Skip to main content

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Lesson 17 of 18

How to Get Constructive Feedback

Hal Ackerman

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft

Hal Ackerman

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

17. How to Get Constructive Feedback

Lesson Info

How to Get Constructive Feedback

First thing we want to do is try to get some feedback way need we need somebody to read it and talk to us about it. We just do, we can't exist completely in a vacuum, so deciding who it is god who it is that you want to read, your script is a very important, very quick conversation to have a very important decision to make. Mom is not the right person. Uh, she'll need to be too critical or to praise worthy. Other other writers may be jealous of your ability or, you know, or maybe two cruel. You have to find somebody that gets you, that there is something that people sometimes think about the notion of the audience of one, which is there may be some person in your life that just absolutely gets you knows your sense of humor will be able to really understand what it is you're trying to do and have the skill and honesty to tell you when you succeeded and where you don't succeed it's, a hard person to find, but and you may be somebody that is involved in a writer's group, and you have peop...

le that maybe you've been workshopping some scenes along the way that's, always a good resource, tohave, but you want to you want to try to find somebody whose opinion you can really trust. That is all further complicated by the fact that a screenplay is a difficult thing to read it's not like reading a novel it's not like we even really reading a play it's a hard document to read which is part of why we talked about earlier but making it a cz reader friendly as possible all the things I've talked about about lene and you know, making the dialogue strong making the narrative description not intrusive it all goes to making the reed as smooth and unobtrusive as possible because it it's certainly in your early draft it's going to be read probably by people that are not very that used to reading screenplays so um so try to find somebody in your world whose opinion you can trust okay no um you have to know people and to recognize when they're being kind when they try not to hurt your feelings it's hard it's hard to hear it's hard to hear feedback because all we really want to hear and c somebody genuflect bow down to you and say my god, you've changed my life this is the thing that has been going for you thank you thank you, thank you! Anything short of that just doesn't make it it's just it just doesn't feel good enough but we have to we have to we really have to contend with the fact that we're probably not going to get that yet there may be a point in which we do, but not yet a really cool movie about about a writer and a writer's mentor is a movie called julia that's a really lovely movies about lillian hellman, who was a playwright and the the national habit who was an old crusty mystery writer who's now just become an alcoholic and she's a young woman in time young playwright and their relationship but his relationship with her as a mentor in a really tough you know, it's a great example of tough love they're really terrific movie all aside that but you might want to just take a look at that sometimes for your amusement um but um but the idea but but the notion of getting constructive feedback very, very important um getting a table read if you were in any way connected with it with actors to get them together and you know if you have to buy them lunger you know split about love, tequila or something it's really worth your while to get the thing red there is nothing mohr valuable and absolutely frightening than hearing your work right out loud, you know, talk about a cringe exercise, but if you can go to it with a thick skin and recognizing that there are going to be moments in that they're going to make you cringe you know, have your pen with you and put a big c you know every time you hear stuff whether it's dialogue and narrative description that makes you cringe because it makes you cringe it's going to make somebody else and it's very important for you to be honest with yourself to hear just hearing it gigantically valuable sometimes even before you've given its other people just reading it aloud yourself if you can't get other people to do it very valuable things sound very different read out loud then just being read and heard in your head very, very valuable so you know if you're most like you know if if you are somebody that has, you know, a circle of friends around you try to use them exploit them you know say I'll do yours you knew mine but very, very, very, very valuable um next is hearing feedback this is this is dangerous because for a couple of reasons number one nobody is born knowing how to give critique it is not something that we are in eight ly good at it's hard, very hard, very hard um and it's not only happen even if even for wasn't hard even if it was easy go to a movie with half a dozen people come out of the movie, you know, six people there, maybe seven different opinions about it art is by its nature subjective it's just the case one of the early movies movie scripts that I sold to columbia there were three executives and they read the script and if on dh they all had different opinions about it every single one and if I were to omit from this if I was to keep in the script the sum total of all the scenes that among all the executives they all like that you let somebody at least liked I would have had to change a word, but if I had to take out of the script scenes that among the composite of them they didn't like I would have had taken out every single scene uh if you understand what I mean, so was so you know, like one but would like would like a b and c but hey deanie second would hate you know nothing, it was a mess this is going to happen is going to happen this is going to happen and you have to be able to recognize when you're hearing feedback from people what you're hearing it on and the least the less experienced you are are the more difficult it's going to be toe toe read out what you're hearing to become what's useful a lot of people will want to try to fix it no, they'll tell you here's here's what I would do here but if you don't you're not better you don't want to hear what they would do if they were writing it what you do want to hear though is where they got bored, what they didn't understand you don't necessarily want to hear the the, um well opinion is okay opinion is ok, but what what touch them or what didn't but what you don't necessarily need to hear is how they would fix it like what you want to hear is the is the disease but you know when you hear the remedy okay, they could say to you I didn't understand this part this part over here I know it just confused me I don't know what that was going on rather than you know what what you should do over here is that they should, you know, have blanks in the gun and pretend to be shooting rather than use a water gun, you know that suggesting doesn't necessarily help what you have to hear, though, and what you should absolutely take the heart is where especially if you get three of four people that are reading it and all of them have you get confused or troubled by the same things and you might have, you know, one person could say, you know what? We'll do no, but you're understand here's what I was trying to do one of the dangers of hearing feedback is getting defensive about it they're several reasons why we could get a cz writers get defensive about number one is we wanted to work you know we had every absolutely no well yeah I know what you're thinking but no no here's what I was doing there you just didn't get it you didn't get it if they didn't get it it's not their fault it's your fault and you have to recognize that that is that there is truth in that no matter how aren't you are in believing that it's their fault it's probably not going to be you can't go off the movie gets to be made in audience is saying the same thing you can't go to every theatre and explain then no you don't get that here here's where you're wrong you just can't do that it's not gonna happen um and so you have to learn how to hear criticisms think about you know you know if especially if you're a writing group which is very helpful because learning how to give critique is a very helpful thing and learning howto to hear it because how you give it you know some way reflects how you want to hear it back which doesn't mean you know this too bad ways that give critique you no one is thinking that if you step on somebody's neck that elevates you hire no that's no good and the other you know since another