Suggestions for a screenwriting group



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  • Suggestions for a screenwriting group

    I'm starting a group here in L.A. (I'm doing it through the writing group on if anyone's interested) and I'm wondering if anyone who's participated in such a group would have any tips about how to organize and maintain it.

    I'm sure it's important to remind people to temper their critiques so the feedback process doesn't become acrimonious, but beyond that, what are the pitfalls to avoid?

    Thanks for any advice and suggestions anyone might have.

  • #2
    Someone in your group should volunteer to lead the weekly discussion (I suggest you meet weekly.) This can rotate from member to member, either monthly or weekly (unless someone wants that role permanently, and there are no other objections.)

    Try to centralize where you meet, and standardize the time (say, 7:30 or 8:00 p.m.) If the meeting place and time can be the same every week, that's ideal. When I still lived in California, my group (which I don't think exists any more) met in the food court of a Burbank mall. Same place, same time, every week. It worked out well.

    Get a list of the members' names, which includes at least a phone number or e-mail address for contact purposes. Don't be surprised if some people don't want to divulge their home street addresses. But as long as contact can be made, that shouldn't be a problem.

    Decide in advance what kind of material you want to review. Will your group only discuss feature screenplays? Episodic TV? Short scripts? All three?

    A schedule of material should be given to each member, usually once a month. This schedule will list whose work is next up to be discussed any given week. We usually only covered one screenplay per week, and took the entire time (2 to 3 hours) to discuss it, along with any other matters that would come up.

    Our group was loosely affiliated with a Burbank Barnes & Noble. They gave us meeting space for special events, like script readings and guest speakers. But usually we met at the mall.

    At the meeting prior to the meeting where your script is going to be discussed, you must provide a copy of your script for all of the members of the group. This is easier these days because of .pdf files, etc., and the fact that many people have e-mail addresses. You can e-mail a copy. Back in the day, we had to provide a hard copy for each member! But then, we could also get copies for 3 or 4 cents a page at many copy shops. If one of your members does not have e-mail, youâ€TMll have to provide a hard copy for him or her.

    When you are a reviewer (which is most weeks), you must read the screenplay of your fellow member, and provide a hard copy of notes and commentary. These are handed out not just to the screenwriter-of-the-week, but also to the other members. This is because your notes may serve as a teaching tool for other members when they are writing their own screenplays. Theyâ€TMll also need them to follow your part of the discussion.

    Ask your members to be tough but fair--and not nasty. But donâ€TMt succumb to the temptation to be nice to a script simply because you like the writer so much. That wonâ€TMt help him or her at all when the time comes for him or her to rewrite the screenplay.

    People will come and go from the group (if you advertise your group at a book store, for example, you'll likely get people inquiring fairly often), so expect that and donâ€TMt get discouraged when members leave. The writers who are serious will stay, if they can (i.e., if work doesnâ€TMt get to be too much, or if they stay in the area and donâ€TMt move too far way.) Youâ€TMll probably find that you have a dedicated core group, which is a good thing, because it serves as an anchor.

    Some writers in your group will be much more accomplished than others, so evaluate their work accordingly. Be tougher on the ones who are more advanced. If they are serious writers, they wonâ€TMt take offense. Theyâ€TMll thank you for it.

    Be encouraging to new screenwriters if they feel like throwing in the towel. Everyone was a new writer at one time! So work more closely with them. Theyâ€TMll either gain confidence in their work and improve, or they will leave of their own volition. Expect that.

    If you have a troublemaker in the group, make it clear from DAY ONE to all members that the other members have the right to vote anyone out of the group, if the disruption continues from week to week. You aren't meeting to strangle each other. You're meeting as a group to support each other, to read each other's work, and to expand your craft. You'll likely not have to exercise this rule, but it's nice to know it's in place, should you find it necessary to use. If someone gets angry to the point of threatening violence (Iâ€TMve seen it happen), then heâ€TMs got to go.


    • #3

      Thanks very much for your thoughtful and in-depth reply. A lot of good advice there. Hopefully I put it to good use.


      • #4
        You're welcome, matteey.

        Good luck with your new group. I hope everyone enjoys the experience and finds it useful. I guarantee that you'll meet some interesting people!