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ASG Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) Page

 

This document contains important information about our group's meetings, and how to host a successful script reading with the ASG. There are also guidelines on your responsibilities when reading and critiquing someone else's script.

 

Questions covered by this FAQ:

A. SIGNING UP FOR A READING

1. Why does the ASG host script readings? (Our Mission Statement)

2. How do I qualify for a script reading?

3. How do I formally join ASG?

4. I've never done this before. How do I make sure my script is "ready" for the group?

5. Do I have to bring an entire screenplay to a reading?

6. Who do I contact to reserve a meeting slot?

7. What should I do if I have to cancel my reading for some reason?

B. PREPARING YOUR SCRIPT FOR THE GROUP

1. How can I be sure my screenplay is properly formatted?

2. Should I register my script before bringing it to the group?

3. How many copies should I make?

4. Should I customize scripts for specific readers?

5. How can I save on printing costs?

6. What is a "critique sheet"?

7. What sort of questions should I have on my critique sheet?

8. Is there anything else I should bring to the reading?

C. CONDUCTING THE READING

1. Where and when are the ASG meetings held?

2. What happens at a meeting?

3. How do I assign roles for the reading?

4. Can I use my own handpicked readers?

5. What are a reader's responsibilities?

6. Should I set a "mid-point" break?

D. THE FEEDBACK SESSION

1. What is a moderator, and do I need one?

2. What is the difference between a "round table" and an "open forum" critique session?

3. Should I record comments?

4. What are my responsibilities when offering criticism?

5. What are my responsibilities when receiving criticism?

6. Why should I give people my e-mail address?

7. What happens next?


A. SIGNING UP FOR A READING

1. Why does the ASG host script readings? (Our Mission Statement)

The Austin Screenwriters Group is a resource to serve local screenwriters, providing guidance and support in all areas of the field. We offer networking and marketing opportunities, critical feedback on works-in-progress, and a sense of community for our members. We are open to screenwriters of all levels of experience. Script readings are specifically designed to help our members hone their screenwriting talent.

 

2. How do I qualify for a script reading?

First, you must attend at least four meetings. We provide a sign-in sheet at every meeting to track attendance, so be sure to use it. Second, you must be a paid member of the ASG (you can join anytime, see below). At present, our dues are $36 per year. Next, it is highly recommended that you show a few sample pages of your script to an established member. They will help you make sure it's ready for presentation to the group. Finally, you contact Diana McManus, our ASG scheduler, at mystichealer2@sbcglobal.net, to arrange a slot. Check the calendar to make sure your script is listed. Once you're a member and start requesting readings, you can schedule no more than one every three months (i.e., 4 times per year); this was decided in a vote by ASG membership back in 2008.

 

3. How do I formally become an ASG member?

Become a dues-paid member of ASG just by paying dues. No requirements other than paying the dues, so you can join anytime. Jill Oleson became our group Treasurer in January 2010. She's at most meetings, or you can contact her at asgtreasurer@gmail.com to arrange payment. There are a few limited "scholarships" available for new members who are short on cash. Ask Jill for details. Make dues checks out to: AUSTIN SCREENWRITERS GROUP. When you join, the $36 dues are good for a year.

 

4. I've never done this before. How do I make sure my script is ready for presentation to the group?

We do not require anyone's official "seal of approval" before signing up for a reading, but it's a good idea to consult with an established member if it is your first time. We recommend that you show them some sample pages (at least ten, but no more than twenty) of your screenplay. They'll make sure your work conforms to industry format guidelines, and may also suggest ways to tighten description and dialogue for a smoother read.

 

5. Do I have to bring an entire screenplay or a feature-length screenplay to a reading?

ASG occasionally hosts "Preview" readings, first act reviews, or collections of short scripts for two to four writers, who each bring a sample of their script for group feedback. You may submit a complete treatment or just the first act (approximately 30 pages) of your screenplay. This can be especially helpful in discovering what is and isn't working in your script before you finish it. Preview readings provide an excellent venue for new members to "test run" their work in preparation for a full-script presentation. Some members have short scripts (5-40 pages usually) or teleplays (30-45 pages usually) to read, and we'll offer one or two short script meetings a year. These groups of readings don't count toward the "no more than 4 times a year" rule.

 

6. Whom do I contact to reserve a meeting slot?

Whether you're signing up for a "Preview," short script or a full-script reading, contact Diana McManus, the ASG Scheduler, to be scheduled. Please be aware that our group critique is a popular venue, and it might be several months before you may host the reading. You should provide the scheduler with a title and logline (a one or two sentence summary) of your script for him to include in the meeting announcement. Also provide the information to Wendy Wheeler, our webmaster, so she can update the ASG website. Also let Kathy know if you want to be back up to fill in earlier if someone can't do their assigned spot -- those do come up!

