I’ve been wondering lately about a different way of giving script notes. What would happen if you only gave positive notes on a script?
What if you didn’t point out any of the flaws or problems you see in the material and instead pointed out everything you liked.
This joke made me laugh out loud. This scene is really moving. This sequence of beats is very effective.
The writer would know exactly what to keep and everything else in the script would be up for grabs.
Plus the writer would be in a great frame of mind when approaching the next draft. He wouldn’t be all disheartened or focused on what isn’t working. Instead, he’d be concentrating on bringing all the rest of it up to the standard of the best parts of the material.
Those of us who write know how important it is to get the positive feedback. When the notes are all negative it’s easy to lose all faith in the script and your own abilities. The best notes I’ve experienced are the try to balance out ideas for how to improve the material with praise for everything in the script that’s praiseworthy.
In most cases — there are some exceptions, but in most cases — a happy writer writes better and not just better, also faster. Because she doesn’t have to go on a week-long shoe shopping binge. Nor does she waste several days writing from that fuck you place. When a writer feels like the script is going well, she can’t wait to dive in to the next draft.
There’s power in positive notes. That’s clear, that’s obvious.
What I don’t know is whether it is necessary to accompany them with the negative notes. Do you have to point out what’s wrong with the script for it to get fixed?
We’ve all gotten notes that were entirely negative, not a kind word anywhere to be found. And it’s happened on scripts that weren’t total dogs. Sometimes they were crap, but in the heat of production or when a know-nothing exec is on the case, you can easily get a couple of pages of deal with this, deal with that — on a script that may not be fully cooked yet, but is definitely in the right oven.
So you read the notes and you suck it up and you take another pass. And you dutifully dig into everything, because frankly, you have no idea if any of it is working. Who hasn’t heard oh, where’s that part I liked so much in the last draft? Whatever.
It make take a few more drafts but eventually, you get the script production ready because the process of writing and rewriting works. Even when no one says anything nice.
What if it went the other way? What if you entered the land of Bizarro where all the notes were nice.
First off, you’d feel great and you wouldn’t need to keep the extra strength vitamin I in the top drawer. You wouldn’t care what they were making for subs or whether Denis had put up another post, because your ass would be in the chair and Screenwriter would be the only thing on the monitor.
And you’d WANT do another pass.
Would you fix the flaws? I think you would. I know my motivation would be very strong. I’d be working extra hard because I personally like praise a lot and I’d want more of it. You may not be as neurotic as me, but I think you’d dig it too. So you’d turn your own critical eye on the material and drawing on all your chops because you’d know you were onto something.
To paraphrase Julie Gray, experienced writers kill their darlings even before they’re asked. In other words, writers who’ve been through the grind a few times know how to dig into a script and make substantive changes and they do it, with or without the note.
When I talked this idea over with kh today, she wanted to be able to give neutral notes, as in “I don’t get this part”. But I wonder if you need those kinds of comments either. If the note giver was good, he’d be going through the script carefully, praising everything that had to stay. As the writer, you’d know that anything that didn’t get a gold star could be improved.
But this is just speculation. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me. Have you? Do you think it would work? Or would you rather have the kind of notes that help you find the flaws?