What Does "The Note Behind The Note" Mean?

'Trumbo'Credit: Bleecker Street
Getting feedback on your work is like putting together a puzzle! 

Let me know if this has happened to you.

It took you a long time to finish a project. Maybe it's a script, film, short, or web series. Once you have a finished version, you send it out to your closest friends and advisors to give you feedback. What happens is that you get a lot of useful things to revise, but sometimes you get some notes that don't make sense.

Maybe they mention motivations you like, but they don't, or set pieces they just think aren't working, or maybe they tell you that you're just... missing something. In those instances, where you're completely lost, you have to find "the note behind the note."

Today we're going to go over that saying and show how you can decipher it within your own work. 

What Does "The Note Behind The Note" Mean?  

The "note behind the note" is an adage that means you have to understand where the note is coming from to unlock what actually needs to be changed to address the note-giver's feelings and reaction.

How can I find the note behind the note? 

This is not as easy to address. In order to find that hidden feeling behind what you've been told, you need to assess the person in question.

If possible, have them really elaborate on the note you've been given. A discussion can sometimes unveil things. But if you can't get them talking, you need to get thinking. If they hate a character, a choice, or a set-piece, think about why.

Maybe they don't understand the motivation of that character. And sculpting that out could help. Maybe they have seen that set-piece before, so you need to be more creative. 

As a writer, director, or producer, your job is to listen to notes. It's never easy to bare your soul and be vulnerable in front of people. But be aware that it's not always easy for people to give notes. Film and TV are such visceral, experiential mediums that it can be hard to put what people feel into words. Respecting that can help you unpack what people mean when they say things. 

How can I use this for the rewrite? 

As I mentioned above, if you have an inkling of what they want, start small. Tweak very specific things that address their feelings. Really tailor it to one character, scene, or problem. Don't change five things to address one thing. If possible, ask them their opinion on the idea of what you've changed. If not, I think asking the next reader to read with a specific look into what someone else mentioned is fair, although I would strongly advise you to get the next person reading totally cold to other notes, so you get a fair assessment of what might have bumped them. 

No matter what, be appreciative someone gave you notes at all! It's not easy sitting and reading. It's also why so many people pay for coverage. Keep writing. Your best work will always be the stuff you refine. 

Let me know what you think in the comments.      

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