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The Note Process

October 8, 2012

Notes: The easiest thing to give, the hardest thing to take.  I liked it better when I was on the other side of the process.  I’ll tell you, finding the problems in a piece of media is much easier than figuring out how to fix them.

My experience with the notes process has been a rocky one.  In the past, when I was young, dumb, and convinced I was the best undiscovered thing ever, I straight up hated getting notes.  Regardless if they were good notes or bad, I would push back hard on just about everything and refuse to do the rest.  A fairly typical response to be sure, but definitely not the right way to go.  How could someone not see the greatness that was in front of them?  How could they not be blown away by it’s majesty like I was?  Or, more simply, why was everyone else a moron who couldn’t see what I was doing?

A visual interpretation of my younger self receiving notes.

Needless to say, it wasn’t a positive response for anyone.

In the years since I’ve softened my attitude considerably.  Years of working as a story producer where I’m constantly presented with shitty notes that I can’t ignore will do that to you.  Sure, I still gripe and complain when notes come in (that part will never change), but now I figure out a way to satisfy them instead of just ignoring them.  Throughout these years of dealing with notes, I’ve found that the more specific a note is the harder it is to address where as a vague note is immensely easier and nets better results (and not just because you can solve a vague problem with a vague answer).  It’s all very counter-intuitive, I know, but trust me.

I like to say that there are two kinds of notes:  What notes and why notes.  Whats are mostly frustratingly specific, while Whys are more vague, but creatively fulfilling.  Further, a What is (typically) harder to appease than a Why and therefore nets a poorer result.

For example:  Say you don’t like an actors reaction to something.  A What note would probably read something like:  Change this reaction.  So when the editor and I (in this case) read that note as words on a page detached from your thought process, we don’t know what’s wrong with it other than you don’t like it.  Chances are, when we change it, it still won’t satisfy whatever it was you had a problem with in the first place and then we have to go around the bend again with the whole process.

Meanwhile, a Why note on the same scene might read:  This reaction takes me out of the moment, it’s funny when it should be horrific.  In this instance, the editor and I understand where the root of the problem is (weird tonal shifts!) and what caused it (bad reactions!).  Now, we can examine the scene as a whole and either build the scene differently to make the reaction work (either by changing the timing of it or making it clear that the scene is supposed to be comedic) or simply change the reaction to something more befitting the emotion of the scene (either from that actor or another).

When it comes down to it, a good note is one that gets you closer to your vision.  Knowing what works or what doesn’t, how things are playing, and examining all the little things that slip past you are all valuable things that only come with the feedback from others.  It’s hard to see the forest from the trees when you’re in the middle of it, you know?  Once I came around to this line of thinking, receiving notes became much easier.  While I still might ignore a few notes, or push back on a few from the guys, for the most part I use them to help guide my vision for the film while getting it to that perfect version of itself.  Which is why the key to a good note is communication.  As in, not just telling me what specifically you didn’t like about something, but why it bothered you.  And understanding why something bothers you goes a long way to actually fixing the problem in the long run.

All that said, the note process on Love in the Time of Monsters has been pretty awesome.  Todd and I have been hard at work crafting this thing into an instant classic and have been helped out by great notes from the rest of the staff to get it there.  With each cut, I find myself more and more excited to show you the results.  And at this rate, it won’t be that much longer!

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