Writers on the Verge: Championing Your Screenplay

Filmmaking is a collaborative process, right? Everyone says you gotta get notes, and you gotta learn how to take them early. Don’t be precious about your work. Do what you have to do for the sake of your script. But then you go out there, and for every person you show your script, you have a different note, a different recommendation: Make your protagonist more active. Take the script this way or that. You need a reveal in the 3rd act. Actually, scratch that, if you have a reveal at all, have one of a different kind, but in the 2nd act.

redpenSooner or later, all the note noise can drive even the sanest of writers mad.

This is what happened to one of my very talented writers when he got his script out there. He did the right thing: He sent it out for coverage, eager to get as much relevant feedback that would help make his script great. But then all the notes started coming back, all of them smart, all of them with something relevant to say, and he found himself staying up nights, trying to figure out how to satisfy all of them.

Here’s the thing about notes: If you haven’t been paid for your script, you don’t have to implement any of them. It’s up to you to pick and choose which notes can help you best tell the cinematic story you’re trying to put out there, and which notes don’t serve what you’re trying to do, and can therefore be thrown away. In the end, you don’t have to be loyal to a reader, to an expert, to a story consultant or even to an executive.

Your loyalty should be first and foremost to the story you’re trying to tell.

Of course, the further along you are in the process, the harder the decision gets. If there is an executive involved and you want to keep working with them, it’s in your best interest to take the notes they’re sending your way and find a powerful, effective way to implement them. Same can be said for managers. For agents. For anyone else who can move your script up the chain. But, once again, without being precious, your loyalty should remain, within reason, to the story you’re trying to tell.

Sometimes taking a note is not about the note itself. It’s about understanding the essence of what an executive was trying to address, what problem they were trying to resolve with the notes they gave. They suggested a big reveal in the 3rd act that rubs you the wrong way? Maybe it’s about giving the story one more twist, rather than the reveal itself. This is where taking your emotions out of the equation would serve you best – try to look past the emotions a note spawns in you (annoyance, frustration, anger), and instead try to find the merit in what they were trying to say.

And if you can’t? If you think, contemplate, meditate, and the note just doesn’t make sense? There is no middle ground to claim? Well, then, maybe the note is just not right for the story you’re trying to tell. My client, the one who did all the right things, told me that he wanted to do a rewrite “for” one of the readers who read his screenplay. Which is about the time I had to stop him in his tracks. And here’s why: Unless you’ve been paid for the script, or are paid for the rewrite, you should never do a rewrite for somebody else. At the end of the day, you are the one for whom the rewrite you’re doing has to make absolute sense.

What happens if the person for whom you’re doing the rewrite won the lottery and decided to pack it up and walk away? The rewrite you’ve done has to possess qualities you’d be proud of with or without them. In the end, you have to take the notes and make the choices that elevate and enhance the story you’re trying to tell. After all, you’re your story’s champion. It’s up to you to make the choices that will improve it best.

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