Perhaps the most important element of the development process is the give and take between a writer and the creative producers tasked with shepherding a project into production. This experience can be very rewarding, but also very frustrating. After a particularly unproductive notes meeting with a first time writer-director, one of our team members came to this unsatisfying conclusion:
“I thought it was a good script that needed some work. Turns out it’s a mediocre script that’s done.”
In order to avoid a similar experience, here are five quick tips for content creators to keep in mind when meeting with creative execs and other potential collaborators.
1. Check your emotions at the door.
Submitting your work for judgment can leave you feeling pretty vulnerable. But it’s important to view your critics as collaborators rather than attackers. Ideally you both have the same goal: to improve the project. It’s a natural impulse to defend your work or your choices, but when you focus on constructing a compelling rebuttal, you’re failing to give due consideration to the feedback. The less you say, the more you hear.
2. Be open to criticism even if you disagree with suggested fixes.
Maybe adding a car chase isn’t the best way to spice up the second act of your Elizabethan historical drama. But the reality is your second act still drags. Spotting a problem and knowing how to fix it are two very different skills. Ideally your collaborators will be great at both, but if they aren’t you should still give their reactions due consideration. Even the most inane suggested fix doesn’t invalidate the underlying flaw that triggered it.
3. Don’t explain your intentions (with one exception)
“Well, what I was actually going for there…” is the wrong response to criticism. If you have to explain it, you probably didn’t pull it off. You’ll only make matters worse by implying that your reader just didn’t “get it.” What’s more likely is that they got it and simply didn’t like it.
The exception? If you are legitimately looking for guidance on how to better achieve your intended result, explain away. You might get valuable insight on how you missed the mark.
4. Avoid “execution dependent” solutions.
“The dialogue isn’t wooden. You just need the right performance to sell it.” All sorts of magic can happen during production and post. That doesn’t let the development team off the hook. If it doesn’t work on the page, don’t assume it will work on the screen.
5. Don’t feel pressured to respond in the room.
If you have a good, collaborative relationship, these meetings can be a productive way to spitball new ideas. But if you are feeling defensive or the atmosphere seems combative, there’s nothing wrong with asking for some time to mull over the feedback. It’s better to come back with a thoughtful response later than to tell someone what they want to hear, or worse, to pick a fight in the room.