The Value of Notes
November 20, 2020
When you ask for (or pay for) someone to give you notes on your screenplay, you must accept that the reader may offer you feedback that isn't a ringing endorsement of your work. The reader may question decisions that you labored over for months, or point out discrepancies or errors or typos that went right by you, even though you may have read your own screenplay to the point where you've essentially memorized it.
I have received the gamut of imaginable notes, from glowing to glowering. I've had people say "The writer's voice was clear and distinct, and the dialogue was sparkling!" to "The screenplay was okay."
"The screenplay was okay" is a pointless observation and not an actionable note. What you want (or hope for) are notes that are going to elevate your screenplay. But you may not initially agree with what the notes say. This is why I always let the notes sit for a few days after reading them, so my mind can process them.
You may discover (as I have) that after thinking about the notes for a few days, you, too, will be able to see what the reader saw. In one instance, a reader commented on one of my supporting characters in a way that made me feel I had completely missed the boat, despite the script receiving multiple accolades. My first reaction was to respond with a lengthy explanation of the things that the reader missed (and they did miss some things). But after I thought about it more, I could see how the reader's notes made excellent sense. I went back in and tweaked the supporting character's lines, and I must say, for the first time in a long time, I felt the character was more rounded and more real. This was one such experience. But in general, do your best not to let your emotions dictate your response to notes that are critical of your work. My rule of thumb, for the most part, is if I get the same (or similar note) more than once, I need to pay extra attention to it. It means that what is clear for me may not be clear for others. Remember: the first person to read your script will not be an A-list movie star or the director of your choice. It will be a reader. Some of those readers are highly educated, extremely literary and knowledgeable about how screenplays work (or don't). And yes, some of those readers may be young and may not have the life experience or knowledge to appreciate the fine details of your brilliant screenplay. But... do not dismiss the notes. At the very least, consider them and perhaps run them by your respected peers who are familiar with your work. You may be surprised that a small tweak or adjustment can make a huge difference in your screenplay. Finally: regardless of what you think of the notes, thank the reader for offering them. You never know when you might cross paths again.