Notes on Taking Notes: Passion, Politics, and Practicalities
by Steven H. Berman
First of an occasional seriesÖ
You might as well put a large target on the cover of your screenplay. There is no cover between its covers. Itís yours. Youíre exposed. Youíve committed your thoughts, your style, your soul to paper. And now everybody can see them and take their shots.
If someone has paid you to write it, or if you wrote it and sold it, youíre going to get notes on changing it. Everybody and their assistant are going to have something to say about it. A well-known screenwriter once said that a writer has to have the thinnest skin in the world and the thickest skin in the world. By that she meant that to write something well, you have to be extraordinarily sensitive, observant and passionate but to preserve and protect your vision during the development process and the production process you have to have a very thick skin that deflects the slings and arrows of naysayers, ego-maniacs, diminishers, good-intenders, and those jealous of what youíve accomplished, as well as those who just have to say something or else why are they in the meeting.
Expect notes. And on the one hand, welcome them. After all, youíve chosen to write in a collaborative medium. You didnít write a poem, or a novel, or stage play (where your work is protected from rewrites by the Dramatistís Guild), you wrote a screenplay and everyone who reads it before it is green lit and after it is green lit is going to have something to say about it. And that can be goodÖ
I have a small group of people whose opinion I respect that I send early versions of my scripts to HOPING to get notes. At the very least, I need some sense that what Iíve written makes sense to someone who hasnít been hearing voices in his head (like I have) about the script for months. People who can be objective but still be on my side. Whose agenda is to help. People who can be kind about their observations and suggestions. Sometimes their reactions will give shape to some vague nagging feeling Iíve had about my script that I havenít been able to articulate and fix myself. Sometimes they can help you understand that you perhaps havenít been as clear on some point in your script, something that just hasnít been communicated in the way you intended. In other words, they can help and they canít fire you. Hopefully, they will give you some real encouragement.
That is not always true of the people you have paid you for your work. They bought it and in many cases feel that can do what they want with it. Notes meetings from studio or network executives can run a very large gamut from mild and friendly to absolutely insulting and devastating. In all cases, you must do the impossibleÖkeep the best interests of the project in mind. By that, I mean, you probably only win if the project gets made. Notes are part of the process. Taking that long view is not easy but it is essential to your career.
Steven H. Berman is a veteran writer-producer and entertainment executive. He has been involved in the development of over a thousand scripts from his years as an executive at CBS Entertainment and Columbia Televsion where he was Executive Vice-president in charge of all development and production. His writing and Executive Producing credits include more than a dozen MOW and Mini-series projects as well as numerous pilots and series. He received a WGA Award Nomination for his mini-series "MARK TWAIN'S ROUGHING IT" for best adapted long form in 2003 and his MOW "TWICE UPON A CHRISTMAS" was selected by Laura Bush as the kick off film for her series of family film screenings at the White House. He was an Executive Producer on the feature film "BEWITCHED" starring Will Ferrell and Nicole Kidman.