So you’ve gotten notes on your screenplay. You’re excited to see what someone has to say, and then you realize it’s like a whole other language. You have no idea what to do with half of it. Learning how to incorporate script notes is almost like a game of “telephone.” You try to communicate your story and the reader attempts to relay their impression of it back to you. Not everything makes it through the filter.
Get notes from trusted readers, people who have a knack for constructive feedback. Pick individuals who aren’t too doting or too negative. If possible, find a circle of friends who can do this rather than paying for feedback every time you write a new draft or new script.
Ideally, you want to get notes from about 3 people in order to evaluate overlaying feedback.
Notes by Draft
You want to make sure that you’re getting the notes that you need.
Page notes on a first draft aren’t helpful. So, if someone is going through page by page and crossing out lines they don’t like and dialogue they want fixed, it’s not going to benefit you at an early stage. Notes on the first draft are about molding, shaping and defining the overall story because little details are going to change.
Address larger notes first and finer notes later.
First draft feedback should be painted in broad strokes:
- How is the pacing?
- Is there enough character development?
- Does the plot make sense?
- Are the characters distinct and talking in a way that’s unique to them?
When you get into a more established draft, feedback becomes more like:
- Pages 57-59: Scene seems out of place. How does it move the plot forward?
- Not feeling the emotional tug of war between Kate and Hugo on page 90.
- Fix these 125 spelling and grammar errors.
- These lines don’t feel like they’re in the voice of this character
Using Multiple Readers
When getting notes from multiple readers, pay attention to these things:
- Overlapping notes – The same note given by multiple people should be taken into strong consideration.
- Outlying notes – A note only given from one person that either might be an opinion or isn’t something you’re comfortable incorporating at the moment.
First address the overlapping notes. Then address the notes you strongly agree with. Any middle of the road notes, you can think about and address as you see fit. Don’t worry about addressing outlying notes, unless they bring up a valid point.
Using One Reader
If you receive feedback from only one reader, break the feedback into 3 parts:
- Feedback you readily agree with.
- Notes you need to take a look at and think about.
- Comments you do not agree with.
It’s important to look at all 3 parts with equal consideration. It’s easiest to incorporate the notes that resonate with you, so do that first. The second section of notes are “maybes.” You might have to think about these for a little while and consider how you want to address them. Lastly, come around to the notes that you feel a strong resistance against.
Should I Take the Note?
There will be no way you can possibly incorporate every note you get; however, it is very important to weigh the value of notes you may disagree with, especially if that note comes from more than one reader. If you immediately disregard every note that doesn’t speak to you, it would be a disservice to your work.
Consider that some aspects of your story may be more firmly planted in your head than they are on the page. Not every idea makes the crossover, even if you have thought about it. It’s your job to communicate your story and recognize when you haven’t done so in the way you wanted.
You do not have to take every note given to you.
Sometimes a reader will give you a note that isn’t easy to figure out.
Let’s say the note is something like “the climax for your main character isn’t landing.” So this big moment that your entire script is building up to doesn’t work. Do you need to address that specific scene or is it something else?
- Maybe you actually need to go back to act one and make the relationship between the lead and the romantic counterpart stronger, so that we, as an audience, feel more at the end of the story.
- Perhaps your lead doesn’t have enough obstacles in the way of what they want.
- Possibly all of your high and low beats need to be amped up.
This is an instance of one note with many different areas that might need to be addressed. This is why notes are difficult.
- Say thank you.
- Don’t argue with the notes you are given. This includes explaining why you did it the way you did it and how their note doesn’t make sense. The exception is if you are trying to clarify your intention and asking for a note that would help you achieve the result you are going for.
- Ask questions only if you need clarity, not to assert why you think the note is wrong.
Incorporating notes into your screenplay is essential for development. Feedback strengthens your script, so mastering the process is essential.
You will learn how to incorporate script notes by doing it. Trial and error are the best teachers. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Rewriting makes your work better.