The Five Stages of Notes

I recently met a pair of showrunners who impressed me with their intelligence, insight, and great sense of humor regarding this business.  One of the topics we discussed was the process of receiving notes.  I’m sure the majority of we creative types approach that exercise with a mixture of confidence, fear, hope, and dread. (Emphasis on the “fear” and “dread”.)  And whether you’re receiving notes from an admired writer, trusted layperson, or assigned studio executive, the feedback you receive can set you on an emotional tailspin that might have you purchasing a GMAT study book as you question why you even embarked on this silly career in the first place. (Not that I’d know what that was like…)

DLB meets MBA

Anyway, the showrunners laid out their own Kübler-Ross model what they consider The Five Stages of Notes, which outlines the emotions they often experience when absorbing feedback on one of their scripts.  I thought this list was pretty hilarious – not to mention painfully accurate.

So here are the stages, along with my editorializing on each one…

  1. CONFUSION – As you consider the notes, your brow furrows.  What does the reader mean there’s not enough of a character arc?  What are they talking about when they say I should cut that dialogue?  How could they miss the nuances I’ve so expertly planted throughout?  Do they even understand what they just read?!?
  2. OUTRAGE – The answer is clear: this person is an idiot.  They just don’t get it and, in fact, they should be thanking me for the honor of reading my script.  How dare they question the 2-brad brilliance I’ve offered up to them!  What the hell do they know about writing and movies and plot points and life experiences?  Sure, they’re smart, articulate, well-informed, compassionate…but I read Save the Cat, for godssakes!
  3. OVERINDULGENCE – The answer is clear: this feedback calls for a PAGE ONE REWRITE.   I need to overhaul the whole. damn. thing.  Should this be a comedy instead of a drama?  Why did I set it in Pacoima?  Maybe I should change the gender of my lead character?  Or make him a dog?  Or an alien?  Yes, my reader has presented me with a thread of feedback that now has me unraveling the entire sweater.
  4. DESPAIR – The answer is clear: I am an IDIOT.  A worthless, talentless idiot.  This script stinks.  I’m embarassed I subjected my reader to this dreck in the first place.  It is a waste of kilobytes on my computer.  I should never write the words “FADE IN” again.  Is it too late to consider grad school?  Maybe I could move in with Mom & Dad?  Lucy could adjust to Wisconsin winters, right?
Um, that would be a NO.

Um, that would be a NO.

5. QUICK SOLUTION – The answer is clear.  And it’s been staring me in the face this whole time.  Perhaps if I just take a few breaths and tackle this thoughtful feedback, then maybe I can actually clarify story points and improve my script?  Victory!

Yes, reaching that final stage of acceptance doesn’t mean I necessarily must agree with all of the feedback, but it signals that I’ve stayed open-minded to receiving it and seeing the note behind the note.  After all, when someone takes the time to read and critique my work, they’re doing it with only the best of intentions.  They are supporters of my success.  Therefore, I must be a gracious recipient of their typically wise counsel.

Rest easy, Lucy.  No winter sweaters for you.

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