Standard Story Company

How to Give “Good” Feedback on a Film

I recently noticed a problem in the Discord server for my short film course.

It’s a very common but ineffective way of giving feedback on scripts and films…

They’re being too nice.

I understand why.

For beginner filmmakers, you know you have many shortcomings yourself, so how dare you call out someone else’s? Especially if they actually finished their film, and you’re still working on yours…

But that humility and blind positivity defeats the purpose of giving feedback at all.

Giving feedback serves 1 key function for the receiving filmmaker:

  1. It helps them identify areas to improve the film.

That’s it.

But what about praising them on their efforts? If I give harsh feedback, what if I discourage them from ever making another film?

These are valid concerns, but overhyped (as you’ll soon see).

So let’s break down how to give GOOD feedback that actually HELPS the filmmaker – without making them wish they never even picked up a camera.

What is “good” feedback?

Good feedback is constructive, and it is best given when a project is still a work-in-progress. If the film is already finished, only give constructive feedback when the filmmaker requests it.

Constructive means the notes can be used to construct a stronger version of the film.

Examples:

  • I felt like the opening scene dragged on for too long and I found myself waiting for the story to start.

  • The neighbor character went from funny to gross for me by the middle of the film, not sure if that was your intention. Maybe he had 1 or 2 too many raunchy jokes?

  • The edit feels too choppy throughout, kind of like you’re cutting around mistakes. I’d love to see a version with longer / more definitive choices made in the edit, even if slows down some scenes.

  • I really wanted to see the lead’s face when she dropped that bombshell line instead of only hearing it over the phone. Do you have coverage of that?

Each of these is a note that can be used to construct a (potentially) stronger version of the film.

Notice that they don’t sound mean, even when listed back to back.

That’s because constructive feedback is inherently kind.

A lot of thought and effort goes into constructive feedback. Someone is doing you a huge favor by spending their energy analyzing your film for ways it could be improved. How could that be mean?

When feedback is considered mean, I would argue that it is usually just not constructive.

Constructive feedback is not re-writing or re-directing or re-casting the film. That’s not your role and it’s usually impossible by the time you’re giving notes.

Here are examples of BAD feedback:

  • The main character’s voice is so annoying.

  • At the end you should make him find out about his wife’s affair.

  • That bank robbery was really unrealistic.

Notice how this type of note sounds mean and unhelpful. Especially listed back to back.

They may all be accurate notes, but that doesn’t make them good notes, because they’re not actionable. How could you address these notes without re-filming the movie?

To simplify things, try this formula to ensure you’re giving good feedback…

A step-by-step process good notes:

  1. Make an objective observation about the film.

    1. The opening montage was 3 minutes long.
  2. Describe your personal feeling/interpretation/reaction to it, and how that could be a problem.

    1. It had some pretty shots, but I felt like I was waiting for the story & conflict to start.
  3. (optional!) Offer a remedy, or pose a leading question.

    1. Could everything the montage is saying be boiled down to one shot from it? Or maybe you could use the footage as a flashback later on once the story gets in swing.

A step-by-step process bad notes:

Conversely, here’s a formula for bad feedback…

  1. Make a subjective judgement about the film.

    1. The opening was boring.
  2. (optional) Provide an impossible remedy.

    1. You should have it start with the guy hijacking a car.

As you can see, bad notes like this are also just plain lazy.

But what about being nice? I can’t just list off all the problems in the film.

Well… you kinda can!

When I give notes on any work-in-progress, 80-90% of my message is what I felt could be improved, not things I loved, because constructive notes are more helpful than pats on the back.

But even if I reaaaallly don’t like a piece, there’s always something redeeming about it, and I make sure to include that so they know I’m not just picking their work apart for fun.

Compliment Sandwiches

It may seem simplistic, but after giving lots of people lots of feedback, I still find the easiest way to make sure I don’t come off like a dick when giving lots of notes is the age-old “compliment sandwich” technique.

Simply start and end your feedback with something you think they did well (or just a few words of encouragement). These positive book-ends are the bread. And in between that “compliment” bread lies the meat of the sandwich – the actual notes, which you should present humbly.

Example:

Thanks for sharing your film! First off, I loved the switch in perspective halfway through, didn’t expect that from this kind of story. (bread)

Here’s some notes I made that might be helpful, feel free to disregard if I’m off the mark.

Note 1 (meat)

Note 2 (meat)

Note 3 (meat)

Hope this helps. I’m looking forward to how it shapes up! (bread)

The compliment sandwich may seem a little patronizing, but it’s the easiest way to give good feedback without risking offense or re-wording crucial notes just to soften your message. It signals your goodwill even when you feel the work has a long way to go.

Since I’m focused on finishing up my new short film editing course for the 150+ members of WRAPPED in 30 Days this month, I wanted to write down these thoughts while they were fresh in my head.

Once it’s done, I’ll be filming this email as a new lesson for WRAPPED too, so consider this a freebie lol.

 

My favorite things this week:

📚 Books: How to be an Imperfectionist. 

Perfectionism is something I’ve struggled with a lot, so I found a ton of value in this book. While there are some advantages to that sort of obsessive detail-oriented focus (it certainly helped me as an editor), perfectionism just slows you wayyy down and prevents you from making meaningful progress in the most important areas of your life.

One example: On a busy day I’d often spend 20 minutes trying to figure out what the BEST task to do next was. As an imperfectionist, you just pick ANY task and do it. That way you get 1 or 2 tasks done immediately instead of waffling about which one is BEST. By prioritizing action like that, even if it’s not perfectly thought out, the best task will naturally get done soon too.

📼 Movies: I caught up on a few films from the art-house end of the spectrum recently.

Poor Things might be my favorite film of the year, and if you love dark, twisted comedies it’ll probably hit a high note with you too. Super creative and unconventional in many ways. It’s very R-rated, heads up.

Dream Scenario was also very funny and engaging, with a delightful Nick Cage performance.

Saltburn I had a few issues with, but I can’t deny that it was very entertaining, unexpected, and it transported me to an interesting world. Turns out it’s probably not a movie you want to watch right next to your parents (whoops), and unlike Poor Things, I thought it had a lot of shock value simply for the sake of shock value.

Looking forward to catching The Iron Claw next.

That’s all for this week, thanks for following along.

Let’s make some movies.

-Kent

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