I’ve been on both sides of this question. It seems pretty harmless, doesn’t it?
When someone asks me to read their script, I always say yes. As a writer myself, I know it is not always an easy thing to ask.
From there, it goes down like this: They send over the script. And it’s never a good time. I’m working, or in the car, or writing my own thing. Whatever I’m doing, the moment their script reaches my inbox, it’s not a good time. First, I open it up and scan to the last page to see what length I’m dealing with. Then I begin my process of putting it off for as long as I can. Even if I know the writer is good, and I will be entertained by their script. Because when someone asks me to read their stuff, it feels like homework. And it kind of is. For me to give someone solid feedback on a piece of work, I need to read their script at least twice. Then giving helpful, thought out notes takes time, too. Time that could be spent working on my own stuff.
On top of that, there’s always the fear that I won’t like the script. What then? What if the script is absolutely agonizing to get through? Those situations are hard to navigate gracefully. You don’t want to offer so much criticism that they get discouraged (or stop talking to you), but you also don’t want them to continue sending a script around that isn’t ready to be scrutinized.
What seems like a harmless question, ‘Can you read my script?’ can be a lot to ask.
Why do I say yes when people ask me to read their script then?
Because, like exercise, or eating kale, it can be rough to get through, but afterwards, I am always happy that I did it. And writing is such a solitary activity for most, that I try to engage in anything that creates a sense of community. In the end, I actually love encouraging fellow writers, and helping them improve, because I so appreciate when someone is able to do the same for me.
And I do this because I know exactly what it’s like to be on the other side of this question.
I just finished a script that I am relatively happy with. So, naturally, my next step is to ask my friends to read it. Everyone was very quick to say, “Yes! Send it over!” I sent it out to a lot of friends because I assumed, and was correct in this assumption, that many would not respond or read it.
Like clockwork, after the first three days with no responses, I begin to doubt the work. “It’s terrible,” I think, “It’s absolutely terrible, and they’re not responding because they hate it and they feel awkward admitting that. Our friendship will be forever weird because they think I am horribly untalented.”
But then I remember what it’s like to be on the other end of this exchange. I remember the amount of time it takes to respond in a helpful manner, how the script falls lower and lower into the depths of your inbox, until it disappears from the first page of emails, and from your mind completely. And most importantly, I remember that my friends have lives, and jobs, and my script is, in fact, NOT the center of their universe. And that’s okay!
It’s hard to get people to read your stuff, even if they’re your friends. This puts into perspective the position a producer or agent is in when you ask them to read you. When you’re one of a hundred scripts in their queue, all from people connected to them in some distant way, it’s easy to get lost in the mix.
Whether it’s your friends, a producer, or a screenwriter that your mom forced you to email because her sister plays tennis with his mom, getting your work read is just tough stuff.
In his now infamous article, Josh Olson, the screenwriter behind History of Violence, explained the awkward position he finds himself in when someone requests his opinion. It’s fascinating to read what is really going in the mind of a successful writer when presented with this situation.
What do you think? Do you ask people to read your work? Do people ask you to read their work?
8 thoughts on ““Can You Read My Script?””
I do read other people’s stuff, but I’m quite circumspect about whose. As you say, it can take up a lot of time reading others’ material and then providing genuinely helpful feedback, and I prefer to do it well for people who I know will return the favour. It’s worth remembering there are people out there who charge good money for this sort of service, so it’s a big favour to do it for someone for free – unless it’s a genuine quid pro quo.
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