Screenwriting : The notes process by Craig D Griffiths

Craig D Griffiths

The notes process

It is important to find someone that can give you good notes that move you forward.

Forward shouldn't be away from who you are. It should be towards the best version of you.

Pete Conrad

Haha. This. Yes.

Imo Wimana Chadband

"Forward shouldn't be away from who you are. It should be towards the best version of you." Thought provoking words indeed. I'm inclined to agree.

Craig D Griffiths

Thanks folks

I believe with all my heart that we cannot be individuals if we are forced to be the same.

You can’t be crap and excuse it as individualism. You must strive for greatest while be unique and who you are.

Dylan Dawson

I needed this! thanks Craig!

Craig D Griffiths

I sound like a bully sometimes. But I believe with all my heart that formula and people that peddle them are preying in the insecurity of writers.

I also believe they kill creativity.

Laura Tabor-Huerta

No Craig you are right it is them (formula and people that peddle them) that are the bullies. You are merely the soapbox messenger. I have been to several meetings of screenwriters groups and the ones that harp on the formula so much have very little talent themselves I notice. Often their comments are unhelpful, and critical in a vacuous way. I like valid criticism.

Dylan Dawson

I would agree Laura Tabor-Huerta, to some extent, I think there is a line you need to draw, because structure is important at the base of a project, but that being said the writer needs to know when to identify that the feedback they're getting back is taking away from the originality and overall dream of said project.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Notes are about the individual screenplay itself, its context, its effectiveness, not "you" personally, per se, are they not? You gotta be able to separate yourself from the work as well. Be able to be objective. I agree it is best to find knowledgable, respectful, experienced, and market savvy reviewers—of course! And, yes, absolutely, your voice, your individual 'take' is what brings an intangible and unique quality to a work that can make it resonant, make it stand out above the fray of mediocrity. But, sorry, I just do not agree with the overall generalized cynical blanket sentiment of the cartoon, although I totally get it—yeah, some out there preach and follow orthodoxy and do not foster creativity, or they seem to consider screenwriting as some algorithm, tick all the prescribed boxes. Despite this, I find plenty of originality as well as the desire for it, certainly by those in the industry. There is a wealth of positive aspects too. Provenly so. Effective tools, known practices, etc. All which can be used in a way of YOUR choosing—in the writer's hands, your hands. I feel inspired to be creative. I don't feel confined or "bullied." Not at all. We all have the capability to take what bits and pieces of various approaches, paradigms, advice, resources, inspirations, etc, and use whatever works best for each of us and discard or ignore the rest, yes? Are we not self-responsible, able, and/or capable to do our own due diligence? Develop our own craft skills? Make our own decisions? Suss out valid information from all the nonsense? I think so. The flip side of this coin is us. How and what do you bring into this dynamic? ;)

Dylan Dawson

In no way are you wrong Beth! But I will say the cartoon describes the feeling a writer can get throughout the process, this serves more or less as a reminder to keep your dream and vision alive throughout.

I've recieved hundreds of notes that I hated, because they had a good point, so I HAD to fix it in a way that made me happy ( and addressed the problem ) . Needless to say it made my work a million times better.

Gary Jeanty

What advice would you give to a film writer who wants to sell his or her scripts

Dan Guardino

I am the opposite of Dylan. I never asked for or received any notes from anyone but I thought the cartoon was funny.

Dylan Dawson

Although this cartoon may give the narrative that the note giver is the "bad guy", the cartoon acctually reflects on a writer choices, the writer has failed to keep his story "his own" throughout the very necessary rewriting/note-taking process.

Craig D Griffiths

Gary Jeanty i would say it is impossible to be different by doing the same as everyone else.

If you want to sell your script (this will sound dumb) write a great story. This has nothing to do with formula or structure. The script has to be able to be produce at a cost that will produce a return for the producer.

Dylan Dawson the note giver is not a bad guy. They are doing what they believe to be correct. They believe that formula is needed. They believe that they have some magic formula. They believe they are help. They are being good. I believe they are wrong.

Look at the notes being given. They done address character or story. They are forcing the writer into the same box as everyone else.

I am not a cartoonist. But this was fun to make.

Craig D Griffiths

Dan Guardino when I first started writing I would enter contests that have notes because I was desperate for feedback. I don’t do it anymore.

I can imagine someone paying for notes. They keep working, perhaps working from the notes, and getting better as a writer. They may have improved through practice, but there is also the risk that they don’t have self belief and give all the credit to the note giver.

I believe art is a unique expression of an individual. People that tell you that you have to conform to a formula can be an obstacle to any unique expression.

Dan Guardino

Craig. I understand why some people pay for feedback. I never did because I never wanted to get feedback free or otherwise.

Louis Tété

Notes are a two edged thing i think, they can either push you forward, help you broaden your horizons on the material, ideas you didn't think of or push you away like "there's nothing there, you must rethink the entire thing", therefore you could be discouraged moving forward with it.

