This was supposed to be part one of a two part article until I screwed up the timer. If you think I'm bad with programming a blog you should see me on heavy machinery. Anyway, the other part was yesterday and yesterday's is today.
This is a post for executives, studios, networks, pod producers, critics, D-girls, professors, wives – anyone who gives script notes. How you present notes is often as important or more important than the notes themselves. There are times when the messenger should be killed. Here are some do-nots when delivering notes. And there are enough of them that this is a two-day article.
First, understand that we writers hate notes. We begrudgingly do realize that they’re sometimes helpful and under the influence of Ethanol will admit they can improve a script, but we hate them. You’re going to get much better results if you present them in a respectful way.
Try to say some nice things about the script first, even if you have to be creative, even if you have to lie. Again, it’s about respect – real or otherwise. And try to make the compliments credible. We can see through, “really nice font” or “we’re generally very happy”.
Don’t lead us on. Don’t say, “I just have a couple of little things” and then bombard us with an hour of notes.
If there is a group of you, consolidate and assign one person to give the notes. I said we hate notes. That’s nothing compared to how much we hate being gangbanged. We once had a notes session with twenty executives – and it was a conference call. Twenty voices all yammering at once, all offering conflicting notes, arguing with each other. We heard nothing. So we did nothing. We did whatever we wanted and turned it in. They were happy. I guess they assumed that whatever we did we were addressing someone’s note even if they didn’t remember it being given. Pick your best guy. Distill all the notes into one coherent presentation.
Don’t use the expression “this bumped me” before giving a note. It bumps me more that you say that. Do they teach a “suit slang” class at Bennington now?
Don’t say, “Sure, it’s funny but…” Do you have any idea how hard it is to MAKE something funny? You can convey your point without dismissing the key component of a comedy script.
Be specific. This is a big one. It’s hard enough to satisfy your concerns without having to hire a Navajo translator or psychic to help decipher them.
There was a network executive we dealt with for years. Very smart, excellent programmer, and a good guy. I’m very fond of him personally. But he gave the worst most obtuse pilots notes on the planet. Here are some examples.
He’d say “this script is here” and hold up his hand, then raise his hand higher and say, “but I want it here”. And that would be his only note. What the fuck?!
He’d say, “this script has the meat and vegetables, I would just like to see what’s for dessert.” Yeah, right. Go off and write that.
This same executive was giving notes on a friend’s pilot and said, “If CHEERS is a place where everybody knows your name, then your place is…?” My friend answered, “Well, gee, we haven’t written the title song yet.”
I know it’s tough when something bothers you and you can’t put your finger on it but try as best you can to be specific.
Tomorrow: Friday questions -- Debunking CHEERS myths. Unless I screw up again and schedule it for next Thursday or last Tuesday.