Simply put: notes can help make a script better. This also heavily relies on several factors, including the experience level of the person giving the notes, the notes being of high quality, and the relevancy of the notes in relation to the script.
I’ve had the recent experience of being on both sides, and both proved to be extremely helpful on several levels.
First: the giving.
I’d been invited to take part in a group Zoom call giving notes on a new script from an established writer-producer.
I thought the writing was okay. Nothing stellar.
As the call progressed, the comments seemed to go back and forth between honest, critical feedback and flat-out gushing. Were those doing the latter doing that in order to get in the writer’s good graces? I hope not.
When it was my turn, I started with what I liked about it (the characters and the strong establishment of tone, in particular) and then segued into what I thought could use some work, which was mostly tightening up the writing, and trimming scenes or sequences.
Just to clarify – I wasn’t trying to tear anything down; just offering some suggestions of what I thought could help make the script better.
The writer appreciated my positive comments, but the other ones were met with a lot of “well, these other people I work with in the industry LOVED that” or “Nobody else mentioned that. This doesn’t mean you’re wrong; just in the minority.”
I’m not really the biggest fan of a writer who gets defensive when they get notes. It’s what they asked for. I don’t have a problem if you disagree with what I’ve got to say. Just say thanks and move on. Don’t try to make me feel small or wrong. If you wanted praise for your script, you should have started with that.
I had to hop off the call soon after that for work-related business, so don’t know how the rest of it went. While I’m slightly curious if any of the other participants had a similar experience, I’ve no pressing desire to find out.
Despite this bump in the road, I still enjoy giving notes and will continue to do so; maybe just a little more selectively.
Second: the getting.
A few weeks ago, I wrapped up the latest rewrite on the animated fantasy-comedy spec. My usual m.o. is to contact a few colleagues to ask their availability to give notes. This time, I opted to keep the number even lower and asked two.
Still waiting to hear back from one, but the other sent back a thorough set of notes. They explain what worked for them, what didn’t, and ask a lot of questions centered around the story and the characters.
It was my intent to get notes that would help make the script better, and that’s exactly what these are – and what I need. Yes, it would be great for someone to say what a fantastic script it is, and how much they loved it, but that’s not going to help improve the script, or why I asked them to read it.
An outside pair of eyes is more likely to see things that I, as the writer, might not. How could I argue with that? Maybe there’s something in there I don’t initially agree with, but would still want to know why they said it – the “note within the note”.
Getting solid notes from those within your network of writers can be a priceless resource, and hopefully you’ll be able to reciprocate with the same level of quality.
One thought on “Notes: givin’ ’em and gettin’ ’em”
That’s a sucky response. One screenwriting teacher I had said that you know a writer is professional when they want you to tell them what to cut from their script. This post is a good reminder to be grateful for all feedback.