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Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Take. The note.

That's what one of my friends said to me the other day as she described a group script meeting in which she got, in her words, "hammered" on some of her material. And as the group circled around my friend like a pack of hyenas, snipping, sniping and drawing blood, it was all my friend could do to hold back the tears. It's not like I set out to write a bad script, she said. And then it came back to her - just take the note. Write it down and keep moving, don't argue, don't equivocate, don't explain, just take the notes.

This, Rouge Wavers, is how a professional writer acts in a script meeting. You will hear notes that make you want to laugh or have a Tourettes moment but no, you just scribble it down and take everything into consideration. Because here's the thing - some of the notes - SOME of them, mind you, have merit. But in the heat of the moment, it is very hard to hear that something you thought was crystal clear or very funny - was not. I read a script for a client recently and got an argument or lengthy explanation back for every major point I made. And then again, on follow-up notes. Not defensive, exactly, but certainly adamant notes.

It is times like that when I think so, why did you pay someone to give you notes if all the notes are, according to you, wrong? Just. Take. The Note. What you do with notes later is your own business. But if you're a smart writer and you really want to improve the script and your writing skills, you'll mull over the notes carefully - even the ones you disagree with, and find a way to use them to the script's advantage.

If you find yourself arguing against every note you got, finding some reason, some logic, some plain view page where it should be clear remember this: it doesn't matter how clear it is to YOU. If someone else can't figure something out - you didn't make it clear ENOUGH. So take a deep breath, save the defensiveness and just take the note.

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Jay said...

Usually what you say is true. But I think there is one HUGE exception to this.

Let's say the person giving you the note is a teacher. Or somebody who's opinion you really trust. Really respect. And they are comfortable with you.

Then I say argue the note. Argue it until you are convinced they are right and you are positive they're completely wrong.

Why? Because at the end of the day, it's not really about whether or not that moment in the script worked. It's about your judgment as a writer, being able to spot the moment next time BEFORE you commit it to words and give it to somebody. Fixing a bad note because somebody tells you to, even though you don't believe the note is good, teaches you nothing about how to do it better the next time.

So if the person is somebody you're comfortable with, I say argue the note until they show you why you are wrong.

What ever that thing is, you put it in the script to begin with because you thought it worked. If you don't fight for it, you've kowtowed to somebody else's judgment and all you've learned is how to roll over.

Make them convince you. Because one of two things will happen - either you'll become convinced and your craft will be stronger, or you'll have your convictions hardened and believe in yourself that much more.

I stress again - this is only valid with people and situations where you have a huge amount of trust. Otherwise yes, just shut up and take the note.

Julie Gray said...

Ah but Jay - you misunderstand something fundamentally important here. I said "take the note". That means write it down. I did not say, make the change based on the note. No, no, no, that is up to YOUR judgment as a writer. You take it down and you figure it out.

Tavis said...

Have you ever encountered a note-giver requesting credit for a suggestion that significantly altered a script?

Have you ever given a note that significantly altered a later version of a script-- or the completed film itself?

Christina said...

Here's what I do - I take the note. Sometimes, I cry in private. But I take the damn note, and then another, and another.

After 3-5 sets of notes on a particular draft, I look for trends and repeats. If 4 out of 5 readers tell me that x beat felt contrived, you bet I'm going to do something. If 1 out of 5 people told me it was contrived, I'll still think about it, but not as hard.

You can't do anything with one set of notes, really, unless they're from a master note giver. You need sets of notes because I do believe it's possible for one particular reader to not get a script, but it's not possible for 3 readers not to get a script. If 3 readers don't get it, you got issues...

Julie Gray said...

Tavis - sorry for my tardy reply. The Wave-inatrix is with the incredibly busy lately. No, I have never had a person ask for credit and yes I have given notes that altered the shape of the script significantly. And I have received notes that did that to my material - for the better. When my writing partner and had our script in development at Fox, we had to change the point of view entirely away from one character and shifted to that of another. It was like turning a sock inside out. At first we were bummed; we liked how we'd executed that early draft. But after we decided to try making the change, we were really pleased with it.