Dylan Dawson

It's funny Dan, I just got feedback yesterday, that I paid for, and I have to say, you have a solid point. When I read the notes, I was just bitter and discouraged. My brother holds the same opinion as you. We had a long talk yesterday and I'm beginning to think your right.

Lol I know I've been saying otherwise, but after the last notes I've gotten I don't even know anymore.

I miss having the confidence I had when I first started.

Obiviously as I sits right now, my ability to hold an opinion is nonexistent. And that can't be good going into my writing.

Arthur L Burton III

Dylan, I feel your pain with that. I realistically believe that everyone from the outside can find faults and your true review coming from the audience may differentiate greater than that of a producer. I think if you want to build your confidence have someone else read it and get some great opinions to give yourself a moral booster.

Beth Fox Heisinger

It truly depends on who is reading your work and what the circumstances are when and how one is receiving notes. "Notes" are not the same as "coverage"—two different things. Notes are intended to help you, the writer, better achieve YOUR creative intent. Coverage is more an internal "grading system", a report card for companies/execs/producers to assess; is this a potential project and/or writer we wish to pursue—pass or consider. The notes I received were from my mentor, a former V.P. of Development at United Artists, who consulted me at my very beginning. And, oh man did I listen to her! In fact, she was blown away by the fact that I did listen, something many new writers struggle to do.

So..... apparently, nothing is on the writer? The writer has no responsibility here? It's everyone else's fault, certainly the fault of the note giver. Lol! If your screenplay isn't quite communicating clearly then, sorry, that's on you, the writer, no one else. Even if you do not agree with an opinion, say, if a reader is confused or seemed to not "get it" then you should still take their confusion into consideration, at least. Whatever they "didn't get" may be a clue that something isn't quite working, a hint it could be written better so that your concept resonates more effectively. Your idea should be crystal clear in its execution and the execution should create a vivid picture in the mind of any and all readers. So dig in. Keep going. Notes should also offer constructive suggestions which are for you to decide to utilize or not. It is up to you. You're the writer. If you are not sure about a note, then get another opinion. Hey, no one said this is easy. It's extremely difficult! Often the premise is good but it gets lost in written translation because of poor execution. But if you are getting the note "there's nothing here, you must rethink the entire thing" then that means the problem is in the premise or the concept itself—there's no story, no sense of rasion d'etre, it's all plot and no substance. Those who read scripts for a living and whose decisions not only affect their company but also their job and their livelihood have read thousands and thousands and thousands of screenplays. They've seen it all. They take it seriously and are very busy people. Again, it's difficult.

Dylan, and any new writers out there, it may be that you are showing your work too early. You may have much more learning to do and may need more time to develop your craft and better hone your voice, first. I keep my work mostly to myself, honing it, focused on my goals. The truth is this takes much time and a lot of hard work. My advice to you is to read a ton of screenplays, the good, the bad, the ugly, and the great. After you have read hundreds you too will be better able to decipher what works and what doesn't and incorporate that knowledge into your own work. You'll better see the forest for the trees. ;) Best to you and good luck! Keep writing!

Dylan Dawson

Thanks Arthur, I'm glad there are people that can relate. Yay I totally agree, I have given notes to others on the site, and I can honestly say, I've always tried to be excited, and envision their work the way they've wanted, and encouraged them, most of everything I've read had something great about it. I've told them what I enjoyed and any ideas I had to make it better, but I've always said that their work was their own and that my opinion was just one outlook, and that their dream is more important than anything I had to say, so take the good stuff and roll with it.

Arthur L Burton III

Yes I know exactly what you mean...

Craig D Griffiths

Beth Fox Heisinger your mentor sounds amazing. How many people have access to a mentor like that? Not many I would say.

Why is every second person a script consultant these days? Writers are responsible for everything. Unfortunately most are willing to be submissive to anyone willing to give them an opinion. Writers must focus on developing their craft, skill and understanding of story.

Not a single note in my cartoon was about story. They were forcing the writer into a formula.

My brother is a great writer. He teaches comedy and speech writing. He gives notes like “you already made that point earlier in the story. Why do I need to be reminded?”

Feedback on story, character and theme are so useful.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Craig, I met her at a talk being held at a local community center in my home town in Washington State. She was a guest speaker. During the Q&A, I asked so many questions she asked to see me afterwards. I then asked her if she consulted, and that’s all it took. No special connections. Our meeting was pure serendipity. I had no idea she was local. But wow, what insights and industry stories she shared. She did not “preach” nor talk about “story” or launch into theories and terms, or “force” anything, not at all. Certainly nothing as portrayed in your cartoon. She read my script, gave me great notes, and was only interested in helping me make it stronger. That’s it. The only structural changes she suggested was moving scenes around. I had a few conflicts hit my protagonist, but they were not as effective where I had them fall in the story. She suggested I hit and hit my protagonist when she was already down, no breaks in between. What that did was create great pacing and a powerful major turn. She would zero in on a sentence she loved, how it harkened back to a previous moment. She loved word choice. Anyway, this was my first feature screenplay I had ever written. I was incredibly lucky to have crossed paths with such a generous person. ;) As far as consultants, yes, of course, you gotta do your due diligence. You keep referring to “formula” and I have no idea exactly what you mean. Structure? I do not consider structure to be “formula.” Structure is the story content and the form used to tell it. “Formula” to you, I assume, may be a specific paradigm. But there are more than one and different approaches, etc. Anyway, there’s really no context here, no specifics, only blanket generalizations. “Forcing?” No one is forcing you to do anything. I just don’t share the same perspective, I guess. But I do wish you the best with all your creative endeavors. ;)

