I can’t stress enough how important the very first sharing of your work is. You’re about to cross a line in the life of your project that you can’t ever cross back over. Outside input will now enter your creative process for the first time. And it’s going to have an impact, positive or negative or both. It’s going to reshape how you think about your script.
The initial feedback you get, therefore, should be from carefully selected sources and needs to be tightly controlled. Many of the playwrights and screenwriters I’ve worked with rely on one or two trusted people who have become invaluable as early readers of their work. In some cases, it took a long time to find these people. Once located, however, the writers consider them a wonderful asset and an important part of their writing process--or, perhaps more accurately, of the birthing process. These friends are, indeed, like midwives at the birth of children; they help guide each script into the world. They often continue in the role of godparents as the child “grows.” You, the writer, have to go through the labor, give birth, and care for each child’s development, but these people often play a crucial role.
As Wendy Wasserstein told me, “You’re very, very vulnerable when you write a play, and you want input--it’s like you’re dying for it--the way actors want input. But you have to be very careful in choosing whom you listen to--that’s the best advice I could give you. Because there are extremely brilliant people who could give you advice that’s just not right for you.”
I suggest that the initial readers of your new script be people who have three basic qualities: a perceptive mind, a generous spirit, and a good working knowledge of the medium. They should be folks you respect a great deal, who won’t be afraid to tell you what they really think. And I think two people are better than one for this initial feedback because the second person will tend to reinforce or give some balance to the first person’s responses.
Next: How to proceed with your initial readers