Episode 1 - Transcript - Getting Notes On Your Work
Updated: Jan 7
Meg: Hey, guys, welcome to The Screenwriting Life. We are so glad you joined us today.
Lorien: Yes, hi. On today's show, we're going to talk about getting and taking notes, and then at the end, we're going to answer some questions from our audience.
Meg: Alright, but first, we're going to talk about our week as screenwriters or as we have termed it, our adventures in screenwriting. Lorien, how was your week as a screenwriter?
Lorien: Well, it was really great. I am happy to be fully dressed for the first time this week because I spent the week in yoga pants. So this week I worked on a pitch and artwork for an animated show that I'm working on. I'm really excited about it. And I got notes on a feature pitch that I'm working on. Yes, and we can talk about that later. I, in an effort to avoid some of the work I had to do, I sat down and read some scripts from the CineStory retreat. So I'm a mentor at CineStory Retreat, great retreat. Jeff, our producer, has been a mentor up there. And so I got my mentees assigned to me and I got their scripts. I read a few of those. And then I had to sit down and work on generating some new ideas because I need to generate some new original scripts.
Meg: Blue Sky!
Lorien: Blue Sky. So it's fun and terrifying. And I closed a deal to do a very small writer for hire gig, in the hustle. And then another big part of my week is that I am looking for a new manager because my manager, who I've been with for a couple of years and who I love, has decided to take her career in a different direction. So that leaves me without a rep. So I'm in that whole fun place of sending out my work to people, having them read me, deciding if they want to meet with me, then meeting them.
Meg: Such a vulnerable position. For anybody, anybody at all.
Lorien: So it's exciting and terrifying, which I feel like pretty much sums up my week.
Meg: It sums up the screenwriting life, basically. My week was, well, not quite this week, but I just got back from Ireland. I'm not jetlagging. I'm done with the jet lag. Until I make a mistake right now on this podcast, and then I will use that as my excuse. I was in Ireland working at an animation house where I'm working on a film that I originally, years ago, we can talk about this, like literally ten years ago, optioned a book - a kids book - and this is now going into animation. There's parts that are going into layout. So I was there doing a kind of a, let's say, a final polish on the draft, which was super fun. It's always good to get out of your own space in terms of even as a creative person to kind of open up your brain. And being in Ireland, it was just amazing.
Lorien: Did you stay in a haunted hotel?
Meg: I didn't, but there was a medieval castle. That was pretty awesome. So I also bought some advertising, which is crazy to say in terms of screenwriting life. But in today's world, you do end up doing a lot of things, meaning, myself and my husband and a bunch of friends did a web series called Breakroom USA. Breakroomusa.com. You can go watch it.
Lorien: It's fantastic. I've watched it twice.
Meg: Each episode is ten minutes. We just literally got a bunch of friends together. There's a person in a chicken suit. What more do you need? But you know, now we're putting it out. And so we had to come up with memes and ad buys. And it's just a really interesting thing for my brain as a writer to think, OK, what is a good meme? Like, how does that work? To me, it was a really fun experience in terms of new media and the other things you can do as a writer and we can talk about that. If anybody has that question, send it in.
Lorien: Was that a piece of that too? I know you were a producer for a while. Does that click into that side of your brain?
Meg: Yeah, because I was a producer. Yeah. But you also have to be a good writer and know what a good meme is or learn it, and we're working with people who really are experts on that stuff, but it's a great learning curve for me.
Lorien: So wait, there are people whose job is to write memes? That's awesome.
Meg: Yes, he's really, really good at it. They're hysterical. I mean, you know, I'm throwing out the bad version, as they say, and he's making them much better. I also had optioned a book I want to take out as a pitch for television, and I had started to doubt it in terms of will this sell? And I just got all up in my head and overthinking the sellability of it, and I lost connection to it and I had lunch with a friend who's in the business and just talking about it again and why I loved it. Not the worry, but just why I loved it and why I want to watch this show. And she was like, I love that show. I'll watch that show, and it's really helped me be like, yeah, I can't listen to all of the the other voices. I just have to do this because I love it. So that was a really great part of my week. And the last thing I did literally yesterday is I got notes on the animated movie. We did the final... Well, I shouldn't say final because we got notes. We did a polish and a rewrite on the script. And now it was really detailed notes, like let's go in and look at dialogue, which honestly, I don't know if I've ever done. I mean, I guess I did it at Pixar. It's very rare, right? Like, that's like, you're going. The thing is in production, like that is just, you do that so rarely where they want to actually talk about sentences and dialogue. So that was a fun thing to remember. Oh right, we can be that specific. So that was my week.
