What Do You Do With Studio Revision Notes?

Read them first.

Did you hear the one about the actress you wanted to star in a movie? She slept with the screenwriter? Why? Because she knows we’re the most important part of making a movie.

We are. Along with directors, producers, actors and above the line talent. My point? Don’t be precious. Don’t cling onto every scene, dialogue and character in your screenplay, pleading that your pure vision is being compromised. Filmmaking is a collaborative process and a script writer can’t make a film by themselves. We are inter-dependent cogs and not an island. Learn to play well with others.

Every film writer has experienced an idiotic executive who didn’t get your story, or doesn’t understand story structure in general. Hell hath no fury, like a movie writer scorned. Cue deep breaths and diplomacy. Try to figure out where they’re coming from. No, not the moon, but what prompted them to make such rewrite suggestions.

Treat each critique of your screenplay as a compliment. Someone has taken an interest and the time to read your film script, and is passionate enough to give you feedback. Keep an open mind.

Don’t reject all criticism outright. If you’ve got the gumption to complete a script, you can treat rewrite notes respectfully. Writers are fallible. Oftentimes, studio feedback can be miscommunicated or misinterpreted. An executive senses something “isn’t working”, but they target the wrong element of your script, or express themselves poorly. What is the feedback beneath the feedback.

Decide whether the notes you receive are constructive or personal. Does a development executive simply want to put their stamp on your script to justify their salary, or hijack it so that it appeals more to their taste? Most want to improve your movie script.

Your screenwriting career is dependent upon how you handle the script revision process. You don’t want to establish a “John Dorsey” (Tootsie) reputation for yourself of being impossible to work with. Politics rears it’s ugly head everywhere. Sometimes you just need to play ball.

Don’t establish a reputation for yourself as a doormat either. If a suggestion is made that will drastically destroy the dynamics, plot or other elements of the story into something vastly different, speak up. Don’t yell. Construct a logical argument why the requested script revisions won’t work.

A common complaint among tv showrunners is that they have to some let baby writers go because they don’t speak enough during story meetings. On one occasion, I simply rejected my revision notes outright. The executive got the genre wrong, missed the underlying themes and clearly didn’t read or understand the purpose of the script. They were probably having a bad day. Sometimes you need to walk to preserve your self respect.

If something ends up on the cutting room floor, it’s not necessarily wasted. It may end up in another script. If not, you’ve exercised your screenwriting muscles. It’s a win-win situation.

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