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Critiquing a Script

Scripts are hard to hear read out loud because, in the end, a script is an unfinished work. It’s

half a movie. It relies on visuals, music, and sound design to help tell the story.

They’re written to tell a narrative, but they’re also written to be a logistical blueprint for the

making of a film. It’s technical and an important document for the budget and production.

We’re not used to reading this kind of format where the writer isn’t telling us what’s going on or

what some character is thinking. And often, character’s lie when they speak, and that confuses

us even more. (In writing a script, if you can’t see it or hear it, DON’T WRITE IT. You wouldn’t

write, Snow White is sad. You would instead write, Snow White is crying. Write visually!)

As we read a script, we need to take extra time, literally, so we can visualize the story and try to

read between the lines. If you’re reading a role, this is not an audition. Most of the time, it’s a

totally cold read, and we really don’t want you to “act.” We just want to hear the words: clearly

and loud. It’s the story we’re interested in.

In critiquing a script, our first job is to understand what the writer’s intention is. We can help the writer by talking about what we experience during the reading. The writer wants to hear if the intention is coming across the way he or she planned.

Also, when we talk about critiquing, it seems like we want to relay the negative: what’s not

working. But it is equally important to talk about the positive: what is working.

It’s better not to give solutions to problems you see (that’s rewriting), but rather to bring up

things that you were confused by or didn’t believe, or simply state what you understood or how

you felt. Asking questions can be helpful as well.

Ask yourself if you understand the objective of the characters? Were the stakes for the main

character clear (that is, the consequences of not achieving the objective)? Did you understand

the reason behind what he or she wanted? Did you feel the characters responses to

circumstances were tied to the objective and therefore realistic? Was the story itself clear? Did

each character’s dialogue feel unique?

If you didn’t understand the main character’s objective, say so. Then the writer will know that

something may be amiss. Good to know.

If you’re the writer, your main job is to make sure that your intentions are clear. That’s why you

won’t be speaking. You don’t want people to misunderstand or go down the wrong path by

reading the words alone. It’s critical that you’re communicating your story and your

characters in a way that defines your intention.

To summarize, we want to say, “here’s what I heard,” or “here’s what I understand.” Then the

writer can say, “yes, that’s exactly what I wanted,” or “holy moly, that’s a misunderstanding of

my intention.”

Nothing here is personal. It’s not about judging the concept or the writer. It’s about helping to

make the script clear and powerful.

David Stern

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