Online Peer Review

With all the discussion about Abbot Management and sending your stuff off for coverage (free or otherwise), I got an email with a great, great question: how do you know when your script is ready? For writers without a network of other writers to help out with peer review (and even for writers with such a network…), this is a big question. At some point you want educated and credible feedback, but you don’t want to waste a first impression with a production company or agency or pay money to enter a contest with an early draft that you’re pretty sure needs some work. A writers’ group or writing classmates are great, but these aren’t always available.

So what do you do? I recommended to the emailer – and I recommend to everyone else – to go to www.zoetrope.com. The zoetrope site is part of Francis Ford Coppola’s domain, and basically what you do is upload scripts for other people to read while you read other people’s work in return. You read and give feedback on 4 or 5 scripts for each one you can upload, so usually you get at least 3 or 4 sets of comments on your work. Nobody sees the script comments except for the writer, and then you can email the reviewer if you like, ask questions, even strike up a friendship. There is a real culture of helpfulness there – there is nothing to gain from being snarky or mean – and all the readers are writers themselves. It is free. Plus Coppola has a screenplay contest there once or twice a year if you want to pay to enter that. I have not used it for a few years, but I will definitely be jumping back in there to have Dead Guy and Psycho Ex looked at before I send them out. Another very cool feature is that the site is not just for screenwriters – there are similar areas to exchange and give feedback on novellas, poetry, photos, graphic design,…

For me, the real secret weapon of the site (and of writers’ groups in general) is the reading you do in return for having your stuff looked at. Just becoming familiar with other peoples’ scripts, how they do this and that, discovering good practices and recognizing what NOT to do is invaluable. The reading is just as important as the writing, if not more. It is relatively easy to find classic, successful, published screenplays like Casablanca and Chinatown and whatever, but it is my opinion that reading unproduced, in-progress scripts, scripts written by people just like me and you, is much more valuable and helpful. Plus you can meet people, set up writing groups, etc. And getting feedback from fellow writers can open up new avenues for you and your story and then help you know when your work is ready to show.

Another site I tried years ago, but one that I would recommend you avoid, is triggerstreet.com. It was set up years ago in a frenzy of hype (due to Kevin Spacey’s involvement) with an idea similiar to that behind zoetrope’s, where you submit scripts and read other people’s stuff. The problem is that it is set up (or was, I have avoided it for years) as a competitive thing where people are snarky. Again, I haven’t used it in years, and maybe they changed it, but it became a competitive thing where you could make the ratings of your script look better by trashing other people’s scripts and giving them low marks, so that’s what people did. Also the script reviews were public – everybody could see them – so being critical and harsh became a competitive sport. There is some use of competitive rankings on zoetrope but the whole idea is just so different – the readers are even rated and rewarded for being the most helpful, you can seek out and talk with the best-rated readers, etc.

Anyone have any other sites they can recommend? Celtx, that free screenwriting software I mentioned a while back, appears to have some kind of community feature, but I’ve never tried it out. Or maybe people have better things to say about triggerstreet. Again, it’s been years since I went over there, so it may have improved.

So check out zoetrope and get your stuff read!

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3 Responses to Online Peer Review

  1. mcamp says:

    Robb,

    I tried triggerstreet also, and quit right away, its just like you said. I usually use hollywood lit sales (pay) for coverage and have always benifited from it, great readers there. I know some people can’t afford it. I have never researched other avenues for free coverage, I hate sending out my new ideas for any and all to look at (maybe a little paranoid). One thing I do is download and read a lot of block busters, at least three per week. The one thing I found is that all the great movies have a lot of white paper. short dialog, short action, no camera direction, and few parenthetical direction. if I find a good coverage place, free, I’ll be sure and post it.

    thanks for your blog

    mike

  2. Robin Mizell says:

    Robb:

    Thanks for giving permission to reprint a portion of this post in the new Writer’s Digest Books guidebook for screenwriters due to be published at the end of 2008. I have your blog in my RSS feed now. Keep the good information coming!

  3. Robb says:

    Any time Robin!

    And thanks Mike, Robin, and everyone else for checking out the blog.

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