I finally received my feedback from the Austin Film Festival. Each year, the Austin Film Festival hosts a well-respected screenplay competition that includes categories for specs, TV pilots, feature comedy and feature drama. According to their site, they received a “record number of 5,800 submissions from all over the world…[and they had] narrowed it down to the coveted second rounders (roughly top 10%) and the esteemed semi-finalists.” Yes, I was extremely happy to make it into the second rounder list, and I finally received the feedback from the judges. I have instantly learned a lesson: receiving feedback from a competition is a huge help. I can now see why my script succeeded, and why it didn’t go all the way.
Let’s discuss, shall we?
One reader wrote that my script was “unique to the Castle show…a solid genre piece that ties in nicely with the Castle canon…[the ideas] flow well together while still being fresh…the misdirection used[…]is very well done…the structure is perfect…Extremely well done and it flows so nicely…It’s hard to stress enough how well planned out and executed the story was for this show…If I had one complaint it would be some slight oddities in characters…Besides that, however, the characters are fantastically written…The dialogue was great and I could actually hear the characters’ voices while reading…very true to life while being true to the show…Very well done.”
Why, thank you, Reader #1.
Second reader wrote: “Not a very unique mystery for the show…The subplot[…]is good but not woven in like they do in the show…This script makes grand assumptions…a whole subplot is not addressed…[the characters] are close but don’t quite hit the show’s personas…[the dialogue] is too simple, verbose and lacks the right [subtext]…large blocks of text stall the flow…Pacing is off, mostly due to too much dialogue, and the script is probably too long.”
Phew, ok, so logical conclusion: the second reader was drunk when he/she read my script?
No, no, that’d be too easy.
Let’s talk about the good first and why I think it’s there in the feedback.
Plot: I watched, or read plot summaries, for every single Castle episode that had aired or was announced, before I wrote my spec. I did this to learn the show, but mostly, I specifically did this to make sure I did not repeat a storyline.
Structure: I am meticulous about structure. Although certain shows will follow a certain act structure and hit similar beats, I enjoy learning the nuances of each show I spec. I read several Castle specs and for a few, I took detailed notes on who was in each scene and what happened. I then created a key for the different plots (plot A, subplot B, subplot C, etc.) and labeled each scene accordingly. I created story maps for myself and studied the differences, and similarities, between the sampling of episodes. I then created the map for my own episode using those as a guide. I also took notes on scene, act and episode length. Therefore, I am happy that one reader could recognize that the structure is not an accident. I am not surprised that that came through.
Oddities in character: both readers pointed out that one of my subplots did not address the fact that a character was actually dating someone at the time of my episode. I can’t believe this, but this was an honest mistake. For all the reading and watching I had done, I had somehow missed that subplot, and, no other Castle fans/fellow writers who read this script and gave me feedback, noticed either. *shrugs. You must be meticulous. Readers in the industry WILL notice. This was a mistake and hopefully, I won’t make one like it next time.
Keep in mind, that although each reader had a similar issue with my script, one reader was 100% on board to let it go, while it gave the other reader more ammunition to tear my script down. Proving that you know the show you are spec’ing is crucial and it’s so very easy to slip up. Don’t give a reader like reader 2 more to pick apart!
Dialogue: I worked to hit the right tone with the dialogue so I’m glad the first reader enjoyed the voices.
On the second reader:
“Not a unique mystery for the show:” Honestly, I thought about that. I had three possible plots and asked friends for feedback before diving in. The plot line I picked was liked the most. I realized after I finished the first draft and as I revised, that this script was very “clean” but wasn’t breaking down boundaries. I wanted to write something clean and nail the structure; now, I feel like I can write a spec that takes more chances and is more innovative. I think this reader would appreciate if I did that.
“Making grand assumptions:” this was an interesting point for me and I don’t really agree with it. The reader made this comment in regards to how some of my crime procedural facts lined up and linked together. I will, however, be more meticulous next time to consider that someone may take that approach while reading.
On dialogue: Once again, I think my aim to write “cleanly” hit this reader the wrong way. They marked my dialogue as simple while still being verbose (sounds like something that could be contradictory and hard to do; yet, I still managed to do it haha) but I get it. Once again, if I took more chances and reached outside my comfort zone, I think a reader like this would appreciate what I have to say more.
Too much dialogue: a great note to think about. I thought my script read decently quick, but I’ve read many scripts, and I know it is easy to make your script too heavy. Move, move, move, get in, get out, faster, faster, don’t bore me!! These are the thoughts of the reader and it needs to stay on the forefront of my thoughts too.
Length: I disagree with this note since I modeled my script after other Castle scripts; however, since the reader felt that the dialogue was too chunky, they probably ended up with the feeling that the script was too long.
This is my third completed spec (one was co-written and not the genre I want to brand myself with, one was on my own but I see it right now as a learning-spec, and now, this one, which I think I will keep in my portfolio) so I’m still a bit rigid about them. I enjoy deconstructing a show and building it up again with my own story in place. Now that I’ve come this far with spec-writing, I think the next step will be to let go a little and run with my ideas. Watch out reader 2’s of the world…
Now, I just have to decide on the right show…oh yeah, and write a pilot…