Some projects take years to get through development. I’ve got one feature script which has been in development for the best part of seven years now (which, to be fair, probably means it isn’t going to happen). In that time there’s been input from two directors, an actor, the producer and two executive-producers.
That’s a lot of notes.
A few are great, some are good, most are just different for the sake of it, some are ill-advised and the rest are fucking awful.
‘Great’ and ‘good’ notes should always be actioned.
‘ill-advised’ and ‘fucking awful’ can usually be argued successfully against. If there’s a damn good reason for not doing it, then simply stating the reason tends to cancel out the note. Assuming, of course, you deliver it in the right way. Shouting “YOU FUCKING MORON, THAT’S A SHIT IDEA!” at someone, in front of their friends, tends to be a little upsetting.
Some people advocate actioning the note to prove it’s terrible – I’m not sure that’s a great idea. You’re the writer, you’re supposed to be the story expert. If you just do what you’re told and hand in an awful script, it may be interpreted as you being so eager to say yes you’ll do anything; or worse, being bad at your job. Much better to persuade the idiots not to free the shark, as opposed to letting it eat you and saying “I fucking told you!” with your dying breath.
‘Different just for the sake of it’ notes – these ones are tricky. They’re not bad, they don’t ruin anything; but they don’t add anything either. They just change your film into theirs. Okay, so they’ve bought the script and can do what the hell they want with it; but wouldn’t you rather the finished product was your idea?
But you can’t just refuse. Well, you can and it might work; but it will probably result in you getting fired. In which case, not only will they hire someone who will make the changes, but someone who’ll change everything else you’ve fought over too.
I tend to compromise and bear one little phrase in mind:
This note doesn’t the end the process.
There will be more notes and more drafts. If this is the producer giving you notes at the beginning of the process, then you’re going to get notes from the director and the star. Possibly from several of each, depending on how many are hired/fired. Any number of department heads will add their tuppence to the mix, some of these thoughts will be passed on as notes, some will be ignored. Locations, schedule, budget – all these things get in the way between the ‘final’ draft and the film. You have plenty of opportunity to change things back to the way you originally wanted them.
These ‘different for the sake of it’ notes are just temporary.
I usually action 60 – 70% of them, depending on the note-giver’s ego. In other words, action enough of them to make it look like you value the note-giver’s opinion; but not so many it looks like you’re a yes man. Argue a few of them (politely), stick to your guns on a couple and compromise on a few more.
Then, over the course of the years, slowly change them back. Most people don’t notice the changes at all. Some think you’ve come up with a new, better way. Occasionally, someone suggests the original version and assumes they’re a genius for thinking of it (although, be wary of that – too much of that opinion and they start to wonder why they need you).
It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It is possible to go with the flow, then gently steer the flow to where you want it.
And if all else fails, if you’re stuck with something you don’t like, there’s always snippety-snip.