In a notes session, “starting with the positives” is the animal wrangling equivalent of approaching slowly and speaking in a calm, soothing voice.  It’s designed to relax the intended victim, lull them into a false sense of security.

Then, the second they let their guard down, they’re ensnared, bagged, and shipped off to some zoo where they’ll spend the rest of their lives waiting for the man with the yellow hat to bring more bananas and wondering how it all went wrong.  Or working on a script rewrite.

Like most defenseless animals, writers are easily spooked and one whiff of danger is enough to send them scurrying for the safety of the high branches, or the bathroom, so that positive opening is de rigueur.  “Hey, the script was a lot of fun. I just have a few thoughts”, “A terrific first effort!  Great dialogue.  Now, if you could just make a few adjustments…” Or “Nicely formatted.  Your grammar is beyond reproach.  As for the rest of it – well, you may want to cancel that weekend trip.”.

Starting with the positives can only mean one of two things: 1) They generally liked the script or 2) They generally hated it.  Those initial positives tell you nothing.  It’s the negatives that will give you a real sense of what they really thought of your script.

For instance, if their notes are few and/or capable of being easily incorporated into the next draft, then chances are they generally liked the script.  If, on the other hand, your notes session…

a) at any time finds you raising your voice in defense to the point where you sound like classic SNL’s Mr. Bill…

b) runs roughly as long as it took you to write the script in the first place, and/or….

c) includes the phrase “What were you thinking?”, then chances are they didn’t love the script and you’re going to have your work cut out for you.

My advice for taking notes is to not lose your shit. Remain calm. And polite. Be receptive to their input. Ask for clarification if need be. But do NOT commit to anything!

Then ask them to forward you their notes so that you can review and obsess over them in private. Take the time to thoughtfully consider their input, come up with a game plan, and then respond with what I like to call Notes on Notes, again, requesting clarity when necessary, offering suggestions for how to best address their concerns, offering reasoned pushback on some points, and perhaps inquiring if they were joking or high when they gave THAT particular note.

Occasionally, you will come across a note so alarming, so batshit crazy or narratively destructive that it may reduce you to tears or trigger an expletive-laden outburst that will have your neighbors steering their children indoors.

In those instances, I urge you to look for “the spirit of the note”. What is their issue with the script that prompted this wild suggestion? Identify it and find a way to address it that won’t require you to disassemble the current draft.

Finally, remind yourself that notes are delivered out of a desire to make your script even better. And, occasionally, that will only happen if the end of your second act becomes the end of your tease.


7 thoughts on “The Dreaded Script Notes!

  1. Really? Cool. I think? If anything I am reliable and persistent. Thanks for keeping it entertaining and interesting over the years.

    (I remember when WordPress could name your top commenters in a year. And when your faithful here would fight to be “First!” comment of the night. Lol.)

  2. There’s a lot of experience behind those words.

    Which project looks like it will going first?

    If you do start a project soon, is the Japan trip still on?

    1. It honestly doesn’t matter what I think is more likely to go because, from experience, THAT is the one that probably will NOT go.
      I’m going to Japan regardless of what happens with the projects. Unlikely that we would get a writer’s room up and running before then.

      1. You two need that Japan trip. Very glad it won’t be postponed! Plus, I admit to looking forward to the food porn. 🤣

      2. Murphy’s Law says that is EXACTLY what will happen.

        I’ve learned with my business I have to carve out time for myself or doing things with Jeff. Getting away last year for a week to renew our vows was so wonderful. I put out a company-wide email saying that I need a break and if anyone has [these dates] in mind to go away that they haven’t already booked, and I give them X number of days to respond. And then I book it and let anyone know I cannot change these dates and if something comes up, I will need to give them another pet sitter in the area whom I trust to do a good job. For you it is doing exactly what you said you are going to do–go to Japan.

        We couldn’t go this year because of the major issues with my sister and Patrick, but we are eyeing January when the prices go down because–really–who likes to go to the beach in what we consider to be our winter. Well–we do! We like avoiding people and looking at the waves and smelling the salt in the area.

        I’m glad you are going to Japan regardless.

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