is being overly cruel and critical not helpful and the other is that you know, the sort of the ecstasy or the quaalude way. Oh man, I was just wonderful. Everything is gorgeous. That's not that's, not that's, not that's, not help that's not helpful, either. What is helpful both to you, a cz receptor was a recipient and generous to you as a giver is to try to be generous enough to recognize what the writer is trying to do in a certain scene, or in the whole thing, and to recognize where it works and where it doesn't, uh, that's that's really all you need to give, you don't need to say you could try to say why you think it doesn't, but you want to really stop short that saying here's how to fix it, because here's how to fix it isn't necessarily helpful unless it's absolutely asked for, but the thing is that even well meaning and experienced professional those professionals in the world don't know as much about the script as the writer does. No, they can say, you know, you got you got to change this thing on page nine because you got to take that scene out well, what they don't recognize, what they don't understand is that you take that scene out on page nine there's something in that scene on page nine that has ramifications on page thirty two and on page ninety four, we can see the whole thing because we've swallowed it all and leave disgorge that they only see what's the matter here. But what you have to hear about what they're saying to you is something a bit on page seven, that scene isn't working right in that, and then you would need to try to find out what that is, and you can ask questions you're allowed to do that you're about to do it with friends and you're left out in the real world. What is bothering you about it? What, what, what what isn't working there for you and two things happen when one is that people appreciate being engaged in the conversation in people you know, sitting in those high elevated chairs who we imagine is god's and dispensing wisdom and money to us. They're just human beings as well, you know that have families and have, you know, bosses and have underlings, and they can benefit on dh you khun benefit by engaging them and actually explain to it, can you? I'm not quite sure it is what it is you saying? I want to make this right for us, for all of us, I just not quite hearing what it is you're saying about what's troubling you about it and you might they might then have to dig a little bit deeper and then you can start to understand may be in a better way than rather than just change this or cut this of what it is that is that is having the trouble. So the notion of after trying hard to understand what isn't working in your script is very valuable and it's your responsibility because you are the author, you know, somebody giving you critique not their business, you know they're being helpful to you they hope and generous to you they hope, but what you want to do is find out how you can best make that script to become as good as a compulsion it'll be, um among the things I was saying that that sometimes distract us and sometimes impede that progress is fear we went back, we talked about fear the very, very, very beginning of the fear of you know that we suck the fear that would stop us from writing in the first place. Well, that fear comes come khun manifest itself again after we've written a first draft because what do we think we think I've worked so hard on this? I've, you know, revised scenes as I went along, I've you know, I've done all the stuff of all the exercises that then everything I've made this is this is this is as good as I can possibly make this and then when somebody says, you know what needs work, you get frightened, you get frightened that you think that this is as good as you could possibly make it and that you and that you're being threatened, that isn't good enough that you won't be good enough to make it any better, and you have to get once again get past that next level of fear that that up to now you other writer that can that will have done this. Now, before you started to write this script, you were a certain writer after having witness you are different, right? You are now the writer that has written a first draft of the screenplay, you were not that writer before you have become better, you've become different. There was a ladder in here before, and I loved there's a ladder analogy that I like to use. You don't have to get it, um, but but you think about a lighter think about your feet on that ladder think about that where that the rung of the ladder that your feet are standing on is what you are capable of accomplishing right now. This is what you have now accomplish you on this good, okay, you have done this now think about where your head is in relation to that way up here where your head is is what you can envision doing from that height you are right now and where what you can envision doing is this much higher than what you have done okay, now you write your first draft doing so you become a better writer and you allow yourself the notion of climbing one maybe two runs up that ladder wow, you're getting closer now to what you have been able to envision but what also has happened is that your head has gone up that much as well, so they once again you can now envision no really are you better at what you've done? They have you accomplished more but you also have increased your your viewpoint and you now see much more than you able to see before of what is possible and what this is a beautiful guarantee of is that you will always be dissatisfied you will never, ever be happy so I can promise you that much. But the truth of it is that no matter who you are no matter what as a writer you have accomplished and I'm talking about the absolute very, very best writers that we can imagine existing there's always mohr that they believe that somebody else has been able to do that they haven't been able to do and um there is uh a kind of peace that we can reach with ourselves is this your one hundred philip roth, you know, celebrated american novelist? Well written fifty novels, and just about two years ago, he decided teo retire from novel writing, and somebody has some warning, what you going to do? And he said, well, he's goingto gonna read backing that reaches all the books, his own books and think about, you know, and somebody said, well, you know, after you've done it, so well, what do you think about what you'd written and his answer? You know, you think it might be something high blown, something extremely literary? His answer was gorgeous, actually, I don't feel like you know who? Joe louis waas was a heavyweight champion back in the fifties and not a particularly articulate person, but, you know, a great boxer in his time, and joe joe louis was asked about his career, what he thought about it and philip roth and talk about his career quoted joe louis, think about that and what what he said was, and the reason I say this is because if every one of us can say this truly at the end of every script that we write of the next draft of it, of the next draft of it, of the next script that we write the next thing we ever do at the end of our careers at the end of our lives, I think it will make us happy people and what joe louis said that philip roth quoted he said I did the best I could with what I had at the time I just can't think of anything more meaningful to be able to say that truly and what that means I did the best I could with what I had at the time what that means is we have put forth into anything we right I'm just going to talk about writing now enough parenting that living just writing that we have done we have put we have made our writing schedule, we have stuck to it, we have kept our standards high, we have not accepted what is pretty good, what might be possibly good enough we have pushed ourselves to do to make it as good as we possibly can with what talent we have in the moment next when we try next always do you know we'll be better and we'll do better and that will continue to be as long as we make the commitment to ourselves to absolutely always putting our best absolute best efforts into the thing that is most important to us just like a character is driven by desire, you know has his and her why do I get to do everything that is possible to achieve what he or she wants. We need to do that as well. If we wanted to be successful, right, isn't by that, I mean not just selling, but feeling accomplished by the feeling that sense of getting it all. You know, if you ever played golf for baseball, that feeling, when you just get it all is the feeling that goes right through your hands and your whole body. When he makes solid contact, you can feel that way as a writer as well. We want to get that feeling as much as we possibly can.

