Why Development Notes Matter

By April 9, 2013 2 Comments

For a writer, the idea of getting notes is fraught with possibilities, some good, some bad. The idea of taking the script you’ve stained with your blood, sweat and tears and turning it over to an executive or consultant is a little like, I would imagine, sending your child off to sleep away camp for the first time. You’re hoping for the best but quite possibly fearing the worst.

Getting notes is never easy, but if you’re confident enough in your work to get some feedback…and believe me, no matter how experienced you are as a writer, with each script you have to work to get to that point…getting notes is always valuable.

Even if you don’t agree with whatever your analyst says, the points that they bring up can help call to your attention the problem areas in your script you may not have seen, and which elements are being interpreted in ways you didn’t intend. Exposing your script to a fresh pair of eyes (and no, your close friends and family don’t count unless your name is Skippy Spielberg) is essential to the development process, if for nothing else so that someone else can confirm that your script is the greatest work of genius in human history.

Notes are a tool. You can use them as you wish. Sure, every analyst has points of bias, even if they’re not aware of them. But take it from me, every development executive wants to nurture great scripts.  For anyone who doesn’t have firsthand knowledge, giving development notes is sort of akin to doing a jigsaw puzzle…but in reverse. You start with the big picture and study what you see. Then you break it apart into every possible component…theme, plot points, structure, character, dialogue, originality, premise, catharsis, marketability, salability, budget, voice, conflict, pacing, tone, consistency…and then try to put it all back together in a way that helps the writer make an even better picture. It isn’t always easy, but it’s always rewarding.

You don’t have to agree with any or all notes, and you don’t have to make any or all suggested revisions. But you should be constantly thinking about how you can make your script more effective on every level, and notes can be the key to taking your script to a viable level.

As an example, I had the pleasure of reading accomplished writer Stephen M. Hunt’s World War II drama spec script Precious Vengeance. It was a script with a lot of potential, and I got to provide notes on multiple drafts. Stephen’s script was exposed to multiple readers and analysts, and he diligently absorbed the feedback, took the points he agreed with and made them work for him. He took what he wanted and put in the time to hone his script. Because of his talent and his willingness to do that, his script was selected from over 1,000 entries to win the Grand Prize of the 2012 Fresh Voices Screenplay Competition and is now being actively submitted to producers by chairman Joel Mendoza.

It’s a story that all writers should find encouraging. Story notes matter, but what really matters is what you do with them.

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  • This is great, and I’d like to second your closing point. ‘Story notes matter, but what really matters is what you do with them’. Handing off notes to a writer is by no means final. As a writer, what you do with those notes on the page is equally important to how you nurture that development relationship. Be sure to follow up, and keep the following points in mind;

    First & foremost, say thank you: From broad strokes to page notes, properly written development notes take time. You are receiving invaluable feedback from trained eyes, that granted might not always be what you want to hear, but remember; notes are the result of considerable time and effort.

    Do not take notes personally: Development notes are an analysis of screenplay and story, not you as a writer.

    Notes do not have to be implemented, but should at least be addressed: One of the more frustrating elements of being a development producer is when some notes are just blank ignored. If you do not like a note and it does not make the next draft, give me even a one-line reason. Development is collaborative. If I have a clearer understanding of your logic, then that writer/producer relationship will yield greater results.

  • STEVE THOMAS says:

    I think NOTES are great! When they come from people who KNOW what they’re talking about. Based on their professional experience. But…what no one talks about on these sites, online,, in the trades…is this financially successful cottage industry dealing with notes and consults from “those” who have yet to truly show the bulk of us, any solid, professional experience-credits in what their “notes” have helped to produce successfully — in sale of a script and then, actual successful production of said script. When a so called script doctor or “authority” offers consults and/or notes for over a grand???? I run. When a script reader charges 300.00-700.00 for their notes…and show no proof of what their so called talent has done or can do? I run. Screaming. At the end of it all…there are too many wannabe screenwriters, who DO NOT want or desire to put in the time to study and learn their craft through countless drafts of countless scripts. It’s called a work ethic, sacrifice for success. I have an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA. Have a had a few spec sales when I first got out of film school. Recently…two on-set production rewrites where I shaved off some production costs in the shooting script ( and really, if it had been my script, I wouldn’t taken care of the problems in the writing stage) I am very specific on who I get notes from, because…I’m simply not desperate for instant success. But also taking my success in my own hands, I’m producing and directing projects through my own start up while working in media content creation for a state agency. I’m deseparate to be a better screenwriter and storyteller…and put in the time to do so…but paying for notes as the end of it all, like so many wannabe screenwriters fall for? Not me.

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