Taking and implementing notes is a skill that every screenwriter must hone. Screenwriting is collaborative, and that goes for the process that happens before, during, and after production. But how do you handle feedback that you don't agree with?
Veteran TV writer Ross Brown got very good at receiving notes during his time as a television writer ("Step by Step," "The Cosby Show," and more) and now, he's the one giving notes to his students in the MFA program at Antioch University in Santa Barbara. In an interview with SoCreate, he explained why a note might not always be what it seems, how to improve your script based on feedback that you may not agree with, and if there's ever an appropriate time to put your foot down.
"Handling notes is a real learned skill, and I had to do a lot of this because I was a television writer, and that was a regular part of my week," he told us. "And, what I learned over time, [is that] network executives are really terrible at telling you how to fix your script. What they're really good at is telling you where there's something wrong with your script."
Brown compared the notes process to diagnosing a problem with your car or pain in your neck. While a few people might try to fix it themselves, most people would turn to an expert. You, screenwriter, are the expert.
"If I'm driving in my car, and I hear a funny noise, I can't tell you how to fix whatever the noise is. I take it to a mechanic," he explained. "You're the one who has to figure out how to solve the problem; they're the person who's coming in and saying, 'My neck hurts me somehow, here.'"
Of course, we're all protective over our work. So, what is a writer to do when they are given a mandatory note that they don't agree with? Look inward and interpret.
"When I get a note that I don't agree with, I try to ask myself, okay, what's stopping them at that point in the script?" Brown said. "You need to diagnose the problem and figure out what the appropriate treatment is."
The doctor is in!