Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Giving Criticism

Recently a good friend and colleague asked me to write coverage, (see much earlier posts on this blog to learn what coverage is if you don't know already), for a script he had written. Usually I am happy to give a supportive scan, especially with writer colleagues who are much more talented than I am. I can often learn as much as I can offer by way of feedback.

But my friend was not a seasoned veteran writer, but a neophyte with grand ambitions. And his script did not have the weight or marketability to fulfill those ambitions. Unlike in the past, it took me several days to come to terms with what he had asked me to do and what I had to offer. He'd asked for a professional evaluation. And I knew my evaluation was that at this point, his script would get a failing grade. But I dreaded having to do this.

For a few days I thought about some kind of alternative. Not being honest, but just being vaguely supportive. Perhaps that's what my friend really wanted. Perhaps I should encourage him and let the marketplace decide whether his script had merit. After all, there's plenty of stuff on TV that I can't stand. Yet those shows are bringing in an audience and revenue to their creators. Who am I to be critical?

But finally I came to the conclusion that my own reputation as a story editor would be on the line as well. If I gave him a vaguely supportive opinion, he may use that to sell his show. And if I was right, but had soft-pedaled my concerns in the coverage, what would those who were then assessing his work think of mine? If I was wrong, they wouldn't care what I had to say.

So in the end, I decided to be as honest and even more complete than I would have been if the assignment was from a stranger. I decided not only to write extended coverage with a lot of backup for my view--unlike critical coverage others have written about my work!--I also went through the script and appended it with comments. Over and above what he'd requested. Perhaps he'll see this as overkill and professional jealousy on my part. I hope he's not that sensitive, but I know I take a real risk on our relationship in treating his request as professionally as possible.

I sent my response to him and as yet do not know how he reacted. I know how I feel.

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