The nature of a screenplay is that it is always unfinished, because until it is captured on film, nothing has been committed. They are not finished products. They are open to interpretation. Reading them, properly, requires skill and imagination. As is often said, screenplays are blueprints. Like blueprints, they appear to be easily malleable: after all, it easier to change a couple lines on paper than it is to reshoot something.
But also like blueprints, they are not so easily changed. Change a couple lines, and a character loses his essence; move a scene around, and it creates a whole different meaning. It is easy to get lost when making changes that seemed inconsequential and forget what worked and why it worked and the reasons things were as they were, or even their reasons for being. It is the irony of notes, that the more the reader likes a script, the more invested they become, and the more likely that their notes will take away what made the script attractive to them in the first place. Scripts, like blueprints, offer just enough structure for a reader to start decorating in their own style.
I used to read notes on my scripts and accept them as reasonable opinion, but lately, I’ve changed my mind. What I’m talking about here are the scripts that I intend to direct – most of what I write. It’s a different story if a writer is working in service to a director or producer or actor.
Everybody who gives notes has the same goal in mind: to make the script as good as it can possibly be. THIS IS THE PROBLEM! “Good” is a matter of personal taste. People like different things and they want different things out of a screenplay. Somebody has to have a vision of the film that they are planning to make. This is the director. Before the director, this is the writer. As a writer and director, I my writer’s vision isn’t too far from my director’s vision – in other words, as a director, I have a very clear understanding of the script and how to interpret it. This vision needs to be the judge of what’s good and what’s not.
Now, people might not like what I write and that’s fine. I understand that. But at this stage, I know what I’m doing. It’s taken me a long time to figure out what I want to do, and how to do it – and that was after film school, acting school and a lot of writing. I know how to write a script. My intentions are clear. I have a vision of what I am trying to do.
All notes do at this point, is interfere with my vision.
I realize this is a pompous and egotistical statement, but I don’t know how else to put it. Somebody has to have a vision of a film, or it just doesn’t work. Or worse, it gets bland. If that vision is a little different from the usual, then notes, for the most part, will attack these differences as if they were what’s getting in the way of a good screenplay.
Now, I only have one film to my credit, and this doesn’t give me the authority to go on about my vision. But I am defending all writers and directors who know what they are doing. A vision is an important thing, and has to be trusted and nurtured. It doesn’t always work, but it is infinitely more interesting than the alternative, which is more of the same.
When a film is finished, people either like it or don’t. It either stands or it falls, but only the silliest critics try to offer up notes about how it would have been better, if only they had done something a little different.