Should a screenwriter pay for notes?

questionmarkWhat weight do you give professional reading services? You know, the dudes that read your script, mark it up, make suggestions, tweak it, and send it back? Do you recommend anyone or company in particular?

– Chance

Other than my assistants, I’ve never paid anyone to read my scripts. All the notes I’ve gotten have come from friends and colleagues, many of them producers or screenwriters.

Reciprocity is a big part of relationship-building. When I was starting out, I would give hours of notes to friends, working through several drafts with them. In turn, they would read my scripts. I got my first agent through one such screenwriter friend who was interning for a producer at Columbia.

I was fortunate in that essentially all of my LA friends were from film school, and many of them were really smart. But you actually only need one or two smart people. One set of brilliant notes is more helpful than a dozen mediocre ones.

If you can’t find that one great note-giver amid your circle, it’s possible that you’d benefit from paying someone. I don’t have any names to recommend, but if I were in your place, I’d look for a few things:

  1. A sample set of notes. I wouldn’t pay anyone who didn’t write clearly and logically.

  2. A face-to-face meeting. Good feedback ends up being a conversation. In addition to written notes, I’d want an hour to talk through the issues and options.

  3. No producers/managers. I want insightful feedback, not connections. Some producers and managers can give great notes, but I shouldn’t be paying them upfront to do it.

  4. Someone who can say ‘not for me.’ Every person has genres that simply don’t click. Before taking my money, a reader should ask what my script is about, and respectfully decline if it’s outside of her domain.

I’m certain there are good paid readers out there. A few will probably leave comments. So let me stress, I’m not recommending or endorsing any of them. Caveat scriptor.

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