Script Production How to Write Useful NotesSo you’ve finished reading your writer’s script and have prepared your notes and questions. In a way, that was the easy part of the job: now you need to relay your notes to your writer in such a way that he or she accepts them willingly and without feeling defensive.

It is not uncommon for a note-giver to walk away from a meeting feeling that it went well, while the writer leaves the same meeting feeling unsure, insecure, or possibly even angry. By considering not only the content of your notes but also the way you express them, you can strengthen a positive relationship with your writer that can last throughout production and even into future projects.

Written notes vs. In-person meetings. There are a variety of opinions about whether to give your script writer written notes in advance of, or in lieu of an in-person meeting.

Writers tend to prefer face-to-face meetings over a list of notes sent via email over given over the phone. This way, they can discuss and clarify your notes with you.

Meetings help to encourage the sense that you and the writer are working mutually toward a goal, and they avoid giving the impression that you are simply an authoritative boss barking orders.

Where to meet? Generally, lunches and dinners are a nice way to get to know your writer and to share some early ideas, but you’ll want to meet somewhere more private for script notes.

Ultimately, you want to choose a place that is convenient and comfortable. Some possibilities include your office, a members’ club, or your own home. You may find that meeting at the writer’s home instead of your own can help to alleviate anxiety on the part of that writer. It also demonstrates a level of respect by showing that your time is no more valuable than that of the writer.

Leave authority at the door. Consider yourself to be not the writer’s boss (even if you are), but rather a collaborator on a project that you both care about.

By stripping yourself of the authoritative state of mind before your meeting, you can help to avoid a subconscious power-struggle in your dialogue that may leave your writer feeling defensive. In general, there are three possible ways that a writer will accept your notes: as compliance, through identification, or by internalization.

The first of these, compliance, occurs when the writer merely follows your instruction, because you are the figure of authority. The problem with compliance is that it can undermine the level of trust that you want to have with your writer. It can also lessen your writer’s desire to work on the script and thus  chip away at his or her creativity.

When you meet with your writer, you should try to encourage either identification (in which the writer listens to your notes, because he or she trusts and respects your opinions) or internalization (in which the writer, through a collaborative discussion, comes to agree with your opinions and adopts them as his or her own.)

Use first person. Take ownership of your opinions and express them as such via first person statements, such as “It seems to me that…” or “I feel that…” By using this language instead of impersonal statements, such as “This part is problematic,” you subtly remind your writer that this is one person’s opinion, rather than a universal condemnation. This can make the criticism easier for the writer to hear.

Mix compliments with your criticism. Often writers walk away from meetings feeling brow-beaten and insecure, because all they heard were the negatives about their script. This can have a profoundly negative impact upon their creativity. Therefore, don’t just focus on the problem spots when you give notes. Encourage your writer by referring to parts of the script that you liked.

Finish the meeting positively. Don’t end when you’ve finished talking about the last problem in your notes. Make sure you end the meeting with a compliment (just as you’ve hopefully been scattering compliments throughout the meeting). This helps to ensure that your writer goes home feeling motivated to continue work on the script.

Ask questions. Don’t demand that your writer attempt immediate, specific solutions to the issues you raise. Instead, point to the problematic area and ask your writer what he or she initially had in mind. Use your meeting to hear what your writer has to say, not simply to lecture.

This type of dialogue can be far more fruitful in producing solutions to problems in the script, in addition to leaving your writer’s ego feeling more intact. In particular, ask your writer what his or her essential vision is for this film – what are the goals underlying this script’s creation?

If there is a period of silence after you have asked a question, don’t jump in to fill the void (as many of us do, due to a cultural tendency to dislike silence). Instead, let the silence stay, and give your writer a chance to think before expressing his or her thoughts.

Listen to your writer. If your writer seems reluctant to accept a change, don’t simply force him or her to follow orders. Ask your writer why this reluctance exists and try to see things from that point of view. By being open and willing to listen, you may end up seeing the script or your writer’s motivation in a new light.

Encourage experimentation and freedom. Ensure that your writer feels comfortable with taking risks and trying a variety of ideas when looking for ways to address problems in the script. This will support the underlying creativity needed throughout the rewrite process. Your writer will also appreciate that you trust him or her enough to explore without constraint.

Avoid phrases that shut down conversation. Try not to say things like, “I see, but…” or “That can’t work.” If you disagree with one of your writer’s ideas, follow up and ask him or her to expand upon it instead of dismissing it out of hand. Even if the idea still ends up not working, your writer will appreciate that you took the time to hear the idea out.

Focus on where you agree. If you and your writer reach a point where you cannot get past a disagreement about the script, take a step back to a point where you did agree and move forward from there. Sometimes this can help to unravel a disagreement.

Be patient. It’s completely all right if you and the writer end your meeting without having found solutions for the questions you raise. Let your writer have some time to sleep on your comments and come up with some creative solutions.

Give post-meeting notes. Regardless of how you decide to handle written notes before meeting your writer, you should always provide written notes after your meeting has concluded. This clarifies the details of your discussion and helps to avoid later confusion (for example, if you and the writer leave the meeting with different impressions, or if one of you changes his or her mind later about something agreed upon in the meeting).

On replacing writers. This should be an absolute last resort. Make sure that you have done everything you can to dialogue with your writer and work together to resolve existing issues. If you are both still at an impasse, then come to an agreement that you both may need to include a new writer for a fresh perspective (preferably in collaboration with the old writer, rather than as a replacement).