Lorien: Well, that's a fun segue into our next section. Oh, actually, it's not. I'm messing up. I'm looking at the rundown here because this is screenwriters doing a podcast.
Meg: Exactly. So we're going to get notes on this podcast.
Jeff: I will be giving you guys tons of notes after this. I think what Lorien was teeing up is the fact that we were talking about our weeks. And I know you guys are all having busy crazy weeks too, and we're so grateful you guys are tuned in. If you're new to the popcorn talk, we're a film interest network, so we cover everything from, you know, big franchise stuff like Marvel and DC to the small indies. We did this really cool breakdown on Parasite and why not only it deserved to win Best Picture, but inevitably it should have won Best Picture last year. So make sure you subscribe to the popcorn talk. We're doing tons of stuff here. And for those of you listening to the screenwriting podcast right now, The Screenwriting Life, hop on iTunes, Apple Podcasts and give us those five stars. It really helps grow the show and you know we're in it with you. We're writers with you, and we want to build a community around this because we know how important it is. So hop on Apple Podcasts. Give us those five stars. We will read your review on air. Alright. And now, time for notes.
Lorien: That was exactly what I was going to say. Thank you, Jeff.
Jeff: Thank you, guys. And I will say quickly for those of you guys tuned in, I guess I have music now when I turn myself up. I'm going to kind of be the voice of the emerging writer. I'm an emerging writer myself. I am honored to be producing Lorien and Meg because I'm not only a fan of their work, but a fan of them as people. So I'm just so excited to be working with you guys, and I may hop in here and there to sort of be the voice of the up and comer. So, so excited, guys.
Lorien: Awesome. So with that beautiful segue, let's get into our topic, which is getting and taking notes. So let's talk about getting notes. What is that?
Meg: Literally the process of getting them. So there's obviously going to be different layers of who's giving you the notes. Is this your friend? And then there's the rings of friends, right? If you give your script or your outline, or you're just pitching your idea to the friend that you know is your harshest critic, because some people are, they just love to get in there and take things apart. Then my question is, why are you self-sabotaging? That's not the first person you should go to. The first person you should go to goes, "Oh my gosh, I love this." They are very encouraging and that's what you need. And like I said, I had that lunch today with somebody that I needed that.
Lorien: And a piece of that too is when you're giving your work to friends in those circles is to be really specific about what kind of notes you're looking for, right? Like, is this sellable? Which is a hard thing.
Meg: Be careful with that, be careful with that.
Lorien: It's more about what are you confused about? Can you point me in the direction of what isn't working for you?
Meg: And I think it's good too and again this is personal. You have to know your own brain and how you take notes, which I want to talk about. I think it's good too, to just say, OK, what did you think? Without any precursor because you do need to learn how to take 'this is what they got' - 'this is what they didn't get'. And then you can say of what you what you said, this is what's resonating with me. Can we talk more about this? Can we take that apart? Why do we think that's happening? What are some great ideas? Let's spitball ideas so you can run it, but I think it's good too to get that cold blast of ice water. I mean, the thing to remember is that and I know that you know this, but for our audience, physiologically in your brain, I do believe your reptilian lizard brain does think they're trying to kill you.
Lorien: You will die when you get notes.
Meg: That you will die. So literally physiologically in your brain, you are probably, you've gone into survival mode, so you are probably hearing half to a quarter of what they're actually saying. So in terms of a practical - to just to know that about your brain - I always, always, am taking notes, but I'm also recording. Because you taking notes makes you feel better because it gives a kind of buffer zone between what they're saying, right? "Well, I'm writing it down". But you really should record them because I promise when you go back and listen, you're going to hear things you didn't even hear because you were in survival mode. When I was doing the academy run, I was lucky enough to meet Josh Singer, who's a great writer. And we were talking about getting notes and this physiological experience that happens. And he said he has a friend who he did not name. So if this person is in the world, please email me so I can give you credit, who said that his experience of getting notes is three stages. The first one, the first thing that happens and I think I can swear. Yes, Jeff?
Jeff: Let's get in there.
Meg: Well, we are talking about getting notes, so swearing is going to be involved.
