Many years ago, when I was just a budding young screenwriter, my boss came into my office and demanded a total rewrite of a script I had written. It was, in her words “a mess”. I humbly complied, completing the rewrite in five days, and handed it in just before Friday lunch. But it was later that afternoon that I realized I had inadvertently given her the wrong script. She was, in fact, reading my original hopelessly flawed version. I hurried down the hall and poked my head into her office, expecting the worst. Instead, she glanced up at me and smiled, triumphantly waving the script she had just finished re-reading. “MUCH better,”she proclaimed.
Truth be told, the thing I hate second-most about writing is receiving script notes. That’s because the thing I hate most about writing is doing the script rewrite. I think I can speak for most writers when I say that after struggling through a script, there’s nothing more satisfying than giving it that one final read and declaring it “done“. And nothing more disheartening than having to revisit it days later. It’s not that I object to criticism of my work (You have to have a pretty thick skin to survive in this business). It’s just that, after weeks spent tightening each scene and agonizing over every damn word, making alterations, no matter how slight, can be akin to pulling the thread that causes the entire garment to unravel.
Still, good notes will not only make the script better, but they will make you a better writer. Bad notes, on the other hand, only serve to frustrate and occasionally cause you to question the intelligence of the person delivering them. For instance, while I may not agree with all of their notes, I respect the people I work with enough to value their input because, more often than not, they’re right. The same can be said for SciFi’s Nora O’Brien who always bring a sharp perspective to every script. In this respect, I am spoiled.
I wasn’t always so fortunate. I’ve worked with my share of idiots (and, in all fairness, my share of equally bright individuals as well). I remember working on a show where we were constantly receiving the most asinine notes from one of the studio executives, let’s call her Annette, notes that demonstrated an inability to grasp even the most basic of plot points, or offered confoundingly vague assessments like: “No wowee.” and “Funnier?”. Even though the notes would go largely ignored, they were always a welcome, highly entertaining break from the hectic production schedule. They also inadvertently served to undermine Annette’s credibility at the studio, culminating in one truly memorable production meeting that went something like this:
Second A.D.: I think the director wants to use a crane for this shot.
Herb, the Company President: Okay. But maybe we should run this by Annette.
Second A.D.: Herb, does Annette have pictures of you fucking a donkey or what?
Sometimes, if you don’t have any constructive criticism to offer, you’re best off not offering any criticism at all.