Huge lesson today. And I should have known better.
Here it is: Don’t let friends or family read your screenplay.
There. And don’t forget it.
I have been very private with this screenplay. Actually, I am private with all my writing, now that I think about it. I guess the difference is that with all of my other writing, I KNEW when I had something good. I didn’t need to go to anyone for their opinion or feedback. I was pretty good at giving myself my own feedback.
Over the years, I have had many articles published. I remember when I first started writing, and I was so nervous about sending out that very first article in hopes of getting published. I got a quick email back – they loved it, they were publishing it, and it came so clean it did not need to be edited. Yes! And that was pretty much my experience writing narrative non-fiction and opinion pieces. My favorite moment while writing was when everything would “click,” and I knew the article was done.
But this?? I have no idea what I am doing. I have no way to measure if I am on track or if I need to scrap it all and start over. I have never written a screenplay, and it is completely different. So I am waiting for a “click” that I don’t even think I will recognize if I hear it.
My kids were the first to read it. They read extremely rough drafts. I mean really rough. At that point, I am not even sure I knew what the story was. But we dreamed up this whole Captain and the Greyhound thing together, so I thought they might let me know if I might actually have something here. Both had great plot suggestions, which were clearly needed. But that was all I was looking for. That is the only time they have read it, and truthfully, I am not sure they would even recognize the story now.
Once I felt like I had a pretty good draft that at least could hold together and be defined as a story, two people in my life were anxious to get their hands on it: my sister and an ex-boyfriend. I was nearly sick to my stomach, but I knew that I needed to let this baby see the light of day at some point. And the two of them seemed like they might be a soft place to land for my first venture out into the real world.
My kids and I had a trip scheduled to visit St. Louis, where my sister, her three children, and our dad live. I made a trip to Office Depot soon after we landed to print out the 100-page screenplay. I nervously handed it over to my sister. She giggled with glee. Seriously. She was giddy. I was nauseous.
We were there for five days, so I understand that she could probably not get to it before we left town. I get it. Well, as of today, we have been gone 29 days. And you guessed it. She has not read it. One or the other of us has brought it up a couple of times, but she has still not read it. I wish I could just get it back from her.
Then my ex begged me to let him read it. Even though things did not work out with him, he has been my biggest cheerleader when it comes to my writing. When I finally emailed it, I followed that with a text stating, “I am feeling very vulnerable right now.” He assured me it was fine. He was very excited and would read it THAT NIGHT. Did I mention that he was very excited??
Five days later, I get a text making fun of one of the character’s names. My response. “Seriously? That is all you have to say after five days?” Didn’t he realize that I had spent the last five days agonizing over why he had read it and had not contacted me for FIVE DAYS? I had done everything I could to avoid thinking about his silence.
He texted back that he had just started it. “Sorry! :)” Ok. maybe he did not have the sideways smiley face, but that is what it felt like. He finished it the next day and texted asking if he could call. He had comments and questions. Hm. Not sure what that meant.
One comment was to correct me on the name of a tool. I wrote wire-cutter, but it needed to be a bolt-cutter. Ok. I appreciated that.
But the rest of the confusing conversation had mostly to do with him telling me that he just did not think that a couple of scenes could be pulled off. He could not suspend his disbelief for them (although that is not what he actually said).
You might think that is a fair assessment. Here’s the problem. One such scene is a party in the crawl space under a house that is attended by all of the neighborhood critters: skunks, raccoons, chipmunks, squirrels, etc. He just could not believe all of those animals could have a party under the house.
After a very confusing discussion about this party, and my description of scenes with animals having fun from other movies, he said, and I quote, “Yeah. But those are ANIMATED movies.”
“This is an animated movie.”
“No, it isn’t.”
I think I know if what I have written is animated. Despite many conversations over the previous year about this being an animated kids’ movie, before he read the screenplay, he had sent me an email, explicitly confirming whether it was animated. I said yes! He replied to that by asking if it included real people and animals. I did not really understand that, so I just wrote back that they were “animated ‘real’ people and animals.” Great, he wrote. And off he went.
So the entire reading, he was picturing real dogs having conversations with each other, I guess with their little mouths forming the words they were speaking through the magic of CGI. I am not a big fan of talking animals in live action films. There are some exceptions (Stuart Little comes to mind), but mostly they are goofy. This movie would be terrible live action. And because he pictured it as live-action, his experience of the movie was completely wrong. So irritating. You only get one first impression.
I was left feeling dismissed and disappointed. And suddenly overprotective. I need to save my screenplay for only those who deserve it! (Wow – mental note. There’s a lesson in there for me too regarding where I spend my time!!)
- No one, even those closest to you, cares as much about your work as you do. Do not expect them to make it a priority.
- If someone has the habit of not listening to you, don’t expect them to listen to you now.
- People who know nothing about writing (and nothing about film making) should not be evaluating my writing.
Moving forward to find people who can actually give me constructive feedback. I will let you know when I find them!