Class Description

The most overwhelming, yet critical step for the screenwriter is the first draft. Staring at a blank sheet of paper can induce "writers block" faster than any other challenge facing a screenwriter. Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft will equip you with a roadmap for tackling your initial draft and guide you to the next steps on the scriptwriting journey. 

In this class, Hal Ackerman will teach you how to jumpstart the writing process and complete a written first draft of your screenplay. You’ll learn how to:
  • Organize your ideas into scenes and acts
  • Approach character development and dialogue
  • Take next steps after the first draft is complete
Hal has been teaching screenwriting to students at UCLA since 1985. He has sold material to all the broadcast networks and authored well-known books on the art of screenplay writing and selling In this class, he’ll offer actionable insights on developing your concepts and turning your ideas into a compelling and complete script.

Screenwriting: The Art of the First Draft is your opportunity to learn how to conquer one of screenwriting’s greatest challenges and get your ideas developed and down on paper. 

Check out our complete collection of filmmaking classes here


fbuser 991773eb

Hal Ackerman is the Man!!! Loved this course and will be watching it again. Mr. Ackerman is one of those people who truly wants to help you get better at your craft. He's encouraging yet realistic about what it takes to write a great screenplay. I highly recommend this interesting and helpful class.


After taking a number of other screenwriting courses, I can tell you that Hal Ackerman's course, The Art of the First Draft, is the BEST EVER!! His methodology of teaching is fantastic. He takes you on this journey from start to finish in a way that you WILL KNOW how to write a script by the time you finish this course. I liked how he used examples throughout his training to help you better understand screenwriting. If you really want to learn how to be a good screenwriter, then I would highly recommend taking Hal's course. You won't be disappointed.


I've read a lot of books on the subject and I've been to a few seminars. Hal Ackerman's class is genuinely one of the best and the most helpful classes I have experienced. What makes the class so great is that every concept has you putting pen to paper or fingers on keyboard right away. Ackerman really has tools that are called to be used. Thanks for the wonderful resource.