Dealing with Criticism

Today we are going to talk about criticism: receiving feedback, giving feedback, how to do it constructively, and how not to take things personally.

Learning how to receive criticism is something we all go through as filmmakers, and at first it can sometimes feel like an attack.

If you are used to your friends and family telling you how great your short films are, and then someone comes along and steps on it, we tend to take it personally. I know I did!


But being told only positive things isn’t going to help us grow. Norman Vincent Peale is famous for saying “The problem with most of us is that we would rather be ruined by praise than saved by criticism”. That shallow desire for positive reinforcement is tempting, but it’s not helping us improve our work.

This is where constructive criticism comes in. As opposed to generic feedback, constructive criticism should contain helpful and specific suggestions for improvement and positive change.

Someone might rip your film to shreds. But if they give you alternatives, suggestions, different ways of execution, better ways of creating, you can take all that advice and apply it into your next film.

Personally, I love getting my film ripped to shreds. I want people to pick at it and destroy it, and from that destruction I can finally see the faults which I wouldn’t have noticed if people weren’t so aggressively helpful with their feedback.

But there is a difference between feedback for improvement and someone’s personal taste. Not everyone likes the same things, and sometimes a few suggestions based on their taste can be thrown in.

If you like something in your film, if you feel that certain element is crucial to your project and that changing it will change the film…then fight for it. It’s your film after all, and if you can justify your reason for a certain element, that is your right as a filmmaker.

All of this applies when you are the one giving feedback too. Remember how it felt to have your film attacked. If you are giving criticism, give some examples of how it can be improved. And talk about what you DID like in someone else’s film. 

Just because you are giving feedback, doesn’t mean you can’t praise the positives as well. It is quite often harder to do so because the positive elements are invisible in the film, but if you think “everything I see on screen has been crafted by individuals”, it can help put a spotlight on those invisible elements. 

Feedback isn’t just at the premiere of the movie either. Having someone read your script and give their opinion will help you see things you might not realise were there/or weren’t there.

During shooting, you have a team of people around you, why not use those individual brains and ask them their opinions are on the day. 

Sam Mendes says it plain and simple, “When you have a cast of 20, this means you have 20 other imaginations in the room with you. Use them.”,


Post-production, have people look at your edit. It might be cut really tight, it looks awesome and flows well, to you. But to someone else, the geometry of the room might be off because it is missing a shot which you took out. A fresh pair of eyes on an edit can be invaluable. [Time-lapse someone editing]

And it’s not just filmmakers you should gain feedback from.

Sometimes asking for constructive feedback on your film from someone who isn’t a filmmaker can be tricky. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to ask them questions about it. “Can you tell me what you thought the film was about?”, “How did the pacing feel? Were there parts that were a slow or too fast?”, “How do you feel about this character?”.


Asking open questions to non-filmmakers will help them give you an answer without getting the response “Oh, it was good, I liked it.” You sometimes find that those who haven’t studied film don’t know WHY they liked or disliked certain pieces of a film, and by asking them open questions, they have a chance to really find an answer.


What’s great about feedback from non-filmmakers is their unique viewpoint of it. To them, it isn’t a crafted piece of work, it’s simply entertainment. They aren’t looking at the shots, or listening out for sound effects, they just take it in. And if your film isn’t entertaining, it hasn’t succeeded in its most primal form. In some ways, it’s their opinion is all that matters.

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