Please note that it is very important you keep in contact with Diana as your scheduled date gets closer. You should make sure he has a good email address for you and a phone number. Our group's policy is that if the scheduler hasn't heard from you by two weeks before your date, or you haven't posted to the list at large that you'll be ready, we look for a fill-in script from our list of stand-by writers. Nothing personal, but we want to ensure that the Saturday morning isn't a bust for the attendees. The ASG gets only about 22 meetings a year for critique, and we have three to four times that many members.

 

7. What should I do if I have to cancel my reading?

If it's at least a couple of weeks in advance, you can simply contact the scheduler to cancel your script reading. In the event of an emergency cancellation a few days before the reading is scheduled, you are encouraged to immediately send an e-mail to the group mailing list (austinscreenwriters@yahoogroups.com) so we can make alternative arrangements.

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B. PREPARING YOUR SCRIPT FOR THE GROUP

1. How can I be sure my screenplay is properly formatted?

There are several screenwriting software programs that automatically format your work for you: Final Draft, Script Thing, Movie Magic, etc. David Trottier's book, "The Screenwriter's Bible" (ISBN 1879505444), provides an excellent set of formatting guidelines. You may also find the following website useful: http://scriptwritingsecrets.com/contents.htm. If you're using Microsoft Word, there are some websites with free screenplay templates. Check out the links on the ASG education page.

 

2. Should I register my script before bringing it to the group?

You may want to consider registering your script with the Writer's Guild of America West (WGAw) before exposing it to feedback. Although we have never experienced any IP theft problems, please remember that our meetings are open to the general public. We are not responsible for any conflicts that may arise over authorship of material. Go to http://wga.org/ for details on how to register your work.

 

3. How many copies should I make?

A good estimate is about 12-15 copies, but you may want more. You definitely need enough scripts so everyone reading a role has their own copy, especially the Narrator. You should also circulate a few extras to the non-readers, and keep a copy for yourself to mark on as you listen. You will be surprised by how different your words sound when read aloud, and you will want to take notes.

 

4. Should I customize scripts for specific readers?

Yes! Take the time to highlight (with color highlighter, or circle the character's name with pen as a distant second option) the dialog for each reader. You will need individual copies for each of your main characters (don't forget the Narrator), but you can combine small speaking parts together for "bit player" scripts. Please make sure you don't assign a single reader to both sides of a conversation in a single scene. Also, write the name(s) of any character(s) that a reader will be responsible for during the performance on the front of their script. Some readers like to make notes as they read. If you do not want your scripts marked on, please let everyone know in advance.

 

5. How can I save on printing costs?

There are a few strategies for saving money, trees, and space in the back of your car. You can "shrink" your printout so two script pages print on a single sheet of paper. Consult your word processor's documentation for more information on how to do this. Another method is to print your pages double-sided. If you really want to economize, you can shrink your printout AND print pages double-sided, although this can sometimes be hard on the eyes. Please note that you are not expected to bind the scripts. Most readers remove the brads.

 

6. What is a "critique sheet"?

You may wish to prepare a list of specific questions or issues you would like the group to address during the feedback session. In this case, it's helpful to print out several "critique sheets" and give them to the group members. This way, they'll know what sort of feedback you want from them. Another great idea is to provide your email address at the meeting for your readers to send you feedback in a less-public forum, if they want.

 

7. What sort of questions should I have on my critique sheet?

You can ask any questions you want. Here are a few examples:

** What did you enjoy about the script?

** Now that you've read it, did my logline adequately sum up the script's content and tone?

** What do you think was the script's premise or "message"? How well did I communicate it?

** Was there any place where you lost interest or got bored?

** Was there any aspect of the plot that was unclear to you?

** Was the story believable?

** Were you ever "ahead" of the story? When? Did you guess the ending?

** Did you care about the lead characters? Were there any characters you disliked or found cliched? Why?

** Do the characters have distinctive voices? Is the dialogue working? Do you have a favorite line?

** Is there enough conflict? Would you describe this script as a "page-turner" or a "slow read"?

** Is the structure of the story effective and well balanced?

** Was the setting compelling?

** Was there anything you thought was heavy-handed or overdone about the script?

** What scenes provoked the biggest emotional responses?

** In your opinion, what one change would most benefit this script?

There is a rule of thumb you may find useful when developing your critique sheet. The more specific your questions are, the more likely it is you already know the answers. If, instead of asking, "Did you like the characters?" you ask, "Did you think the character of John was unsympathetic?" then you probably suspect John is a problem character. Don't ask leading questions unless you feel it's absolutely necessary.

 

8. Is there anything else I should bring to the reading?

You may want to bring pens or pencils for people to take notes with, and a recording device (video camera, tape recorder) for the feedback session. If you want to bring snacks or goodies, that's okay, too. We won't stop you. ;-)

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C. CONDUCTING THE READING

1. Where and when are the readings held?

We currently have one meeting per month (when we get busier we'll add another weekend meeting, but currently we don't have that 2nd venue). The ASG meets on the fourth Saturday of every month from 10:00 AM until 1:00 PM at the Austin History Center, 9th and Guadalupe.

