Here are some ways not to give notes. I screwed up and posted part 2 first. The first half of this helpful constructive rant will be posted tomorrow. The point is how not to give notes. Tomorrow will be centered more on network and studio executives.
Think through the ramifications of your notes. Don’t just say, “let’s do this instead”. Your suggestion may solve one immediate problem but screw up everything else that follows. Remember, every story beat, every line has been discussed (usually to death) and is there in that form for a reason. I’m not saying it can’t be improved but take a moment to appreciate the logic process first.
You know what really enrages us? When you ask for something in the script that’s already there. Please read the damn thing. We worked very hard on it. When you hear us respond to one of your notes by saying, “It’s right there on page 8!” know that when we get back to the office you are the target of moron jokes for a week.
Another sensitive area is giving notes on jokes. If they’re notes on a runthrough there is no need for you to point out which jokes didn’t work. We’re trained comedy writers. We can recognize silence.
If it’s just a joke on a page then it gets trickier. You’re making a subjective call. Here is where tact comes in again. A well-known producer with a shocking lack of tact used to challenge the writer when he didn’t like a joke. He’d say, “How is that funny? Explain to me why anyone in the fucking world would laugh at that?” It’s hard to rewrite comedy when your testicles have been removed.
Contrast that to Gene Reynolds when he was producing MASH. He’d merely say, “You might want to take another look at that joke”. That’s all you need, isn’t it?
Don’t – I repeat DON’T ever vote on jokes. Don’t ask for a show of hands among the executives around the table as to whether they liked a particular joke. That’s like us taking a poll as to whether your dick is long enough. And trust me, you don't want to hear the results.
Actors: We writers don’t take kindly to you throwing the script on the floor and yelling that it’s “shit”! Call us over-sensitive. You can go over to us and say, “I’m having a little trouble with this.” That we’ll listen to. “I could use a little help here”. We’ll respond positively to that too.
But “My character wouldn’t say that” – we hate that a thousand times more than “this bumps me”. An actor once said that to producer Steven Bochco. He said to the actor, "Maybe your character wouldn't say that, but he's not your character, he's my character, and he's saying it right here." He pointed to the script.
Nick Collasanto (the Coach on CHEERS) was the smartest actor I’ve ever worked with when it came to giving writers notes. He would always start off by saying, “I’m happy to do it just the way you have it here, but…” and then he’d go on and express his concern. The fact that he said he’d do it as written we ALWAYS changed it to his satisfaction.
Dear actors, think of us as collaborators not mules.
Again, it all boils down to respect. It may not look it but we put a lot of time and effort into these scripts. In some cases we pour out our hearts and souls (not so much on episodic but still). And even though we don’t like them, we appreciate thoughtful notes and only want the script to get better. If you present your notes well I can almost guarantee that we’ll take the script from here to here… or at least here.