Lorien: Table tipping, paper ripping...
Jeff: If our audience is nervous, at this point, you've definitely been warned.
Meg: If you don't like the F word, just plug your ears. So the first stage is, "f*ck you". You physiologically go into defense. The second stage is "f*ck me". You immediately start hating yourself. And the third stage is "what's next?". Where you've finally gotten through those two physiological brain neurological things. And now your brain can actually go into the frontal lobe and think about, OK, well, how am I going to take these? Which to us in our terminology day is how do you take the notes. And I just want to say, in terms of getting notes, you can get stuck in, "f*ck you" or "f*ck me". Yeah, and it's very dangerous because you just got to work through it to get to the what's next.
Lorien: So I just got notes on a project that I love working on. I really like and respect the producers and I got the notes and I don't disagree with them, which is really painful because I didn't get that "f*ck you" moment because it was like, Oh...
Meg: You just jumped right to "f*ck me", just right there.
Lorien: And I, you know, participated in the conversation. I was, you know, defending certain choices I made, talking things through. I was very open. I'm trying to convince myself right now that I love getting notes. I think if I keep saying this out loud, then it will become a reality.
Meg: Well it might be speaking to the survival part of your brain that you're not going to die, you're not going to die.
Lorien: So I got the notes, and while I was getting the notes, even though the notes are good and will help the project get even better, I definitely felt like I left my body during the phone call and then I got off the phone call and then I had to put the whole project away. Like, I couldn't reread anything, I couldn't read. I got the email of the notes that they'd taken during our call. And then I had to figure out how to rev back in in order to take the notes, right? The "What's next". And that felt a little bit like it does when you're diving into a new project, which is, can I do it? Will I break things? How long will this take? The notes didn't seem that big, but oh my god, what if they're massive? So it generates all these fears and questions. And so I had to, I mean, this is what I had to do, which was take social media off my computer and my phone and just have no excuse about I'm working on this right now.
Meg: Because when you're in "f*ck me", social media is a great place to go hide. Because you don't want to deal with, "Oh, I suck as a writer. Oh my god, I should have known. Why didn't I know that note?" I was thinking about, you were mentioning that, and I was thinking, oh yeah, that happens a lot. But what actually happens because I used to be a producer is I understand as the script gets better and more solid and the concept is starting to click things that you didn't know didn't work now show themselves as not working. It could be simple as a a side character or a B plot line. There were so many other big conceptual things not working that you didn't even see that didn't work. Or better yet, you've raised the bar on that whole line. So now everything else is paling, so you've got to go back in like that is literally the process. To me, notes and writing drafts, it's a layering process of, OK, always go, every note you get, when I taught at UCLA, I would have the class yell out notes and I'd write them on the board, right? Everything from I hate that character's name, which was a note somebody gave.
Meg: To I don't know what this is about, right? And what we put them all on. And then you could start to see how a lot of the notes were symptoms of a disease. And the disease is always down in the concept or engine of the film, so the engine of the film is things like theme, world, main character, what do they want?, what do they need?, what's the main relationship?, what's it about is the core base block of that. And what's hard about writing is my opinion on rewriting is that can also often be unconscious. It's not something you can articulate yet, and you're writing many, many drafts to even figure out how to articulate that. Like, I've been on a project for years and years and years, and we're still, we just had that conversation. Again, we have a lot of things on the table about what it's about, but it can't be about all those things. What's the core bottom thing this is about? And I really recommend when you're thinking about that, a lot of people, when they talk to me, they're pitching intellectual ideas or social ideas. That's all good. I'm not saying those can't be in your script, but that's not really what we're talking about. We're talking about an emotional character thematic. What is this character emotionally learning? Go, look at the end of Act two. That's where it's going to come up into the top. So a lot of your notes could be because they actually just don't get that. And the other thing to be very careful of when you're now getting and taking notes like, what am I going to do with this? Is if people don't know emotionally what it's about, they will intuitively without even realizing they're doing it, project in what they think it is, or it would emotionally help them or what they would emote if they were the writer and taking it what they would make it. And so now you're getting notes that they might even be good ideas, but is that your movie, right? And so you have to kind of really like, I think it's so great what you're saying, get that space from them. Put the notes aside for a second so that you have the space to come in and really look at them.