 

2. What happens at a meeting?

The Austin History Center already has tables and chairs so we just arrange them. We begin with member introductions and general announcements. After that, we get down to presenting the featured script, treatment, act, etc. (We may also conduct short verbal pitch sessions from time to time.) We'll break for ten minutes at a predetermined midpoint. Once we've finished the script / treatment / pitch presentation, we'll conduct a feedback session about the work. When we're done, we have to put the rooms back the way they were.

 

3. How do I assign roles for the reading?

If you're not bringing in special readers (see below), it's a courtesy to ask group members before assigning them a part. Not everyone wants to be a reader, and not all readers wish to read a major role. Be especially sensitive about selecting your Narrator. They'll have a lot of work to do.

 

4. Can I use my own handpicked readers?

Yes, you can bring friends, family, and even professional actors to read your script, but it's not a requirement. Sometimes, a cold reading by non-actors can diminish the impact of your work. Other times, it will give you an idea of how easy your dialogue is to interpret and communicate. And though you might be tempted, don't plan on reading yourself unless readers are really needed. Some writers think they're the best person to do the narration, main character, etc., but you're not learning from hearing that way.

 

5. What are a reader's responsibilities?

If you accept a role in a script, take it seriously and read carefully. Stick to what's written and avoid hamming it up. If you are not reading a role, please be considerate. Don't hold side conversations during the presentation.

 

6. Should I set a "mid-point" break?

Yes, do this! We need a stopping place midway through your script, so people can use the bathroom, get a drink, and stretch their legs. You should choose the script break in advance, and let your Narrator know before beginning the reading.

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D. THE FEEDBACK SESSION

1. What is a moderator, and do I need one?

Generally speaking, you are responsible for directing the focus and content of your feedback session. However, you might want to ask someone to moderate it for you, to prevent the discussion from going off on tangents or becoming unproductive. Having someone else steer the conversation frees you up to absorb the comments.

 

2. What is the difference between a "round table" and an "open forum"critique session?

Some people prefer a "round table" feedback session in which members take turns offering their comments. This can be useful for taking notes and giving everyone a chance to speak. However, it can also lead to a static, "me too" type of commentary. The "open forum" session is an informal discussion that allows people to pursue a particular idea and build on each other's comments in a more dynamic manner. Its primary drawbacks are that some voices may get lost in the discussion, and the comments can be drawn off on tangents. You can choose whichever method you prefer, or combine the two approaches.

 

3. Should I record comments?

Recording the feedback session on audio or videotape can be extremely useful. Sometimes, you're better off listening to people's suggestions later, when you're more relaxed.

 

4. What are my responsibilities when offering criticism?

Feedback should ALWAYS be constructive, and designed to improve the screenplay. Simply saying, "I didn't like it" is neither constructive nor particularly useful to the writer. Also, keep in mind that the ASG is open to writers of all levels of experience. Is this the writer's first script or tenth? Tailor your comments accordingly. Ask yourself what the writer's intention was and how well that intention has been realized.

It doesn't hurt to take a moment at the beginning and mention what you liked about the script. Starting with positive feedback makes it easier for the writer to accept the criticism that will follow.

Try to focus on areas of concern to the writer. He or she may have prepared a critique sheet. If you have a particular criticism not covered by it, don't beat a dead horse. Make your point and move on. Allow others to speak, and try not to monopolize the discussion. If you're shy about speaking up or need time to think about what you've read, you can e-mail the writer later. Above all, be honest. Otherwise, why bother?

 

5. What are my responsibilities when receiving critique?

First and foremost, don't get defensive. You may not agree with all of the feedback. Some comments may directly contradict each other. However, if several people voice the same opinion, it's likely someone in Hollywood will as well. Criticism of your screenplay is not criticism of you, so don't take it to heart. The group's feedback is designed to help you make your script the best it can be, not to give empty praise. That said, always remember: it's your script and your feedback session. You are in charge. Tailor the discussion to meet your needs. Ask questions, get clarification if you don't understand a comment, listen to people's ideas, and take lots of notes.

 

6. Why should I give people my e-mail address?

Some people aren't comfortable expressing themselves in a group setting. Others may have little "a-ha" moments a couple of days later. There might also be members who can't be present at the meeting, but would like to read your script. It's helpful to provide these people with a means to contact you, so make sure everyone has your e-mail address. You can include it on your critique sheets, or post it in an e-mail to the group (austinscreenwriters@yahoogroups.com) after the meeting if you are on the ASG email list.

 

7. What happens next?

You should leave your reading with many notes for revisions, so get ready to start that next draft! Successful screenwriting is 90% rewriting. You may wish to create an ASG "subgroup" that meets outside our regular Saturday schedule to provide support during your revisions.

 

Good luck, and happy writing!

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Written by Johnnie Blevins, Elana Wakeman, Nicky Jeffords, and Hall Hood

Original Date: 2000-Sept-4

Edited slightly by Wendy Wheeler for the website.

Revision Date: 2016-Feb-7

 


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