of the confusion. I understand the difference between a few notes and coverage. But other’s entering might not.

Regarding marketability as a criterion:

First, I would beg anyone reading this to understand that it is just one consideration. Second, I have the impression from the comments I see from our judges that they and I share the view that marketability is a function of a story being well-written, vivid, and original. We don’t mean “marketable” to equate with “studio” or “tentpole.” We mean, and I have told judges, that marketable means it is a possibility in at least one of many markets.

I think this goes a long way to clearing up what’s meant by marketability. It’s not that the script would be a huge box office blockbuster, as much as a feasible project that could be produced with the right studio and audience. I see what Bill’s getting at, and it definitely clears some things up.

So that’s that… if you want to read Bill’s comment in full you can hit the link to the post up top. He says a few other things but I took out the points that I think are of interest to most people.

Until next time, keep writing!


  1. When I see writers arguing and whining about the tiniest bit of negative feedback and pinning all the blame on the judges – especially if negative feedback is a common thread in their work – I feel embarrassed for them. As long as they continue to stand in their own way, they’ll never be competition for those of us who trust the process. Shit, none of us like to jump through hoops, but story structure became what it is for a reason.

    • Yeah, I feel the same way too.

      These are the same personality types that complain about not getting promoted at work because people are out to “get them.” When the reality is either the work they’re turning out sucks or they’re so cynical no one wants them in management.

      If you put in the hard work and learn to take constructive criticism, you’ll get better at whatever you do, screenwriting or otherwise.

  2. All well, and good. However being one of the ones who got no useful feed back let me explain. I entered this contest because it was supposed to give feedback. In fact I paid the extra for the judges notes (Which I have yet to receive). Now bear in mind I am a neophyte at this and never expected to win. My only goal was to get some useful commentary. The only other contest I’ve ever entered was the Cyberspace Open, which I did not win, but at least got some feedback on. For the last month, even though I had paid for the judges notes, I continually received E-Mails urging me to purchase said notes with admonishments that there was still time because the judging was going slow due to all the entries. Again all well and good, finally I recived my score 4 out of a possible 30 and a single line quote:

    “Don’t write stories with other peoples’ characters. Make up your own universe.”

    I can only think the judge has confused the MEN IN BLACK premise with my script. THE MEN IN BLACK were not created with that movie/script they are a part of urban mythology or the UFO culture. My story is individual and not based on anything in other peoples creations other than what I considered an homage to BACK TO THE FUTURE by using the DeLorean, the character is not Doc Brown.

    My story did contain MEN IN BLACK, but they are not the characters from that movie or story line. Not having my ear to the ground, I was unaware that MEN IN BLACK III was even being made when I wrote my script. My script is based on something known as THE FREY effect which is that the sensation of hearing can be caused by transmitting microwaves into a persons head. (Google will tell you all you need to know)

    I am not angry that I didn’t win, I am not angry that I didn’t get positive feedback. I am pissed because I think glancing over the script an over worked and harried judge (Which was a short by the way) seeing characters referred to as MAN IN BLACK 1 and MAN IN BLACK 2, they just automatically dismissed it, accusing me to what I feel is tantamount to plagiarism.

    So, yes I’m Pissed.

    • If the judge confused what you wrote, I think you need to listen to what they said and rethink your approach.

      While I’m sure your stuff was original, it obviously didn’t come across that way.

      The title is too similar to something well known to most people. It’d be like me writing a script called “The Italian Jobs,” and then still have it be about robbing a series of banks in Italy with a main character named Charlie. Sure, it could be a different Charlie, and it could be different bank heists, but the similarities are still there and would likely confuse people.

      Give it some time to get your script notes back, the ones you paid for. Read those over. If you still think it was a “harried judge” who wrote them up, send the contest an e-mail with your concerns.

      But, and I’ll be honest here, if they were confused and they read scripts for a living, I’m going to venture to bet others who read the script will also be confused.

      If you enter another script, I’d do it with one that’s not as close to an existing property, thus avoiding any sort of confusion.

      Just curious, do you partake in any writing communities online? Have you shared your script with them? What did people think?

  3. The script was titled TIN FOIL HAT, I don’t know of another story with this title.

    • Sorry, I misunderstood the context of this sentence then…

      “THE MEN IN BLACK were not created with that movie/script they are a part of urban mythology or the UFO culture.”

