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Thursday, January 29, 2009

What Defines "good" Notes?

Morning, Wavers. I was going to write about good loglines today but I'm feeling lazy and busy. Busy and lazy. And overwhelmed. But the show must go on! So for today, here is an excerpt from an upcoming interview of moi in an undisclosed publication that I thought would make a convenient cut-n-paste and an informative, edu-taining read. We'll talk about loglines later. Suffice to say that mama has not been well pleased with the loglines submitted so far. We are missing conflict, we are not being pithy, we are sending stuff missing the key words. But. We shall revisit that anon. For now:

What makes for “good notes” from a reader?

Well, from where I sit, as the employer of many readers and a reader in the past myself, I would say that the notes need to be objective, respectful, instructive and well organized. Good notes from a company such as The Script Department are presented in such a way that the writer not only feels encouraged and validated in those areas that did work, but motivated and instructed about where to do better. I like my clients to come away with a plan of action and the energy and inspiration to attack improving the script, rather than feeling downhearted and directionless.

Bad notes are vague, snarky, verbose, disorganized and ultimately disrespectful of the writer. A good reader HAS to respect what the writer was trying to do. Nobody sets out to write a bad script. Nobody. Doesn't happen.

Now: there’s a very important distinction to be made here. Readers who work for production companies provide coverage that the writer will never see. The report is not for the writer, it is for the production company. So these notes will be quite a bit harsher and pretty unforgiving. Well, totally unforgiving. Readers who provide notes for a company such as mine are working for the writer. And the writer is going to see those notes and use them as a guide for improvement. That’s quite a different kettle of fish. Coverage versus Notes: Coverage is a brutal assessment. Notes are an instructive assessment.

When it comes to readers who work for The Script Department, I have one, overarching philosophy that my readers are aware of: I don’t care where a writer is on the curve, they worked hard on the script and deserve to be treated with respect because anyone who creates something where there was nothing and then asks for feedback is pretty okay in my book.

Readers who come to my company after having read for a production company have to take a moment to adjust to a new atmosphere; kind honesty and shrewd observations instead of brutal honesty and shrewd observations. Having made the transition myself, I know it is quite an adjustment. Believe me, it's much, much easier to do notes for a production company. You just crank them out and the writer's feelings are inconsequential. To produce notes that instruct and motivate takes more thought and time.

Good notes that YOU the writer will actually see and read should leave you feeling inspired to do better, not crying in your soup. Even when we have to give you bad news, it should be given in such a way that you want to rise to a challenge, not jump off a bridge. What I try to do is to provide notes to my clients that will result in a great coverage from a production company down the line. So we're honest, alright, but we want the result to be a better script. And you know what I always say -a spoonful of sugar and all that. Beating a writer up never encourages anything positive.

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Anonymous said...

"Nobody sets out to write a bad script. Nobody. Doesn't happen"

I wished some of the Readers from some of the biggest Screenplay Contest in LA would listen to that.

They took my money and made me feel bad for months. When I paid them. I paid them to de-motivate me. I will never use them. I will only use companies like THE SCRIIPT DEPARTMENT and a few others.

Thanks Julie for inspiring writers around the world to do re-writes.

If I pay, I expect the Reader to be respectful and organized.

I'm paying. I'm paying. How come Readers and coverage providers from those other BIG CONTESTS like ************za don't get it?

What goes around comes around.

Thanks Julie for understanding.

J.J. said...

Re your logline thing: sent one, just for fun.

re your "good" notes post: I like specific detain in my notes, something along the line of, "You wrote this here and then down here you wrote and I don't see the connection. Did you mean to say this? And then the reader provides some sort of definitive note which really indicates that they understand what the writer is trying to do, but hasn't gotten there and offers notes to pave the way.

Julie Gray said...

I'm sorry you had negative experiences at competitions, Anon. Very often, readers for competitions are being paid very little if at all and are not instructed or motivated to give feedback (where feedback is received; many competitions don't give it) that is particularly thoughtful.

We're going to try something different at the Silver Screenwriting Competition this year which is to return a brief coverage grid to each entrant noting why they did (or didn't) move up to the next round of judging. Competitions aren't designed to give writers feedback, per se - the feedback is whether you move up in the judging process. Ideally, you want to get notes and THEN enter a competition.

Luzid said...

It's funny, but I'd actually love to see some of that brutal coverage of a script of mine.

I'm confident enough in my work to know I'm a good writer who comes up with interesting ideas and characters (that confidence has been bolstered by recent events), and I'm a huge believer in cutting to the chase. I don't *want* sugercoating. Can't get better that way.

Not that the notes I've received on a couple of my scripts is dishonest -- not at all. I just wonder how brutal the coverage would be. Morbid curiousity, I guess. : )

Julie Gray said...

Luzid - upon occasion we have a client who asks for straight up, ruff n tuff coverage because they claim they can handle it. It's not worked out very well. If you were to for some bizarre reason read your coverage from a prodco and it wasn't good, you can just go cry in a bucket somewhere, but if you know who gave those notes and you paid for them, well - scorched earth. It's human nature.

It's like your wife or girlfriend saying tell me how I look in this dress and tell the truth. It's a trap, man. A total trap.