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Honesty The Best Policy?

This is a true story: it happened about two years ago.

Phone rings. I pick up.

Me: Hello?

PRODUCER: I’m going to kill you. And then I’m going to kill all your progeny to make sure your inherited evil does not infect the rest of the universe.

I’m unfazed, naturally. That’s just how I roll.

ME: What’s the problem?

PRODUCER: I have a writer here CRYING.

ME: Why?

PRODUCER: Because you said the character of the mother in the script was a shrieking banshee with the subtlety of being hit round the head with a hammer. And a brick.

ME: She asked me for my honest opinion.

PRODUCER: You weren’t supposed to give it!

This is an interesting one. As one of the foundations of our society, it’s always thought “honesty is the best policy” – but is it really? My writer here wanted to be told her character was brilliant, for it was based on her own (dead) mother. I didn’t know this at the time of course – and actually, I hadn’t mentioned how terrible I thought the mother was in the actual notes. I’d said instead that the mother “required some work” and made a couple of recommendations on how *I thought* best to do this, as is customary in note-giving. It was only later, when said writer phoned me on my mobile to ask me my “honest opinion” that I gave it. Well, she DID ask.

Seems to me that we put so much of ourselves and our own experiences in our drafts that it’s hard sometimes to separate that from personal feelings about the notes we get. Notes are never an attack on the writer – it’s how a reader feels about the SCRIPT, not you. We all hear about vitriolic readers making personal attacks but in my experience this is quite rare. Most readers want to help a writer, give them a springboard on which to get new ideas and new approaches to a draft.

Yet we all fall into this trap. We all want to use our scripts as an extension of ourselves – if the script is received well, we must be “good”. If a script is received poorly (or an aspect of it is), then we must be “bad”. But this is not the case. I will never forget the tears I shed over one script that was “ripped apart” by a reader when I was about twenty one. I was DISTRAUGHT. Now I revisit the script and that reader’s report and see not a personal attack, but actually a very helpful set of recommendations on how to reapproach the story.

THOUGHT FOR THE DAY: Your script is FROM you, but it’s not actually YOU. It’s a script.

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5 thoughts on “Honesty The Best Policy?”

  1. Lol, I probably would too Pots – that’s the daft thing. I think sometimes we have to appreciate that our “honest opinion” is not always the most constructive, even if we’re asked for it! I think every script reader has made someone cry at some point – the worst was when I was a student and unintentionally slated the work of a very famous playwright who went MENTAL at me about it! I’ve never been roasted so much in my life…

  2. Ha. As a very famous playwright myself (ahem!) I would say we’re all too precious about our own work. My first ever completed screenplay remains unaltered in a draw (ok, a hard drive, but you know what I mean…) because I sent it for assessment and the guys who read it told me what they thought. They were right in every particular, but I couldn’t bear to murder my baby and do the re-writes. Since I had no other successes in that field to delude myself with, I had to accept what they said and be humble about it. However, if anyone tries to get me to re-write a play script (where I DO have some experience) I will listen patiently, nod sagely and then ignore them utterly. Your advice on the TV thingy was sensitive and accurate, and though I’m having a mare of a time trying to do the re-write, I AM trying. Once you submit your draft to someone else, you should take what they say in the spirit in which it is meant: helping the script be the best it can be. Rant over.

  3. Honesty all the way! No time for preciousness!
    I’m a byword for taking feedback well.

    Mind you, I’m a byword for jacking organic yoghurt off my neighbours’ doorsteps but I won’t dwell…

    Seriously though, vitally important to get some distance on characters.

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