As a screenwriter, it can be difficult to know when it’s time to seek feedback on your script. You’ve toiled over it for a long time, presumably, and sometimes feedback can send you right back to the drawing board. So, is it better to show your rough draft to someone early to catch problems before you spend more time writing, or wait until you’ve refined your screenplay?
Strategies vary. Oscar-winning screenwriter Nick Vallelonga told me he NEVER shows a script to anyone until it’s complete because it’s his story to tell, the way he wants to tell it. But filmmaker Thiago Dadalt has a different take, which he explains below. I’d recommend trying a little of both to find out what works for you. As with anything in this business, there is no right way to get to a finished script (although plenty of people may try to convince you otherwise).
Dadalt is from Brazil, and until recently, wrote his screenplays in Portuguese. He’s currently working on his first English language feature-length film, which may entail an entirely different draft review strategy because as Dadalt explained, “translating languages is not just about translating words,” but also meaning. For current projects, such as his short ‘Duke’ about an autistic teenager who never had real communication with his family until he started to type, Dadalt relies on people he trusts to read his draft scripts. He wrote 12 drafts before until he finalized ‘Duke.’
“I first always show it to people that work with me,” Dadalt said. “I believe the best feedback is from people that work with you, because they can give you the real way that is felt, and you’re not going to be feeling that somebody’s negative or jealous about something. I usually have my friends and my executive producer reading the script, and after the feedback, I may change it, I may not. It depends how I feel about it.”
‘Duke’ was particularly challenging, Dadalt explained, because of the personal nature of a true story. Dadalt wrote the screenplay after studying deeply the family dynamic and therapist’s interviews. “Real stories are really complicated,” he said. “It’s the hardest; it’s like walking on eggshells.”
He knew the family would need to see the script before he proceeded to production, so he shared it with them early on.
“After the second draft, I sent it to the family,” he said. “And I gotta tell you, they didn’t like it. It was a nightmare. They thought it would be a different tale.”
Despite the family’s reaction, Dadalt said he didn’t completely start over. “I understand, but as a filmmaker, you’re not there to please anybody, even the audience. You’re there to tell a story, and it doesn’t matter how hard it is, how rough it is, you have to say what you feel about it.”
By following his heart on the project, Dadalt said he created a short film that the family was ultimately proud of. “When I showed the first cut to them, they cried. They love it,” he said.
“The key is to write stuff that inspires you,” he said, “because you want to tell something that will change someone’s life.”
From draft one to 100, you’re changing lives, screenwriter!
Courtney Meznarich, Director of Community Outreach