Friday, August 28, 2009

What Is a Screenwriter's Best Friend and Worst Enemy?

Notes! When you write a script, you are often way too close to see the weak areas. And notes from others who are strong in development can help push you in the right direction. 

On the other hand, too many cooks in the kitchen could take a strong story and propel it into a glob of gook. 

All screenwriters know that rewriting is part of the job of crafting a great script. Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting is a mantra for screenwriters. 

So where do all the different ideas for rewrites come from? Well, I like to call on my respected colleagues for notes. I may have a rough draft of a script and know it has some strong areas and I'm wondering what others will spark to. So I give it to them to read. They come back to me with their thoughts that really help me to hone in on what is working and what isn't. 

Sure, everyone has heard of the horror stories of notes ruining a beautiful script. Maybe the studio loves a core idea but they want the execution to be more generic, more mass audience friendly. This is when notes can tear out the spine to a story and leave it a muddled mess. 

So in the end, notes are your friend and your enemy. You can't live with them and you can't live without them. For yourself, you need to have a confidence and passion and clear focus of the story you want to tell and know how to cull the best notes from the bunch. 

And on the other hand, if a studio has bought your script and they want certain notes addressed, you need to do it -- even if you don't agree. They have purchased the rights to your story and they can and will make it whether you like the final product or not. So unless you want to walk away and let them find another writer to work on their notes -- which is perfectly acceptable and often a choice they make in order to get a fresh perspective -- you will need to be able put your "dreams" for your story aside and try to to make it work for the buyers of your script. 

In the end, it's always wise to get other people's opinions on your work. It's very easy to get anxious and want to get your script out there right away. You dream of the quick sale. But the odds will be much greater for success if you take your time, get notes, vet them, work them in, and give your story the attention it deserves. 

You wouldn't release a film without showing it to others and getting their feedback, right? So treat your writing the same way -- get the notes and learn to love them. If handled right, they will only make you look better and an audience more satisfied!


Anonymous said...

I put my thoughts on script notes down on my blog last year. It's from the director's point of view. In case you're interested...

Jane Kelly Kosek said...

Thanks for the comment. I am interested! There's no right or wrong answer in filmmaking as long as the results are entertaining movies. In the end, a filmmaker's goal should be great storytelling, no matter how you got it to the screen (addressing no notes or a million). Personally, I like having an outside perspective early in the process as I've found many interesting ideas that have helped me create a stronger story. But others feel it impedes their process, like you have found. I would only caution those who dismiss notes out of ego or inexperience. It's often easier to dismiss notes than to address them. Don't take the easy way out. If you do, you may not be giving your story a fighting chance for success.

Anonymous said...

I've found that some people are good at giving notes and some aren't, and some producers can develop stuff and some can't. It really only works when you are trying to make the same film and the producer knows how to communicate what's wrong.

My only fear of notes, not just of getting them but following them too, is that they tend to take what's original in a script and make it more like everything else.

Jane Kelly Kosek said...

I agree you should be working with people who want to tell the same story. If you aren't, then you don't have the right team.

It sounds like it's important to you to tell stories that break the generic movie structure rules. If that is your priority then hopefully you can find others who understand and help you to preserve this priority and give you appropriate notes in that vein. Good luck!