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TwoBrad Bradley
08-24-2009, 05:27 PM
Something sc said in another thread got me thinking, but I didn't want to go off-topic.

If you should be fortunate enough to receive exec notes, and one note seems to be for no reason, do you dismiss it immediately? Or do you take some time to consider why that exec would suggest something so stupid?

(sc, feel free to re-post your example.)

wcmartell
08-24-2009, 05:50 PM
I always look at the note - because some notes are about the symptoms rather than the cause and seem strange.

I always joke about the "What if they were cowboys?" note I got from the guy at MGM on a contemp bank robbery script (like HEAT). He wanted my bank robbers to wear big cowboy hats and chaps and spurs and carry antique six-guns... and use horses for their getaway. I thought that was a crazy note, but really it was a note about the symptom, rather than the cause. I had to find the note under the note.

What that note really meant was that, although each of the bank robbers had a very distinctive personality, there was nothing that distinquished them as bank robbers. There was no single thing that made the *group* distinctive. So the crazy note that I joke about was really a good note in disguise.

Though some notes really are crazy (I did a blog entry on Script Killer Notes a few days ago), many that sound crazy are just an exec being unable to place their finger on what exactly the problem is, though they know there is one.

By the way - it's difficult to ignore notes if the exec has them written down or there is an assistant in the room taking notes on the meeting. They often read over the list and ask why the hell you ignored that note. Better to discuss it at the meeting than try to sweep it under the rug.

- Bill

docgonzo
08-24-2009, 06:09 PM
I always look at the note - because some notes are about the symptoms rather than the cause and seem strange.

I always joke about the "What if they were cowboys?" note I got from the guy at MGM on a contemp bank robbery script (like HEAT). He weanted my bank robbers to wear hats and chaps and spurs and carry antique six-guns... and uses horses for their getaway. I thought that was a crazy note, but really it was a note about the symptom, rather than the cause. I had to find the note under the note.

What that note really meant was that, although each of the bank robbers had a very distinctive personality, there was nothing that distinquisdhed them as bank robbers. There was no single thing that made the *group* distinctive. So the crazy note that I joke about was really a good note in disguise.

Though some notes really are crazy (I did a blog entry on Script Killer Notes a few days ago), many that sound crtazy are just an exec being unable to place their finger on what exactly the problem is, though they know there is one.

By the way - it's difficult to ignore notes if the exec has them written down or there is an assistant in the room taking notes on the meeting. They often read over the list and ask why the hell you ignored that note. Better to discuss it at the meeting than try to sweep it under the rug.

- Bill

So how did you handle that particular note? And how did the exec respond?

wcmartell
08-24-2009, 06:12 PM
Well, not everything works out - the exec insisted I write a cowboy version where the big car chase has police cars chasing horses through a city... and I wrote that... and it was silly... and the project crashed and burned. Which often happens.

- Bill

Biohazard
08-24-2009, 06:32 PM
Going on what Bill said...

Most notes you get will be for a particular reason, which may or may not indicate the problem, but rather give a recommendation for a solution.

You have to make sure every detail of your story is properly communicated to whoever may read it. We all know the details of our stories before we write them, but just because there are words on a page does not mean that I will understand your story as well as you.

However, there are some dumbasses out there who want cowboys in your script just because they want cowboys. I would have told that guy to f--k off.

corduroy
08-24-2009, 07:57 PM
Some execs are actually really great at giving coherent, logical notes that improve the story. Most are not. Not necessarily in a jerky way- they're just not writers. They don't really know how to say "I don't like this" in a way that's helpful.

If someone gives me a note I find baffling, I try to ask (non-defensive) questions to get at the root of what they're saying: I think that an incomprehensible note is usually a sign that the exec is fumbling for words to explain what basically amounts to "This doesn't work, but I don't know why."

Sometimes people give you notes that are mystifying until you realize that they're trying to make a completely different movie than you are. If you're pitching RUSH HOUR and they want THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, you're going to have a really hard time implementing their notes.

And sometimes, people give you notes that are flat-out stupid and wrong for the story (things like "What if your sharpshooter hero is BLIND, that would be awesome!") The correct response is "Interesting! Let me think about that." - and you just hope the exec doesn't have too many along those lines.

EvilRbt
08-27-2009, 10:44 AM
"Make the villain more evil. Like Darth Vader."

That's the dumbest, most unspecific note I ever received from an exec. I just looked at him: "Seriously, dude?"