      I thought you titled the script THE MEN IN BLACK.

      TIN FOIL HAT is actually a pretty snappy title. I like it.

      You didn’t answer my questions though… do you partake in any writing communities online? Have you shared your script with them? What did people think?

  4. The script was titled TIN FOIL HAT, I don’t know of another story with this title. To answer your second question, yes I shared it with a group I belong to SCREEN WRITERS OF BREVARD, the feedback was positive.

    Their comment is like saying you can’t write a movie about a spy who is British, because James Bond has been done. As I said it is unfortunate that MEN IN BLACK III hit the news after I entered my script, I was unaware of it. Also other than using MEN IN BLACK and well known characteristics of same (from urban mythology not the movie). My story is a comedy short, it does not focus on the MEN IN BLACK but rather the people who are affected by them.

    In honesty they are confused because they did not give it more than a cursory glance if they even read it.

    Again, my script is not a masterwork, I suffer from no allusions of grandeur, I am offended and angry because of the write your own characters and universe line.

    As stated I used the DeLorean as it was on or about the anniversary of BACK TO THE FUTURE when I wrote it, and I wanted to give a nod to that. The story does not deal with time travel, the device that the MEN IN BLACK in my story use had more in common with an old movie with Albert Finney(sp) called LOOKER than MEN IN BLACK. Again mine is based on an actual scientific experiment done by Allan Frey if it had been carried into current times.

    • They read it. It wasn’t just a cursory glance. Trust me. They read it start to finish. They may have had preconceived notions. But they read the whole thing.

      Wait to read the “coverage” that you paid for. Take a look at what they said, and then lets talk about it.

      Frankly, John, I think this would make a VERY interesting blog post. A lot of people are interested in what the additional “coverage” services offer with contests.

      I’d like to allow you to write up a “guest post” if you’re interested, with why you are not satisfied with what you’ve received. I think this kind of transparency is important with contests. And while my experience so far has been pleasant, yours has been strong enough that I’d like to give you a voice, as small as my blog might be.

      This would involve disclosing your actual scores, as well as a link to your script. Much like what I did. But it’s up to you.

      I’d like to see this post, and then a follow up post after you get the feedback you paid for… I think this could be a really interesting thing to deep dive as a writer. You’ve got an opportunity to take the points they bring up, and talk about them piece by piece.

      Anyway, it was just an idea I thought I’d toss out there. As much as this blog is about me, I’ve ALWAYS wanted it to include other people. I just haven’t been able to bring others on board as of yet. Let me know if you’d be interested.

      Let me know.

  5. Not on line, SCREEN WRITERS OF BREVARD is a small group local to me. We are trying to develop our script writing talents (or lack there of, as apparently in my case) with the idea of getting some of them produced by the FLORIDA MOTION PICTURE and ARTS group which also has a local branch.

    TIN FOIL HAT was well received by the group, it was at their urging that I decided to submit it. I just didn’t know where and when I saw the AAA contest advertised on the CYBERSPACE open’s website, I thought why not.

    It was my desire to get feedback from people who I didn’t know. Comments like, your characters are weak, your script needs tightening, anything of that sort would have been helpful (providing they said where) but to tell me not to play in someone else’s backyard was a bit much in my opinion. Particularly with Hollywood’s penchant for doing that very thing. Witness SKYLINE and BATTLE:Los Angeles being released back to back, or THE LOSERS, THE EXPENDABLES and numerous others.

    Again this contest trumpeted over and over about the useful feedback they were going to provide, and to my own chagrin for hoping beyond hope for it the possible exposure to the community. If this is an example, then I threw my money away.

  6. I think your idea is a great one, and I’m more than happy to comply. I am not ashamed of my scores. I don’t even dispute that they were correct, however the one line comment I received and the see below on all the other points was very disheartening. I would be more than happy to let people see the actual story, if for no other reason so that others might learn. Again, I do not represent it as a possible winner for the contest, I never thought it would. Not sure what formatting will do to this but this is what I got so far.

    Here are your scores and basic free feedback:

    Title of your script: Tin Foil Hat
    Score basis: Title, Premise, Opening, Story: Characters and Dialogue: Format, Structure, Second Act, Ending Subjective
    overall merit
    score Total score
    Your Scores: 1 1 1 1 4
    see below
    Needs Improvement:
    Don’t write stories with other peoples’ characters. Make up your own universe.

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