Lorien: It's nice to to get validated about that because in the moment it felt like running away. Right? So it's hard because it's the layering process, which intellectually I understand. And when I give notes to people, I go in gently and help them rebuild. But getting them feels like, oh God, the whole thing. And am I doing this right? And is this the right process? It's a lot of doubt and judgment.
Meg: Which doesn't go away just by the way. I think that is part of the creative process, is part of being an artist that you have to be vulnerable and in that vulnerability is going to come doubt. But that is the beauty of art. That doubt and vulnerability is what you need to be bringing back to the project. So it's okay to feel it. Everybody feels it. I've worked with people who have won multiple Academy Awards and had this conversation with them, so it is just part of being a human artist.
Lorien: So welcome to being a writer.
Meg: Welcome. So, yeah, your excuse that you don't take notes well and your first drafts suck, then our answer is: welcome.
Lorien: And something that helps me is when somebody or you says to me, you're not special in that. Right? That this isn't a unique thing. This self-doubt, this running away from a project.
Meg: It doesn't mean you're not a writer. It means you are a writer.
Lorien: And you know, I think, you know, I'm a writer. I want to be special. But hearing that in that context makes me feel like, Oh, OK, this is part of the process or can be part of the process. So I don't flame out and abandon the project.
Meg: Yes, don't do that. Like writing is really rewriting. I mean, writing first drafts, I'm not going to say it's easy, but it is easy compared to rewriting where that's where the deep work is starting to be done. That's where you have to bring your analytical side and your heart and try to put pieces together. I mean, the other thing I'd say about taking notes is, you know, if you can find the disease, that's why at Pixar, working there, I didn't go back into my draft, so you would write it. It would get boarded. We would watch it. You would go into the brain trust, you would get notes. And then we went back to cards. We went back all the way to outline because if it is, and 9 times out of 10, it is down in the engine. You have to be willing that anything and everything can go, even that great scene that you love and that banter that you feel like you will never again ever be able to write something that great. Guess what? It can go, and the more you do this, the more you allow yourself to go all the way back to outline. And people say to me, You don't really mean that, and I'm like, no, I do. I don't open the document and don't open the document that we just did. I open a brand new empty document and I've recarded, I've re-outlined, I've maybe done writing exercises and now I go back in. I've got a new outline and I write again. And will some of those old scenes find their way back in? Yes or No.
Lorien: And that is totally overwhelming and terrifying because you've spent all this time generating a draft and you feel like, oh my god, here it is, 60 pages, 110 pages. Like, I have a screenplay, I'm a writer, and then you get these notes that that are so big and appropriate on an early draft.
Meg: And they will be.
Lorien: That you have to go back to cards and it feels like...
Meg: But here's the thing, that draft, you wrote, is going to be in those cards because so much work that you've done now has, like I said, it's a layering process. It's going to be in the cards, but your brain now knows so much more, it can see more. It's like literally you've been in the dark with a little pin light with your phone, your light on your phone and now you've got a big flashlight. Ok, I can see more because I got these notes. I'm intuiting what I like. If you're working with a director, they are the ones leading that, right? "This is what I like", which is a whole other topic we can talk about, working with directors. So you go back to outline. What earns its way back, earns its way back, but it allows your brain to think again in a big way, and you do need to be able to do that. You need to be able to iterate. And what I would say to you, not to you, but to you (the audience)...
Lorien: Yeah, say it to me. I am always at the beginning.
Meg: The process I've learned is by doing that, what your brain and heart and soul learns is that somewhere inside you think that the well of your creativity is a teeny little well with a little bucket and you pulled that little bucket up and oh my god, I wrote these great scenes and it's a little tiny bucket and what your brain starts to learn and trust, the more you do this, is it's an ocean
Lorien: God, isn't that, wouldn't that be amazing?
Meg: It's an ocean down there. It is vast and limitless, and it will start to feed up into that well, if you allow it to just come in. You can let go of that tight grip and then, you know, taking notes, you have to know that tight grip is because, no, that is my character, and that's what I'm trying to do. And you're giving me a note that feels off that. But you still have to take the note. You still have to think about that.
Lorien: So let's talk about taking the note. You get the note, it breaks a bunch of stuff or it doesn't. Taking the note, sometimes you get notes that are really specific, right? Like "on page five, I don't believe this character would say that line of dialogue". Some are bigger. Like, what does your main character want? Some are ideas like you said, like what if this happens? Aliens land, right? They start to fill in ideas because something is missing there. So I want to talk about how you figure out what the note under the note is, and how you start to incorporate this stuff into your work. Because when I do it, I tend to drill down into the detail even when I need to be in big picture, right? But that's how I find it. I start to get into it and that is something that I've had to embrace as my process, right?