TwoBrad Bradley
08-27-2009, 11:09 AM
"Make the villain more evil. Like Darth Vader."

That's the dumbest, most unspecific note I ever received from an exec. I just looked at him: "Seriously, dude?"
Why did the exec feel the villain needed to be more evil?

Was there already something about the villain that made him stand out over the hundreds of other movie villains?

Could this really be about the "hero"? Is the hero resolving the various conflicts too easily?

Seriously, why?

TheKeenGuy
08-27-2009, 11:29 AM
"Make the villain more evil. Like Darth Vader."

That's the dumbest, most unspecific note I ever received from an exec. I just looked at him: "Seriously, dude?"
Now see, if the note had been "less Darth Vader, more Emperor Palpatine," I might have understood what he meant.

Charisma
08-27-2009, 07:07 PM
Going on what Bill said...

Most notes you get will be for a particular reason, which may or may not indicate the problem, but rather give a recommendation for a solution.

You have to make sure every detail of your story is properly communicated to whoever may read it. We all know the details of our stories before we write them, but just because there are words on a page does not mean that I will understand your story as well as you.

However, there are some dumbasses out there who want cowboys in your script just because they want cowboys. I would have told that guy to f--k off.
Hi biO.

Is that Tina Fey with the gun(s)?:eek:

Rantanplan
08-28-2009, 12:24 AM
If you're pitching RUSH HOUR and they want THE SQUID AND THE WHALE, you're going to have a really hard time implementing their notes.
.

I'm guessing that scenario would usually be reversed :) :)

As Jeff said in the post where he was acknowleging that paying for coverage could potentially be a good thing, one of his fears was, and I'm paraphrasing, having a reader who doesn't connect at all with your script guiding you in a completely different (and misled) direction.

This I think is the fear. How, especially if you're a newcomer, how do you measure the value between what your gut tells you and what a supposed professional tells you? If indeed you are writing a character driven drama and they want to turn it into an action filled romp, what do you do??? Suck it up because this might be your big chance, or trust your vision and hold out until you cross paths with someone who likes your script for precisely the same reasons you do?

I find this to be a terrible dilemna... THAT is the question that keeps me up at night. Whose vision do you trust? And if the notes in question are coming from a rep, not an exec (big difference!), you know damn well that the rep's vision still doesn't guarantee a sale. But then the rep might drop you if you don't abide but his/her vision, and so then you're screwed either way.

Ugh.

EvilRbt
08-28-2009, 01:47 AM
I'm guessing that scenario would usually be reversed :) :)

As Jeff said in the post where he was acknowleging that paying for coverage could potentially be a good thing, one of his fears was, and I'm paraphrasing, having a reader who doesn't connect at all with your script guiding you in a completely different (and misled) direction.

This I think is the fear. How, especially if you're a newcomer, how do you measure the value between what your gut tells you and what a supposed professional tells you? If indeed you are writing a character driven drama and they want to turn it into an action filled romp, what do you do??? Suck it up because this might be your big chance, or trust your vision and hold out until you cross paths with someone who likes your script for precisely the same reasons you do?

I find this to be a terrible dilemna... THAT is the question that keeps me up at night. Whose vision do you trust? And if the notes in question are coming from a rep, not an exec (big difference!), you know damn well that the rep's vision still doesn't guarantee a sale. But then the rep might drop you if you don't abide but his/her vision, and so then you're screwed either way.

Ugh.

Stick to your vision. Always. Don't let anyone else tell you to write a different movie from the one you want to write. If you can afford to pay for pro coverage or you have screenwriter friends who will read for free, then definitely get some objective feedback. This might generate amazing ideas, even inspire you... or you might completely disagree. But stay true to yourself and the movie you have in your heart.

As for exec notes, I always tell my agent: I'll implement the note if it makes the movie better. If it makes it worse or the same, forget it.

SoCalScribe
08-28-2009, 02:52 PM
Something sc said in another thread got me thinking, but I didn't want to go off-topic.

If you should be fortunate enough to receive exec notes, and one note seems to be for no reason, do you dismiss it immediately? Or do you take some time to consider why that exec would suggest something so stupid?

(sc, feel free to re-post your example.)


Development notes are given for a variety of reasons... but one of those reasons is almost never "just because". Regardless of the merit or the motivation behind the note, the executive is telling you that something, in his or her opinion, can be improved in the script. Maybe the exact suggestion they give isn't the best way to go about it, but as the others have said, the value of development notes is more often in the diagnosis of a problem than it is the remedy of that problem.

