Good notes and bad notes
by Jason Benoit, Esq.
Dear random Hollywood person who reads scripts and gives notes,
I have been working “in Hollywood” since 2007. Not counting those four internships that I did while in college. I got really kick ass at copying scripts and making coffee.
But that’s besides the point. In the last seven plus years, I have lay witness to many different avenues of the creative process. I’ve seen and heard writers get notes from studio heads, executives, producers, directors, fellow writers, agents, managers… and even assistants. Probably some unpaid interns, too.
So, here’s the thing I want to see happen: I want to see these people get notes on how well they do their job. It’s a novel idea, right? I’m not saying I disagree with how these people do their jobs. In fact, I totally get how they do their jobs. I’ve worked for an agency, for a producer and for the head of a studio division. But here’s where I’m getting…
Most people whose job it is to give notes on projects have never actually been taught how to give constructive notes.
Think of it this way: You send a creative person (a writer, let’s say) off to craft a world filled with vibrant, three-dimensional characters and you have to weave in plot and subtext and you’re putting, ideally, all of your creative energy into this project. You second guess yourself. You pound your head on the table. On the laptop. Against the wall. Not to contrast it with, say, something that actually is really hard to do like perform open heart surgery, but writing – in and of itself – is really fucking hard.
And it’s nerve-wracking. At the end of the day, the thing you are creating is merely a starting point. A blueprint for a movie, show, etc. But that doesn’t mean that you didn’t pour a ton of your soul into the work. Again, ideally. We’re not just talking about a paycheck project here. Those projects are a whole other beast with their own subset of problems.
Let me let you in on a little secret: Writers want to hear the things they did well.
They need to hear the things you liked and think worked. Too many times, these days, I see people providing their feedback and they gloss completely over the pat on the butt with a throwaway line like “We like a lot of what you did but let’s not waste time on that…” and then dive into ten pages of notes or two hours of criticism. This is called the ‘no foreplay’ approach.
I love notes. Constructive notes. They stretch my skill-set as a writer and they help me explore things I maybe didn’t initially see. But, learn how to give notes constructively, community. Know that they can be valuable – but also recognize that when you hire someone to create something, it’s not a paint-by-the-numbers process. Don’t follow the standard: here’s two good things, now here’s twenty bad things.
I know people’s time is short. I know this is a demanding business. And in many ways it’s a very fast-paced one (in others, it couldn’t be more glacial), but invest the time to puff your writer up before you tear them down. I bet you they’ll do better work, work harder, longer and even “for free” if you are someone who is willing to go the extra mile to pump them up just a little bit. That’s not being dismissive of notes – that’s just understanding that creative people sometimes need to hear that on the twelfth draft, that amid all the ‘problems,’ there’s also a lot of good stuff you’re doing.
I, thankfully, have had a number of really great creative partners. But I’ve also seen far too many times a bunch of people fly right past the praise, too eager to prove they are smarter, better, or more creative. This isn’t about who is the best. It’s about who, as a group, can make it better.
And writers, remember that while not every note is gold, all notes usually come from someplace. Try to understand the notes and where they are coming from – it’ll make you a better writer to let go sometimes. Because you can always return to where you started. Even if the notes are friggin’ ridiculous.
Remember, any creative endeavor isn’t yours entirely. In Hollywood, it’s merely a template for collaborators. So, partake in the process as one. But partake in it fully.
This guy who thinks we need a little more positivity towards our writers