Tuesday, June 1, 2010

People Will Talk VIII - Getting Good Notes

For the unfamiliar, a "reveal" in screenwriting parlance is the placement of key, revelatory information in a story. Most times, the last reveal is the most important revelation of all.


"Good Notes"? Isn't that an oxymoron? Well, no. Other people can have good ideas, too. I know... as Wallace Shawn said in The Princess Bride: "Inconceivable!!!"

Look at it this way. Your script is a road trip down Route 66, and the car has some hitchhikers aboard. They have ideas on how to get there differently. One says it's prettier if you go on the back-roads through the mountains and "see a little country." Another says there's a short-cut using the Interstate. You've chosen Rt. 66, because, well, it's a classic. But that doesn't necessarily make it right for today. Rt. 66 was built before speed was an issue. And it also predated "vogues" like stopping and "smelling the roses" made for a better quality of life. Who's right?

My wife likes to tell the story of the Zen master who was traveling with someone on a long journey. Mile after mile, the companion complained about one thing after another. But the master never lost his smile, nor his patience. Finally after this had gone on for days, the companion shouted, “What’s wrong with you? Haven’t I made you angry?” The Zen master replied, “If someone gives you a gift, but you don’t take it, whose is it?”

You're still the driver. Consider your riders' ideas, but choose your route of travel yourself. And if your riders drop away, well, there'll be other trips.
From Tales from the Script, Edited by Peter Hanson and Paul Robert Herman, HarperCollins, p. 133, screenwriter Billy Ray on studio development notes and the revision process:

You have to listen to their problems [found in your script] but ignore their solutions [for it]. Their solutions, just by definition, will make your movie more like other movies – that’s how studio executives think, and that’s not gonna help. I think writers have a knee-jerk response to any notes, which is that they’re just stupid, and that knee-jerk response is folly. Not all notes are bad notes. Some notes are enormously helpful. The development process is there to make movies better, and sometimes it does actually work. I’ve seen scripts of mine get better. Here’s the thing to look out for: Sometimes your screenplay – as you go through the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth draft – will get smarter and tighter. Development always works in that way. However there is a certain raw, organic energy to that first draft – even a certain messiness – that has value. Sometimes as movies get tighter, they get less passionate. You have to guard against that.
Screenwriter, David Hayter adds:

You can fine-tune a script down to the nth degree, and it’s uninspiring. It doesn’t move. It’s too constructed. Sometimes you just need to break all that, and try to re-infuse some of that chaotic energy into it. As William Goldman said in one of his brilliant books, a screenplay is a series of little surprises. If your script has become too solidified in terms of structure and form, then you’ll have fewer surprises, just because your average movie-going audience is pretty film-savvy at this point. So you need to find a way to break it up, and to create things that will surprise you as the artist, and thereby surprise the audience as they watch the film.
Listen. Then drive. #


Lee A. Matthias

Quote of the Post:

[With studio notes] You have to listen to their problems but ignore their solutions.
---Billy Ray

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