Don’t Let ‘Em Get You Down: Considering Coverage (Feedback) on Your Work

I’ve lost count as to how many people have given me feedback on my scripts.

From a well-established working actor and producer who’s been in Daredevil and two of the CSI shows (among other shows and features) to friends to coverage given as part of a competition to hiring three coverage companies, I’ve sampled the field.

And one thing is evident: Nobody sees the same thing. At all.

The established working actor and producer LOVED the concept of KUSHY’S. He called it “brilliant” and “refreshing.” A friend of mine who went to college in Kansas for media studies laughed his ass off at the major jokes in it. One production company said they loved it and could make it, but they were booked solid for the next 6 months (which they were and are; they have two movies with “big names” in production as of this writing and one TV show on a streaming service).

On the other hand, I’ve gotten coverage from others who’ve completely missed the jokes and absurdity of scenes in FALLING OUT and Kushy’s.

For example, one person, a festival organizer, indicated he didn’t understand the humor and irony in a Buddhist being overjoyed that his parents are dead and was left an inheritance. He also completely missed the multitude of times the character was mentioned as bisexual and repeatedly stated the character is gay.

In this instance, I went back to see if I could make them any more obvious. I didn’t see how, but in the process I realized there were two spots that did, in fact, need reworking in order to make sense. These are areas the reviewer missed, but in going back to see what he didn’t get and if I could do something with it, I discovered scenes that could be improved… I even added two more jokes.

I’ve also received feedback stating the scenes in Kushy’s were “perfect” and of good length, the visual jokes were outstanding, and the idea is very marketable, BUT the dialogue needed work, as did character development.

The take away for all those starting out: Coverage is purely subjective. There’s no hard and fast, objective rubric for it. Some people won’t understand some jokes, or will get easily confused about sexuality or think the characters are well-developed. Others will love the jokes, understand the sexuality and think the characters are developed adequately.

We see thousands of shows and movies come and go each year. Some are horrible and you wonder how they got produced at all. Others are surprise hits.

Nobody who reads your script knows for sure WHAT will work. They only know what they like and think.

It’s a numbers game.

From every single letter of coverage I’ve gotten, I’ve found something in it that was helpful, though. Remember that.

So when you get feedback, remember, it’s just someone’s opinion. Not everyone likes or understands LGBTQ characters. Not everyone understands or likes comedy or horror or whatever you’re writing. But EVERYONE has some kind of feedback you can use. You just have to be open to seeing it.

Go forth and write!

Inspiring Arguments: Using the Holidays to Write Better Scenes

The holidays are upon us. This is a stressful time for many people. The pressure to buy gifts, to be nice to family they don’t like, to act happy.

I enjoy the holidays, mainly because my family is small and it’s just my spouse and kids usually. But there are times when we have other family and friends over or we accept an invitation.

My steadfast rule is to never discuss politics or religion with anyone. My spouse and I rarely talk either. These are “hot button” topics that often end in arguments and resentment.

But as a writer, there’s hope. The idea for the Kansas cult in my 30-minute comedy KUSHY’S (which has jumped to the Top 20 list for sitcoms on Coverfly’s The Red List) came from an exchange I witnessed between a family member and a friend. I’d warned the friend to not engage with the family member. She is a devout liberal, while my family member is about as conservative as you can be, down to the Evangelical Christian views. I usually avoided the family member. I couldn’t imagine what vitriol they’d spout if they knew I an gender nonconforming. I warned my friend. She decided to test the waters.

It was bad. My friend tore into my family member. And he returned the anger. It served no purpose. This hatred for the other side existed long before Trump. The division we see is nothing new. A number of others at the gathering got in the way of them. We made sure they were separated the rest of the time.

That was the last large gathering of friends and family I went to. But that exchange also became the catalyst for Billy in KUSHY’S. While a couple readers have seen a parallel with the Westboro Baptist folks, that group wasn’t the inspiration. My family member was. While I do my best to respect the viewpoints of others, allowing them to express themselves openly, rarely getting involved, I saw his irrational thinking and militantism as something to explore.

There’s no doubt that his anger–and hers–was misguided. Both were set in their ways and not able to empathize with the other in any way. This is what leads to much of the conflict we endure through life. Neither would listen.

As I wrote KUSHY’S, I remembered how my family member acted. And he became the template for Billy and the cult he inherited from the three siblings’ parents.

My friend became the template for Sydney in FALLING OUT. This beautiful trans woman I created is a great deal like my friend, a cisgender female. I admire her passion, her dedication, but she can go off half-cocked more than is normal. Sydney is much like that. She’s sensitive and does what she has to do to survive, but also jumps to conclusions, yelling and screaming at people before she finds the truth or understands the situation.

That one argument at a holiday gathering with friends and family so many years ago made such an impression on me that I was able to use it, use the two persons involved in the argument, as templates for characters in my scripts. These templates allow for better scenes, because you have a person in mind, someone you’ve seen or know, not a made up character. Thus, there’s depth to the character, enriching the scene and dialog and keeping you motivated to write more.

So this season, when people are yelling and screaming at each other over politics and religion and sports and whatever else, sit back and observe, maybe even take notes. Because, while we writers have fertile imaginations, nothing beats having a real-life example of how someone acts in a certain situation.

Happy Holidays! 🙂