In that sense, I wouldn't ever say you should dismiss a note immediately and entirely. I'd also advise against that because the note may have come from the executive that's going to decide whether to option your work (or from an executive who has a considerable say in whether to option your work). So saying, "No, that's stupid; I won't do it." or "I'm ignoring that note because I don't agree" or anything like that, could potentially damage your chances of selling the work because it could either offend that executive, or make it appear that you're unable or unwilling to address development notes in a productive manner.

We all get bad notes from time to time. Sometimes we just don't like the suggestion, other times we recognize the - let's be honest - ridiculousness of a suggestion. But the technique that's always worked for me is to address each and every note you're given, by either by agreeing with it and making the change, or disagreeing with it and finding a better alternative. That way, you're not getting into the mindset of either ignoring the notes or attacking them... you're addressing them in a productive way.

My writing partner is one of the best "development meeting" guys I've ever been in a room with. Why? Because when he's there talking to an exec, he either agrees with the notes he's been given, or he makes a suggestion to improve or alter the note into something that he can live with... which has the added bonus of making the exec feel good that he or she is "contributing" to the development process.

In my experience, making the process more about finding the underlying issue related to a note and figuring out a workable solution that makes everyone happy is an infinitely better approach to these situations than a checklist session where you're going down the notes you will and won't address on the project.

:)

EvilRbt
08-28-2009, 03:12 PM
Development notes are given for a variety of reasons... but one of those reasons is almost never "just because". Regardless of the merit or the motivation behind the note, the executive is telling you that something, in his or her opinion, can be improved in the script. Maybe the exact suggestion they give isn't the best way to go about it, but as the others have said, the value of development notes is more often in the diagnosis of a problem than it is the remedy of that problem.

In that sense, I wouldn't ever say you should dismiss a note immediately and entirely. I'd also advise against that because the note may have come from the executive that's going to decide whether to option your work (or from an executive who has a considerable say in whether to option your work). So saying, "No, that's stupid; I won't do it." or "I'm ignoring that note because I don't agree" or anything like that, could potentially damage your chances of selling the work because it could either offend that executive, or make it appear that you're unable or unwilling to address development notes in a productive manner.

We all get bad notes from time to time. Sometimes we just don't like the suggestion, other times we recognize the - let's be honest - ridiculousness of a suggestion. But the technique that's always worked for me is to address each and every note you're given, by either by agreeing with it and making the change, or disagreeing with it and finding a better alternative. That way, you're not getting into the mindset of either ignoring the notes or attacking them... you're addressing them in a productive way.

My writing partner is one of the best "development meeting" guys I've ever been in a room with. Why? Because when he's there talking to an exec, he either agrees with the notes he's been given, or he makes a suggestion to improve or alter the note into something that he can live with... which has the added bonus of making the exec feel good that he or she is "contributing" to the development process.

In my experience, making the process more about finding the underlying issue related to a note and figuring out a workable solution that makes everyone happy is an infinitely better approach to these situations than a checklist session where you're going down the notes you will and won't address on the project.

:)

This is mostly really good advice. I do disagree with implementing notes you absolutely know don't work. Like I said, if it makes the script worse, I simply refuse and I've walked away from potential options. Those same projects have then been setup somewhere else and they wouldn't be nearly as good if I'd implemented some of the asinine notes I was given over the years.

That being said, you sometimes do have to walk a fine line and play politics. But in my experience, with junior execs especially, they are sometimes giving notes merely to justify their role in the process and get their fingerprints on the project. They need to able to tell their boss, the guy or gal paying their salary, that they're developing a piece of material and making it better. They also like to say "that was my idea."

So it's okay to disagree with some notes if you can professionally explain and justify why you don't think they work. I've convinced producers why their ideas don't work and they've agreed. But NEVER be a hard-ass about it. Filmmaking and writing is a collaborative process so you always want to come across as a team player. NEVER be that writer who refuses to make any changes to his/her "baby." At the same time, recognize that some producers and execs will make suggestions on a whim or spitball, with no real consideration of the notes sweeping impact or how long it would take to implement versus its value.

TwoBrad Bradley
08-28-2009, 03:23 PM
If you're ever in a discussion about note's (you think one way, the exec is thinking another) do you try to lead the discussion in a way so that the exec will suggest the solution you had in mind?