Meg: Yeah, everybody's going to be different.
Lorien: And so it's going to take me a little time to like get into the nitty gritty of, OK, well, if the character doesn't talk that way, how do they really talk? And then I might get to the point where I'm like, oh no, that's what that character sounds like. It's everything else that doesn't work, right? So how do you take notes? What notes do you need to take? So like, I'm getting notes from a producer, so you have to take them. It's like how I take them, though. Right? Honoring the notes and the process, but then bringing more fresh ideas, not just literally going to this page or addressing that thing because that thing is going to break a bunch of other stuff.
Meg: And especially if you're going back to outline that thing may not even be there, but it is a symptom of something that's off in your character or again, you haven't earned it. So there was a scene in Inside Out that I knew was one of Pete Doctor's favorite scenes that really made it his film, and we kept getting notes on it and I was like, OK, but we just haven't earned it yet. It might be everything that's coming before that to earn that. And in the rewrite I just did for this animated movie, there was something off an Act three, but my gut was we just haven't earned him doing and saying that. So let's go back and trail it all the way back. Where does he start and literally make a chart of his character movement so we can see, oh, it broke here, and that's why we don't understand emotionally, this end thing. So that's the note under the note. If you're going really down deep. I think it's great because my brain does not work that way to go to the detail, to dig in, to find the deeper problem. I go 30,000 feet that Andrew Stanton at Pixar would say 30,000 feet. "Everybody go up 30000 feet right" to really get a bird's eye view of what are we doing? Why are we doing it? What is the concept here? So I feel like you have to honor your own brain and how it approaches story, but ultimately you're going to come to the same place, right? Which is you need to respond to that note. Obviously, if you're working with a producer or a studio, those are notes. You just got notes. If you're on your own just speaking, then a friend once said to me, listen, if you're at a party and three people say, you're drunk, give me your keys or give me your keys. Meaning if three or five people give you the note, whether you like that note or not, they're not getting something. So you really do need to address it. And I think, how do you address it? Like I said, I go back to outlining cards, but talking to people helps me a lot. I need to talk it through with you. I don't understand how could he do this? And then as I'm talking about it, suddenly I got an idea. Oh my gosh, what could it be that, oh my gosh, I think it could be that. If it's that, where does that impact, like you, again, you can't surgically go in and just change. I'm just going to change that midpoint, because my question is, OK, you just changed the midpoint. That means you changed everything before and everything after. So now go track it all the way. Right? Because I think people want to noodle again because they don't want to blow it up.
Lorien: And that that's the scary part, right? Is the blowing it up. I have a script I wrote that I was very convinced was a half hour sort of dark comedy. I really love the project and I give it to people to read and everyone's like, well, this is the beginning of a movie, and you're like, oh right, I want it to be this thing that it is not. So I have to figure out, well, is it actually a drama thriller? Is it a movie? Right? But it's not what I thought it was going to be. So that means I need to go back and do that. And it is scary. And it's going to take time, which if you're a writer and you have a full time job, you know, when you're writing on your own, time is the thing that's most precious. When you're making a living as a writer, time is the thing that's most precious, right? Because the more time I spend fixing something, it's time that I'm not making money. It's time that I'm not out selling right.
Meg: And that's the trick of getting notes right because you may not know how to fix it yet, right? And so you have to go through your process and go back to outline, talk to friends, talk it out until you get that spark. And then once you get the spark, you have to take it through the whole script again. In my opinion, what does that mean to... What is that spark? How does it impact? What's it about? How does it impact the world? How does it impact the main character? But that is the process. There is no shortcut, in my opinion, to that. The more you do it, the faster you will get to solutions because your brain is starting to understand like any art, oh, you're getting craft skills in your toolbox, but you're still going through the process. I mean, maybe there's pro writers out there who are going to email us and say, I don't, but I don't believe you is my response to that.
Lorien: Having been in development on two shows with you, right? It's just the notes that come in from executives and studios, and they're all great notes, but it's, you have to go back in and do the work.