Dan Guardino

Dylan. This is a real crappy business, but you can’t let someone like that get you down. Just take things with a grain of salt and keep movie forward. I once had a stupid agent tell me I had no talent and was wasting my time. I felt bad and discourage but he is the reason I am still writing screenplays today. I heard most people who broke in had nine screenplays when they made their first sale so I decided I would write twelve screenplays to try and prove him wrong.

Craig D Griffiths

Beth Fox Heisinger structure is structure and it is like the frame of a house. All house are different in the same way all stories can be structured differently.

However, formula can be given credibility by selling itself as structure. I am sick of people reciting the beats and turns of guru endorsed structures. And when you show them script after script that doesn’t meet this you the “you can do that once you have a career” or “that’s because it is”.

Since I have ignored these I have sold scripts and grown in confidence.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Craig, with all due respect, I think you're conflating things (other people’s interpretations/opinions and story structure itself), and seem to have your own interpretation, which is fine. We all develop our own compass for navigating all this madness. Lol! Scripts and/or films can be formulaic, sure, hitting certain things a certain prescribed way or utilizing certain tropes, or they are derivative, etc. Some TV writing and jobs certainly have form expectations, and yet showrunners and teams of writers turn out amazing original work. Personally, I cannot stand story structure or script comparisons and/or analogies to blueprints, houses, skeletons, etc. I view it simply as screenwriting, that’s it. Although I totally agree with you about the “you can do that once you have a career” nonsense. I completely ignore that too and find it offensive and damaging. I push against such nonsense as much as I can. All writing tools are available to anyone no matter who you are. It’s how you use them that truly matters. ;) Anyway, again, best wishes to you and your endeavors, and congratulations on those script sales. Cheers!

Dylan Dawson

Just wanted to take the time to thank everyone on this thread! I've found these points of views very informative, and I'm glad there is a place to talk these thing out!

Thank you all for the encouraging words! The insight you guys have brought to the table has been amazingly enlightening!

Doug Nelson

I hold a deep seated belief in story structure; a beginning, a middle and an end. Wherever it wanders around in there is fine by me.

Julia Petrisor

I'm with Doug here; I think that it's important to retain our creativity and voice and style, sure, but there are principles of storytelling (a la McKee) that are still essential. Without some attempt at structure, the story will inevitably be poorly told. It's like writing a song with total disregard for rhythm and tempo, or trying to shift keys mid-song. You know when a songwriter is skilled and deliberately messing with the tempo or key signature and when they're not, that's for sure! :)

Craig D Griffiths

Beth Fox Heisinger I tend to take an extreme stance because the predators do. If people made statements like “a great story doesn’t need this but...”. However, they start with “you’ll never be successful unless ...”.

So my ranting for writing freedom is an attempt to be heard over the volume of bullshit being thrown at new writers.

Julia Petrisor I would say that your last sentence is very important. A writer will never learn to do that what you are saying without having some failed attempts. To warn a writer away from this would rob us all from great work when the creator finally has success.

Craig D Griffiths

Thanks everyone for an incredibly respectful thread. I would be buying more camera gear if i had a dollar from every time i have been called a fool, amateur or told i would never be successful for even questioning “structure” or “the rules”.

Knowledge is king in your development. Read scripts, watch movies forensically and write more.

Good luck, I am so excited to see the outcome of your development.

Frankie Gaddo

How you handle notes is really important. Particularly in paid places, but not exclusively, readers may feel they have to give criticism. One reason among others why it's important to develop your skill of handling notes. Ask yourself if the note makes sense or not, if it doesn't, then it most likely is a bad note.

Craig D Griffiths

When getting paid (for anything) customer feedback (notes) are the single most important thing.

Dan Guardino

I have written screenplays on assignment but I didn't think that was what we were discussing. The notes in the cartoon were not like notes one would receive while working on a project.

Craig D Griffiths

Dan Guardino youre correct, the conversation was just drifting in that direction.

The cartoon is a look at the potential soul crushing event a new writer can experience when being told they must me cookie cutter, which is what bad notes force people towards.

The cookie cut approach to writing is also my people think computers will one day replace writers. AI loves formula.

Dan Guardino

Craig. . I like the cartoon but you should think about showing the screenwriter cutting cookies. Just a joke.

Craig D Griffiths

Dan Guardino just read my last comment. Virtually unreadable, well done for figuring that out. I should comment from my phone without glasses.

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