Let the exec take the credit and say, "That's a great idea, I'll get right to it."?

yeehi
08-28-2009, 03:24 PM
Does anybody feel that execs giving notes is like having power without responsibility? The concept is easy; execution is hard.

Or are there people here :eek: that feel execution is easier than conception?

EvilRbt
08-28-2009, 03:27 PM
If you're ever in a discussion about note's (you think one way, the exec is thinking another) do you try to lead the discussion in a way so that the exec will suggest the solution you had in mind?

Let the exec take the credit and say, "That's a great idea, I'll get right to it."?

That would be a very savvy way to play it if you can pull that off.

SoCalScribe
08-28-2009, 03:48 PM
This is mostly really good advice. I do disagree with implementing notes you absolutely know don't work. Like I said, if it makes the script worse, I simply refuse and I've walked away from potential options. Those same projects have then been setup somewhere else and they wouldn't be nearly as good if I'd implemented some of the asinine notes I was given over the years.

That being said, you sometimes do have to walk a fine line and play politics. But in my experience, with junior execs especially, they are sometimes giving notes merely to justify their role in the process and get their fingerprints on the project. They need to able to tell their boss, the guy or gal paying their salary, that they're developing a piece of material and making it better. They also like to say "that was my idea."

So it's okay to disagree with some notes if you can professionally explain and justify why you don't think they work. I've convinced producers why their ideas don't work and they've agreed. But NEVER be a hard-ass about it. Filmmaking and writing is a collaborative process so you always want to come across as a team player. NEVER be that writer who refuses to make any changes to his/her "baby." At the same time, recognize that some producers and execs will make suggestions on a whim or spitball, with no real consideration of the notes sweeping impact or how long it would take to implement versus its value.

Sorry, didn't mean to imply that one should unquestioningly implement notes that don't work. I merely meant that a writer should look to the underlying intent of a note, diagnose the problem and... if the writer disagrees with a note, come prepared to offer a better way to solve that issue rather than shutting down and refusing to address that note. Most of the time, if you can figure out the underlying issue, you can figure out your own take on that issue, keeping both you and the exec happy. "Okay, I like your idea about having desert worms attack the frontier town, but what if we stuck with the realism in this historical biopic and maybe increased the conflict by having a confrontation with bandits instead?" :)

And if you really, really, really object to a note (with reasons just beyond the "I don't want to change my vision" argument)... that's okay too, as long as it's handled professionally, politely, and you're armed with several reasons why it wouldn't work. Even then, I'd recommend really saving this approach to a few key notes in the script. Being the writer that says, "You're wrong and here's why" for 90% of the script notes is little better than the writer who refuses to consider them at all. Like when it comes time to negotiate your contract, this is an exercise in compromise. If you're willing to work with them to find a better solution to the underlying problem, those terrible script notes can oftentimes become the jumping-off point for a valid improvement to the script.

As EvilRbt said, more than anything, it's about working with these other people to develop your script to the point where they're satisfied that their input has improved the project, and you're satisfied that their input hasn't destroyed it. If you can land somewhere in between, standing firm on the key issues and conceding on others, you'll have a much better chance of making a sale (and connections) than if you go into it thinking the other person is idiotic and useless. More often than not, it's that attitude (either on the part of the writer or the exec) that results in unproductive story meetings.

:)

SoCalScribe
08-28-2009, 03:52 PM
If you're ever in a discussion about note's (you think one way, the exec is thinking another) do you try to lead the discussion in a way so that the exec will suggest the solution you had in mind?

Let the exec take the credit and say, "That's a great idea, I'll get right to it."?

That's usually the smartest way to handle it. It's difficult, but if you can pull it off, you often end up with the exec championing the work, because he or she feels a connection now that they're "contributing" to it. Even if the writer is still the guiding hand.

And it's not just in screenwriting. In any negotiation or interpersonal communication setting, one of the most effective ways to get what you want is to let your opponent think it was his or her idea. ;)

EvilRbt
08-28-2009, 03:53 PM
I like you, SoCalScribe. I've seen lots of good advice from you on DD. Keep it up and best of luck with your own writing.

SoCalScribe
08-28-2009, 04:04 PM
I like you, SoCalScribe. I've seen lots of good advice from you on DD. Keep it up and best of luck with your own writing.

Aww, shucks. You're not so bad yourself. :D

All the best with your writing and script consulting!