Notes are an integral part of the screenwriting process because screenwriting is a collaborative art. While some of us may want to write in a silo, we will eventually need feedback on our scripts. And it can be hard to hear criticism when you've poured your heart onto the page. How do you handle screenplay notes that you disagree with?
Disney writer Ricky Roxburgh ("Tangled: The Series," and other Disney shows) has become accustomed to receiving notes from studio executives on the regular, and he's got some advice to make it a little easier to swallow those critiques. Better yet, he tells you how to implement those notes so that everyone, including you, will be happy with the final product.
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Once you've got your script to a point where it's ready for notes, most pros recommend taking a step back so you can think objectively about your story and how it functions. Of course, this is hard to do, so try to remove yourself – meaning your attachment to the project – so the notes process doesn't become personal. You'll agree with some notes, find others completely wrong, and may even get some ugly, mean notes in the process. But with Ricky's three steps, you'll know how to deal with every kind of note on your screenplay.
1. Find a Happy Medium
As stated above, screenwriting is part of a collaborative art process – the art of making a film or a TV show. It takes many people to make your story come to life. Most of the time, notes are not personal attacks on your work. The note giver is genuinely there to help you make a better product. While you can maintain your unique voice on the script, you want your story to resonate, so think of the rewrite as your chance to improve your story based on the way other readers perceive it.
2. Find the Value in the Note
As Ross Brown described in his guide to implementing notes, you’re the mechanic, screenwriter. If the note-giver comes to you and says that their car is making a weird noise, it’s your job to figure out where that noise is coming from. The note may not be specific, but there’s likely a particular cause for the problem behind it. Diagnose the issue.
And remember, the person giving the note has a unique perspective. They may ask you to change a scene because they know the cost to shoot it will be astronomically high. They may know that actors won’t likely want to say a particular line. Think about where they’re coming from and what they might see that you do not.
3. Don’t Fear the Note
It is hard to step back from our project and allow someone to unleash their opinions about it, but try to go into the process with a positive mindset rather than fear. If you’re less afraid of what someone might say about your screenplay and more excited about how they’ll improve it, you’ll have a completely different feeling about the notes when you receive them.
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Use notes as a tool in your writer toolkit. The better you learn to accept and implement notes, the more you’ll improve on your next screenplay.
It isn’t personal,