Friday, April 8, 2011

Quid pro… que? or I’ll show you mine if you show me yours?

I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately – a variety of stories in different formats: an original science fiction script from a person I’ve never met who added me on Facebook; a novel from a friend (I swear, I’m getting to it Anna!) and a feature treatment from a local writer-director. Various other scripts, both produced and not, are waiting for my eyeballs (and hopefully brain). Then, of course, there’s the review of my own work as notes start to trickle in.

During the Treatment Workshop, when the writers bonded through adrenaline and a positive, shared experience ‘under fire’, everyone agreed to stay in touch and share their work. Deciding to forgo my Goldmanesque pit for once, I took this on board and offered to send out my treatment to anyone who was interested and, in return, read and give feedback on other people’s work.

The response was a little disappointing. To date I have exchanged treatments with the above mentioned writer-director (who was in the other group) and sent mine to two people from my group. There was one other person who expressed interest… when he finished his treatment!

Nevermind. The feedback I received from two of the three has been excellent (thank you Alex, thank you Helen) with little gems from perspectives I had not considered. Which is exactly what you’re after – an insight to how to make the work better. Is the story clear? Are the characters interesting? Is there conflict in every scene? Is the ending satisfying? Does the structure work?

I also enjoy reading other people’s work as it’s a way to hone your own craft skills. As Paul said during the workshop, we now share a common language for discussing and analysing scripts and treatments. So I was pleased when I pretty much hit the 7 structure points in Alex’s treatment correctly. He also seemed pleased with my notes and suggestions. A win-win outcome.

Why the reticence then from other writers?

I’ve been to writing groups and workshops before where people promise to stay in touch and, from my experience, it rarely happens. There are notable exceptions – I met the above parenthetically mentioned Anna in a workshop circa 2000 and we have been friends and occasional collaborators ever since.

Is it that writers are notoriously insular? Is it because we are all ultimately competitors for a finite slice of funding pie? Or is it simply that once you’re out of the cauldron of insane deadlines and intensive feedback, life and other things get in the way? Surely it’s not the old bugbear about people “stealing your ideas.”

One constraint I do have is where I don’t have ultimate control of a script – for example, with The Red Bride, the producers determine the readers it goes to which is perfectly fine. My natural inclination would be to send it to out wider.

With the In Total Unity treatment though, there is no producer as yet, so Tim (director) and I are keen to get feedback as the story is developing at a rapid rate.

Do you have a set of readers you always use? Do you circulate your work? Participate in writers’ groups?


  1. That's my experience too: writers like to be in their bunkers, waiting for the 'right' moment to release their work to the world. Even after a year workshopping stuff on an AFTRS screenwriting diploma, many fellow writers are reluctant to share their projects for comment. I'm with Blake Snyder/Cory Doctorow on this one: share your ideas at any opportunity. Anonymity is worse than piracy.

  2. I like that phrase: Anonymity is worse than piracy! Thank you for sharing. You're doing the AFTRS diploma?

  3. I did it in 2009. And you don't do such courses to learn how to write: you do them to get feedback on your work, to be forced to pitch your work, and to hone your analytical skills. As well as (you hope) to meet a few people with industry connections...

  4. ... and what was the upshot of doing the diploma - improved your project(s) and made those connections? Anything promising in the works?

  5. I'm not writing a treatment for my current screenplay, but I'd be happy to trade synopses for mutual feedback.

    Let me know if you're interested!

  6. Thank you, Ed, you've reminded me I now have to unpack a 25 page treatment back into a one page synopsis as the current version is now woefully out of date. It never ends!

    Let me get back to you when I've done that as there's a funding round coming up so the feedback would be useful.

    What genre is your project? Mine is a conspiracy thriller...

  7. Positive results: 1) working on a project with another student that got a producer interested, and I got an agent as a result even though the project fizzled; 2) the agent then sold the option to one of my course projects; 3) I met producing student at AFTRS who later set up their own company and optioned another film idea of mine; 4) I won a FOXTEL scholarship that more than covered the cost of the course!

  8. Sounds like an excellent result - agent, options and a scholarship! Well done.