a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Taking Notes

So aside from giving notes on other people's scripts, I also take them on mine.

In theory, it's something of a paradox. If I'm such a great note-giver, then how come I can't immediately see the flaws in my own scripts?

The answer is that I can see some, but not all of them. Even I need a fresh eye, or lots of eyes, to tell me what's not working.

Monday night, I brought the third act of my thriller into my screenwriting group. The rules there are simple: the actors read the pages, and afterward the other writers throw out thoughts.

It's something of an iffy process, especially with third acts, because the other writers aren't as familiar with what has come before. Even though I included a recap, there's a lot of new stuff in act 2 that no one has seen.

Like everyone, on some level I went in Monday night hoping that all the writers would be so mesmerized by my climax that they'd have no notes. That they'd just look at each other, admit it all worked, and go on to the next thing.

Didn't happen. At all. They tore it apart. Which is course is really what I'm glad happened.

Though Monday night was tough in that I got a slew of notes that conflicted with each other. You see, the thriller ends with a pair of quick reversals and then a huge twist.

Some of the people didn't like the twist, because they think it invalidates too much of the script that came before it.

Some people like the twist, but thought more characters needed to die off before the third act. There was a lot of disagreement over which characters should be around at the end.

Most hated the way I handled the reversals. Too out of the blue, not enough motivation for things that were happening.

The rule in the group is that the writer doesn't talk during all these notes. He doesn't defend, or argue. He just sits there, and writes everything down, whether he agrees with it or not.

It's a great rule.

Because even though I didn't agree with all the notes -- I knew I'd set things up that writers were complaining hadn't been, because they hadn't seen those pages -- I wrote every one of them down.

Because every note has value. Every note reflects something that isn't clicking with someone. And even if the person giving you the note has misunderstood something, that could be a problem too.

So over the last few days, I've distilled the notes, and run them through my brain. Tried to figure out what it was that people weren't responding too, where my intentions were falling short, and whether maybe indeed the climax would work better if I did C and D rather than A and B.

I filtered the notes through what I wanted to do with the script. Not following them blindly, or ignoring them blindly, but taking everything into consideration.

The rewrite is going well.

It's nice being on both sides of the process. I think it has improved my writing immensely.

My string of consecutive days screenwriting for at least an hour a day is up to 52, through yesterday.


I also caught up with special edition DVDs for two older films, through my DVD reviewing gig.

THE GRADUATE, which I hadn't seen in a while, still holds up extremely well. Though it's amazing how little real plot the film has (and the original trailer, included on the DVD, gives away every single major plot beat), every single scene has memorable touches, while Mike Nichols' visual sense adds so much. It's also amusing how many memorable things in the movie (detailed by Dustin Hoffman in the extras) were just accidents or things randomly discovered along the way, rather than being planned out.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Al Pacino movie CRUISING, which was lambasted when it came out for its superficial treatment of the gay leather bar lifestyle. But the bigger problem is that the murder mystery at the heart of it isn't interesting, Pacino's undercover investigation into it really doesn't contain any detective work on his part, while it is completely unclear what is going on in Pacino's head at any time during the film.

It's awful -- and William Friedkin, who wrote and directed it, really could have used some notes.


At 10:27 AM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

Notes, the life's blood and death-knell of every writer. Notes are a great thing to have, especially from multiple writers.

I'm trying to get some workshops done on a few scripts and I'm sure people will not see exactly what I do.

That's the key. Sometimes, you can just write by a person and though it's there, they may be looking too hard.

The best way to give notes I think is to read for entertainment value first and then read for "correctness."

I did that a few times on TriggerStreet and the reviews came out better than when I just dove in looking for problems.

BTW, I'm close to your daily tally. I hope to write everyday but you gotta network sometime.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Jallad said...

The no talking during comments is a great idea.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger The Moviequill said...

I just got the script to Cruising recently to try and piece some of it together, and the side notes included indicating which actor is supposed to be the killer throughout it is helpful


It was Pacino who killed them

At 6:59 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

A while back on his blog site, Billy Mernit posted about how to take note. If I remember right, his comments were almoast identical to yours, Scott. With Billy's biggest key to taking notes being, "just to take them."

Still, it's always reaffirming to hear a second pro advise the guinea pigs.

One caution I would have about the notes your getting is the honesty and integrity of those giving them. Do they have a vested interest in improving your art? OR are they merely spouting off anying just so they can say they gave a comment?

Still, I am VERY jeaolous of you in regaurd to your writing group. The closest thing I have to that out here in Washington is, which sends me profifes of littany of stange rangers who are supposedly interested in "meeting up" (like that's ever going to happen).

Oh well, keep rockin' buddy! Your biggest fan two states north of you, E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA.

At 3:25 AM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

Yeah, keep on rocking Scott!


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