Saturday, February 12, 2011

How to take notes

In the past few months I've gotten a lot more requests than usual to give notes. In the beginning I was so glad to be asked that I did notes for anybody, but as time has gone by I can't keep up with the requests, and I've gotten some really negative responses to my notes so I just don't want to do it anymore. The people who can't take notes properly have turned me off from giving them. Why should I waste my time if you're going to be a dick about it?

I know that when I first started getting notes from people I wanted to defend my choices just like everybody else, but as time has gone by I've realized that you can either listen and address the note or ignore it if you don't like it. No need for an argument.

With that in mind, Derek Haas wrote up this set of etiquette rules for receiving notes, and I felt like it bears reposting:

1. If the person says "no," we don't get mad.

2. If the person says "yes," and then never gets back to us, we don't get mad. In fact, we should swallow our pride and expectations, and never bring up the script again.

3. If the person agrees to read it, we shouldn't say, "don't forget that it is registered with the guild."

4. If the person finally gives us notes, we shouldn't argue on why his or her notes are wrong.

5. If the person tells us to work on something, we shouldn't keep on defending the choice that we made. We should try to understand the thinking behind the note and try to come at what we wrote from a different angle.

6. If we disagree with the note, instead of arguing, we can always just choose to ignore the note.

7. If the person gives us a few non-specific critiques, we can probably guess that he or she didn't like the script and just didn't want to get into specifics. So we shouldn't ask them to be more specific unless we are willing to get the hell beat out of us. And REALLY willing not just partially willing.

8. If the script is more than 120 pages, we shouldn't expect the reader to read them all unless he or she really wants to... because at 120+ pages, there is definitely some fat that we should have trimmed.

9. If the person is not a professional screenwriter, reader, producer, agent, agent's assistent, studio exec, or someone in the business, we should know that the notes we are receiving may not be any better than if we had gotten them from our friends or loved ones. And yet, if we hear the same notes over and over and over, even from the biggest beginner, we should probably realize that there is a major problem in that part of the script.

10. If the person says "yes," actually reads the script, and gives us thoughtful, carefully considered notes... we should thank that person profusely.


  1. Anonymous1:18 PM

    I love when someone responds to notes that you constructed with the utmost of delicacy like your a moron:

    "Why would I be the least bit worried that it's 132 pages!?"

  2. That's too bad, Emily. You gave me great notes. Specifically, I took your suggestion about subtext, and rewrote the scene accordingly. It made it so much better. In fact, the screenplay (which was my first) was a semi-finalist in Julie Gray's recent short script competition. So, I thank you for your contribution.

  3. Yay, Millar! That's awesome!

  4. Emily,

    That's a true shame you won't do notes any more. It's truly difficult to find people who are willing to both give and receive good notes with an open mind. I guess I'm a bit more open to criticism since my work as a journalist is under constant critique. Makes it second nature.

    Well, here's to hoping you reconsider. And if you ever need someone to give a read, I'd love to help. I'm finding that I'm learning as much by being a good reader as when I actually write.

    Makes you wonder if a lot of bad screenwriters are just bad at giving and receiving notes...


  5. I truly believe that, until you learn how to actively seek out and deal with criticism, you are not a real writer. Real writers understand that they cannot possibly write a great script or novel on their own. Writers know they need others to read their work and see things things that the author of the work simply can't. Real writers know how to truly LISTEN AND CONSIDER the notes. Hear what's being said with an open mind and learn to recognize good notes that will strengthen their work. Even if you disagree with every single note a particular reviewer offers, real writers know to politely thank the reviewer for her time. Amateurs and hacks wish only to be told their work is brilliant ....

  6. agreed! sadly, for me, item #10 RARELY happens for me.

    and I agree with Linda's comment above.

  7. I'm with you, Linda, any feedback at all is to be graciously appreciated, even if it's completely wrong :)


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