Learning how to give notes can make you a better writer, director, and/or executive. So why do people get it so wrong?
Most writers dread every note call. They happen after you've turned in your draft and can contain some of the most asinine and foolhardy comments that make you want to pull your hair out.
Script notes can drive you crazy. Writers react this way because not everyone is great at giving feedback that's both helpful and honest. Giving a critique without criticizing or confusing a writer is a special skill that can be learned.
Today, let's go over the best way to give notes so that if you're ever in the position, you'll be known as one of the best execs, fellow writers, or directors out there.
How to Give Notes on a Screenplay
As a writer, I can tell you, with many generalizations, that we're a sensitive bunch.
While those of us who have worked long enough and had our hearts broken have developed a thick skin, it also makes our bullshit meter swing higher. That means the better the notes we hear, the more trust we give in the person giving them to us.
This trust is an essential part of working in film and television. So let's learn how to give the screenplay notes people trust.
The best script notes focus on:
1. The overall concept
What works for you? Are there thematic tweaks you think can sharpen the overall concept? A way to distill the idea down to its best points?
2. The characters
Are you interested in their journey? What do you think the audience will love/hate about them? Does everyone have a distinct voice and arc?
3. The plot
4. The emotional payoffs
When you get to the final pages, does everything feel resolved emotionally? What arcs really connect, which need finer points? Are there any missed opportunities?
5. Scene-specific nitpicks
What lines bug you? Anything that seems out of character? Any sections of action that are too jumbled to understand? Set pieces that are confusing? Dialogue that doesn't make sense?
What's my role in the notes giving process?
The best note-givers want to make the story better. That's all.
You might have a mandate that a character needs to drink a Pepsi, or use an iPad, or that they need to show Toyota in a positive light. Fine. But you have to approach these things with care and a "story first" attitude.
The same goes for notes like "Middle America doesn't want to see the dog die." They might be true, but we have to find other ways than just throwing them around.
One of the things I learned while being in a Writer's Room was that you never shoot down an idea without a fix. Everything should be solution-oriented. Your notes should be the same way. So you can say things like "What if our protagonist needs a sugar rush to save the cat, so they grab a Pepsi? And if they need to hack into the building, could they use an iPad to do it? Also, what if the Toyota crashes and is fine. But the Pinto it hits explodes, and we make a joke?"
You can even chase notes with examples from other movies. "The dog dies in Blue Valentine, which also stars Gosling. Maybe this time he gives it away? Just as crushing and can help with this character feeling inadequate..."
See how all these things came with a fix?
The writer is under no mandate to take these fixes the way you word it, but it could jumpstart their vision and get the ball rolling with a positive light.
What's next? Learn about script consultants!
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of screenplay contests, pitch fests, and different ways to break into the industry or hone your screenwriting craft. But recently, a new tool has popped up for screenwriters: script consultants.
Are they bullshit?
Click to find out.