We’ve recently been asked to provide a sample critique that our students get from our teachers. Below is the the first review one of our students received from one of our teachers on their first screenwriting assignment. For privacy reasons we are not publishing the film title or the script, but you can read the Lights Film School teacher response below:

Dear Rob,

(Story title removed) is a great story.  I’m particularly impressed with your pacing, which is the most important aspect of creating suspense in a script.  You have the innate ability to utilize the ‘slow reveal’ in your writing, which is a trait that is hard to teach and difficult to master.  Instead of giving your audience all the facts from the outset, you take your time letting them rise to surface organically.

However, I have a few suggestions that will help even further strengthen this suspense.  While pacing is important, you must also give equal attention to character development.  Well-developed characters are going to be what makes all of your suspense worthwhile.  In order for the suspense to work to its greatest potential, your audience needs to believe in the validity of your characters.  If your audience doesn’t believe your characters, they’re going to have a difficult time buying into your suspense.

Let’s take a look at your protagonist Ricky.  Ricky has the potential to be a superb character.  He’s vulnerable, unstable, and chilling.  He is a man who instead of being consumed in fiery revenge, becomes calm and methodical in his violence.  This fact alone is what makes him terrifying, as well as pitiful.  If you can make an audience both loathe and sympathize with your protagonist, you have (in my opinion) done a great thing.

However, the tone of Ricky’s character is inconsistent.  In the first scene, there is no hint of any instability in his personality.  He’s absolutely normal, almost boring.  This is our first introduction to him, and like in real-life, first impressions are very important.  When he snaps later in the story – producing a gun, pistol-whipping people on a whim – it seems too abrupt.  Ricky needs to earn this violence.  I would recommend adding some sort of subtle hint of his instability – of this mental imbalance – in your first scene.

The audience needs to feel that something is off with Ricky from the beginning, something that gives us a gut feeling that this man is capable of committing atrocities.   It reads unnatural on page 6 when he states that he has been “thinking about this for a while.”  Hasn’t it only been less than a day since he first heard rumors of Nicole’s infidelity?  If he has, in fact, been thinking about this for a while – we need some very brief back-story here in the form of a few simple lines of dialogue or action in the very beginning of the story.  Set-up is very crucial, especially in a short film.  You must be very efficient in your craft.

I recommend sitting down and writing a complete character sketch on Ricky.  Even though you won’t use a majority of the material you produce, it will help you really get to know his character.  The more you personally know Ricky, the more believable he’ll read on the page, and ultimately appear on the screen.  What was Ricky’s childhood like?  Was it abusive?  Why is he so violent, so short-tempered and irrational?  Why does he own a gun in the first place?  Answering questions such as these will only strengthen your story.  I was also suggest doing this for all of your characters, though you don’t necessarily need to go into the same amount of depth with each of them.  It may seem tedious and self-serving, but if you truly want the audience’s sympathies – which you absolutely need for the suspense to succeed – each one of your characters needs to breathe on the page.

Finally, I noticed a few minor formatting errors in your piece.  While formatting, in the end, is a personal preference – there are a few things that can make your script read a little more fluidly.  First of all, character names only need to be CAPITALIZED the first time we meet them.  Also, they never need to be completely capitalized in dialogue.  It’s not the end of the world, but it is a little distracting to whomever may be reading your piece.  Secondly, your action paragraphs should be broken down by action.  For example in your very first action sequence, every one of Ricky’s actions – lighting the candles, checking the meal, grabbing the wine – need their own paragraph.  This will help the actor playing Ricky better organize his movements.  He’ll be able to glance at the page and rehearse on the fly without needing to shovel through a long paragraph.

Overall, great job Rob.  Focusing on character development – especially the character of Ricky – will only strengthen this piece.  You’ll notice as you do this that your dialogue will begin to read more naturally and that the interactions between characters will become more human.

Thanks for the opportunity to read this.  I’d be very interested in reading the revision.  Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions or clarifications.

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