Sunday, December 04, 2016
Notes on giving notes
That’s not much different from getting script notes from former business affairs veeps, former lawyers, or 2010 graduates from Smith.
The best notes are the ones seeking clarification. “I didn’t understand this?” “Why is she mad?” If you’re having trouble tracking the story then I haven’t done my job. I will always address those notes.
The second best notes are the ones that are SPECIFIC. If a concern is pinpointed, I can respond to it. Either I can do the note or not, but at least I know what the note is.
There was a longtime executive at a major broadcast network who was notorious for giving the most obtuse notes imaginable. These are two actual notes that I have received from him.
1. (He holds his hand in the air) “Your script is here.” (He raises the level of his hand) “I’d like it to be here.” Huh????
2. “You’ve given me the meat the vegetables. But it needs more candy.”
How the hell do you write that? You spend half your rewrite just trying to decipher what to do? Have we raised it to this level? Or merely this level? Have we put in too much candy? Have we spoiled the meal? What is candy?
A Supreme Court Justice, I believe, coined the worst note ever. Justice Potter Stewart in 1964 ruled that Obscenity is not covered under the First Amendment. When asked the obvious question, “So what exactly is Obscenity?” he replied:
I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description ["hard-core pornography"]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it,
I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT.
Talk about shooting at a moving target. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve received this note. And it’s totally useless. I’m not a mind reader, and even if I were, what good would it do me if you don’t have a thought in your head?
Obviously, you can’t always articulate what your problem is or exactly what you’re looking for. And it’s my job as a writer to provide fresh ideas, surprise you once in awhile. But give me some clues. Give me some parameters. Point to some examples. What was a previous instance and what satisfied you that time? What, do you know for sure, you don’t want?
The answer to I KNOW IT WHEN I SEE IT is...
THEN YOU’LL SEE IT WHEN I KNOW IT.
Give specific notes!!! Thank you on behalf of the entire writing community.
This is a re-post from five years ago.