Feedback is a bitch, isn’t it? Not feedback from your peers, although than can be quite thorny at times, but actual official notes about a commissioned piece of work. That’s the real kicker, right? Well, yes and no. Recently, I have noticed that there are six main stages of the note receiving process. Let’s give them a run down. (Photo dramatisation kindly provided by Mr Jason Arnopp).
You worked hard on your script and handed it in on time, feeling good that it was a smoking first draft. But you haven’t heard anything in weeks. You begin to worry. An email arrives, finally, and it’s notes from the script editor. You click on the attachment and open the file. Your stomach churns, hoping to see only minor comments but you scroll down the screen to see pages of notes, all critical of what you’ve done. You fail to see the sugar coated or positive remarks, while the negative and critical notes stand out in bold and in capitals, or so it seems. You panic! They hate it. They think you’re rubbish. You are rubbish! You’re never going to work again!
A short time later, you cast your eye over the notes with a more even mind. You realise the notes are moronic. The feedback contradicts everything they specifically asked you to do in the previous email/phone call/outline discussion. Y’know, the bits that you were trying to make work to keep them happy. They’re fools. They know nothing. Your work is brilliant. The notes are rubbish. This script editor will clearly never work again.
The next day, a fresh read of the notes reveals a more subtle understanding of the script than you previously thought. While some of the feedback is still annoying and irrelevant, that note about the main character isn’t bad, and that suggestion to move the scene on p12 to p2 could work. Yes, you begin to see some sense in the feedback. There’s actually some useful comments in there (as well as positive ones), and you are forced to admit that yep, they’ve got a point. You still take issue with certain aspects of the feedback but you’ll go through that with the script editor when you see him or when he calls to talk you through the notes.
Never, EVER, send a defensive email of your work in response to the feedback. The tone of a disgruntled email always sounds ten times worse than it actually is, even if you’re trying to be entirely reasonable about the whole thing. You will always look like a petulant prick who doesn’t really understand the process, or you will be regarded as an over-sensitive hack who needs his hand held all the way.
Wait to speak to the script editor/exec in person, or, more commonly, on the phone. All those defensive points you feel are important can be explained far more informally and casually on the phone/in person than in email. The script editor in turn will give their reasons for their notes, and the whole process becomes a more positive collaboration.
Now you know the good notes from the bad, and you have a better understanding of their point-of-view. You’ve fought hard for the points you felt were most important to cling on to, and conceded defeat to some niggling issues that the script editor didn’t feel were strong enough (despite whatever justification you had). With this newfound sense of knowledge and understanding, you set out to rewrite the script according to the notes, confident of making the script even better than before.
Of course, this is just the ideal scenario. You could be rewriting with total disagreement of where the exec thinks the script needs to go but the next draft is needed by Tuesday, so you just have to get it done. Hey, welcome to showbiz.