Notes on Soliciting and Interpreting Feedback on Videos (or other creative work)

I sent the rough cuts to a variety of friends and family. I chose people that I knew had a good sense of humor, but with some variation. I told them I was looking for feedback in general and I asked them these specific questions:

  • What did you like about it?
  • Where does it stall out or lose your attention?

I learned those questions from Andy Miara, a former sketch-writing teacher I had (also the best writing teacher I ever had!). When we performed our rough drafts in class, he often asked those questions to get things started (before moving on to some really brilliant and specific notes).

I love asking those questions for a few reasons:

  • They are easy for anyone to answer. Anyone can point to the places that they enjoyed and the places that were boring. They might not know why they felt that way or what to do about it, but that’s OK, it’s up to you to figure that out.
  • They are non-specific enough to elicit honest feedback. It’s a lot easier to say “this part was slow to me” than “this joke sucked.”
  • They don’t put pressure on the feedback-giver to be “constructive” or give a solution. Many nice and decent people have learned to always offer a solution whenever giving criticism, which is probably a more civil way to offer criticism at work or in a relationship, but it’s not going to help you here unless they are also a writer/editor/director/etc. Again, it’s your job to figure out the solution, not theirs. If you are getting feedback from someone with a lot of experience doing what you’re doing – in that case they may offer more specific feedback, but there is no pressure to do so.

And the last thing I said was something along these lines: “you have permission to be honest and don’t worry about hurting my feelings. I’m looking for some feedback to make this project better, so please don’t hold back!”

This helped me get some really solid notes on early rough cuts, without feelings being hurt.

BTW, I tried using Wipster on one of the episodes but nobody except one person used it. Emailing a PW-protected Vimeo link was much more effective in getting responses, although I was kind of bummed because I liked the Wipster interface. I think it had something to do with the fact that Wipster didn’t hide one person’s response from the other people, which made people more hesitant to leave public feedback.

Interpreting Feedback

Once the feedback comes back, you’ll have a better idea of what’s working well and what’s not working well.

Figuring out why they answered a certain way is your job. If everyone says that a certain part stalls or loses their interest, it might mean that you need to cut it completely, or that it needs to be changed in some way, or perhaps you’re trying to deliver a payoff that hasn’t been set up enough in an earlier part of the video.

When I got the feedback for the first few episodes, the general feedback on each episode was that “it starts slow.” I wanted to set things up nicely and give it some room to breathe at the beginning, but everyone was saying “get to it quicker.” So I cut a lot of material from the beginning, leaving just enough to understand the basic facts of the situation before moving into the heart of the matter.

For positive feedback, i.e. “this part was really funny” or “I really liked that part and the way it was edited,” you have some valuable knowledge. For me, knowing what not to cut was just as important as knowing what to cut. If something was working well, then I could keep it and even add more of it to the edit.