Actors, here are some tips on how to convey your script concerns to writers in a way that might result in them addressing your problems without hating you, slashing your tires, or making you the butt of room jokes for seven continuous months.
One ground rule though: This is predicated
on your note being a legitimate concern with the sole purpose of
improving the show. There’s no hidden agenda of “this puts me in a bad light” or “I want to have the last line” or “this guy is not handsome enough to be my boyfriend”. We understand that you will never actually say your problem is “I don’t want the audience thinking I’m not attractive enough to snare a better looking boyfriend” so you will couch your objections in actor-double-speak. “It’s counter to my character’s arc”
and that sort of shit. Understand this: we see through that crap
immediately. And there’s nothing we hate more than arguing over the
script under the guise of art and integrity when we all know damn well
it’s purely about your vanity.
So, let’s assume you have
a legitimate concern. We writers don’t like to admit it in public but
we acknowledge that you live with the characters you’re playing, you
internalize them, you do give them a lot of thought (sometimes too much
thought), and ultimately you’re the one who will be in front of the
camera, naked to the world. Begrudgingly, we also admit that a lot of
your instincts are correct. Your suggestions many times improve the
So it’s just a matter of communicating your concerns in a
way that will make us receptive to you and here’s the key – WANT to
make those changes.
Quite simply, it’s all about showing us respect.
we come down to the stage don’t glare at us like we killed your puppy.
If the script doesn’t work it, we didn’t do it on purpose. Try to
remain positive. Give us the impression that you’re not overly
concerned, that you have every faith that we can fix it. Is that hard
to do sometime? Yes, of course. But you’re ACTORS. Act!
One trick is to start by praising something. You love “this” but just have some issues with “that”. We know you’re bullshitting We do the same thing when giving notes to other writers. But we appreciate the gesture.
If you want us to shut you off completely just say, “My character would never say that!” Whether it would or not, you say those words and we hate you.
You throw a script on the ground, expect us to walk away.
Please don’t say something we wrote is “stupid”. I can’t tell you how many times an actor claimed a certain story point or character action was “stupid” and “no one would ever do this”
when in truth it stemmed from an actual incident that happened to the
writer. Don’t trap yourself. Just ask. You can very nicely say, “this bit seems a little out there. Do you know of anyone who really did this?” If the answer is no, our next response will probably be, “You think we went too far?” You smile and say, “Well, kinda, yeah.” Our rewrite will include examining that bit.
I worked on a show once where an actress, a noted British thespian questioned some bit of business by saying, “So my motivation for this is what, darling? I’m an out-patient?”
Her way of registering protests was with slightly pointed humor.
This can be disarming or really backfire depending on the tone. Be
careful. In this case, she was a sweetheart and we knew there was no
malicious intent. That line became our way of questioning something for
the rest of the year.
If you don’t think your character would
say something we’ve written please tell us (nicely!!) why. We’ll never
expect you to come up with the alternate line, that’s our job. But
guide us a little. We’re not mind readers. And if you can, explain
your problems in plain English and not actor-speak. “This line goes counter to my emotional center” does not help us a whit.
Expressing your objection in the form of a question often softens the blow. “Don’t you think I’d be curious when I see him come to bed in clown make-up?” Often times it’s easier for us to just say, “We’ll look at that” rather than try to justify it.
once we say we’ll address it just thank us and move on. Don’t keep
belaboring the point. We got it. We’re on it. You made your sale.
Sometimes we’re not sure if it works or not so we want
to see it. When you show it don’t purposely sabotage it. Trust me,
we can tell in one nanosecond if you are. And if you are, we’re likely
to dig in our heels and insist that it stays.
Here is why we
need you to give it your best shot in a runthrough. If you commit to
the material and it doesn’t work then we know it’s our fault and not
yours. By seeing it on its feet we can often see what’s wrong with the
scene. An alternative might occur to us. A scene may not work but
there are three great jokes in there that do and maybe can be saved.
try to win every battle. Give us a few. If we really believe in our
best professional judgment that something works or will get the laugh,
let us have it. We’ll be so much more willing to change something for
you that we’re not as cock sure about. Again, it goes back to respect.
Trust us a little.
Don’t question EVERY line. After awhile we’ll hide from you, or in the case of a drama, kill you off.
finally, let me share with you the single best way to give a writer a
note and almost be guaranteed that he’ll agree to fix it. This comes
from Nick Colasanto (who played Coach on CHEERS). Whenever he had a
problem (which wasn’t often) he’d start off by saying, “Look, I’m happy to do it just as written, but…” Then he would lay out his concerns. But the fact that he offered to do it as written, we ALWAYS, every time, went back and adjusted the line to his satisfaction. Try it. It will work!
Thanking us the next day when we have made your changes also goes a long way in the goodwill department.
line: we all want to make the best show. Unfortunately, we’re also all
under tremendous stress, have giant egos, and are a mass of
insecurities. These are some tips to help actors deal with writers. I
bet you actors have an equal or longer list of things we writers can do
better in dealing with you. I may flinch but I’d be happy to hear