Meg: And let's talk about when they're not a good note, either from an actual executive. So you do have to take the note or from your friend who's very well-meaning, but will just keep talking about the same thing that you've already decided you're not doing, right? I mean, that's just human nature. People will do that because like "if you just understood how great my note is", right? And you're like, but I'm not doing that. I do think you have to, especially if it's from an executive, you have to...if you can figure out the note under the note, you are answering it, you just have to articulate back to them. "Hey, this is what you said. I heard you. I tried it. This is all the stuff it broke. But what I think really might be going on is this. And look, if we do this. That note was a symptom of this." I promise you, 9.9 percent of them will go, oh, great. Like, that's why I'm paying you. Because you are the expert to figure it out. I was working as an executive and I was working with a studio executive and the writer we were working with literally just took all the studio notes and did them exactly the way the executive said. And he called me up and he was like, if I was the expert enough to do this, give me the paycheck, as the screenwriter, I'm paying him to be better than me. So their ideas are just thrown out. You know, the new hip phrase is: "here's the bad version", which is a nice thing. It's helping the writer's brain like calm down. So it's a good phrase. Their solution is just another way to illuminate the problem. They're trying to show you the problem by giving a possible solution. It may not be the best solution they're not thinking about, because they're not trained to and by the way they don't have time, all the crap it breaks. But you still have to go back and be like, here's the solution we came up with to that note. Now, directors, that's a different thing, they can say in terms of their movie and what they want to do. But writers, generally you are, you know, you are the the tool in their toolbox to make this work. And we can talk about, if you guys have questions, we can talk about that in terms of working with executives and how that all works. But you know, note taking is a vulnerable experience.
Lorien: Very. And it takes a lot of strength and courage to hear those notes and not think, oh, I did that wrong, I did that bad. You're giving me that note because you see this big, glaring hole we talked about.
Meg: And the opposite of that is, which is the f*ck you is like, "well, you're an idiot. And I don't take those notes. I don't take notes from idiots. And oh my god, that's such a bad note". Whereas really, if you just sit with it for a minute, you might go, I really do have to think about that note. I don't want to do it that way, but wow, I really do.
Lorien: And then you dig in and then you find a solution. And then the note wasn't as bad as you thought it was. And then you have to be like thank you for that note.
Jeff: I love what you guys are saying. I'm particularly responding to like, the journey of receiving notes that you guys have pitched of like the f you f me. But I think one thing that helps me kind of guard against that when I'm taking notes is, first of all, someone took the time to honor your work by giving you notes, like that is a really, that takes time, that takes sacrifice and how cool that the thing you've written is already resonating with someone enough that they have opinions about it. They would be much worse if they said, yeah, I read it. It was fine. Because then they didn't have any opinions about the thing you wrote. So if they come back with a lot of ideas, you've already sparked some kind of inspiration in them, which is what we want to do as writers.
Meg: But I literally when I give notes, especially to young writers, that I'm mentoring, we start with a lot of energy and then by the I can watch it go *fizzle sound* because their brain is now coming in. I can see their brain being like, well, I can't. This is all just crap then. And why did I even bother? And I must suck. Like, you can watch it. And I'm always like, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. This is the thing outside of you. This is like this cup. We're talking about the color, we're talking about what shape the handle will be. We're talking about, do we want a cup that. We're not talking about you, you and your value as a human being, but it so quickly goes to that. And I just think that's because it's art and because you did put your heart and your self into it. So it's a hard thing to start to piece out, that, oh no, they're not talking about your writing ability. And if they are, because you're a younger writer and you don't have that craft piece yet. Great. Learn it. It's as simple as that. Learn how to do that. Doing writing exercises. I'm mentoring a girl and she said to me in an email, well, you know what if she did this or is that just sappy? Or is that just sappy? And I was like, oh. First of all, there's the judger, you know, let's name her. Let's call her Miranda. Miranda just walked in. She's afraid that you're going to die because all this stuff is happening. So Miranda, first of all, sit down, you're not involved. And the writing exercise I gave her, and this is part of a rewrite...
Lorien: Just to be clear, Miranda is not the name of the writer, it is the name of that judgey, panicky teenage voice.
Meg: I just named her Miranda for this girl, you can name them whatever you want. Miranda, her judge, her judge and jury, which is really just trying to protect her because it thinks she's going to die. I was like, go sit over there and I was like, OK, here's a writing exercise for this rewrite. I want you to write that scene as sappy as you can. The sappy is drippy and immediately I got emails back about, "well, you don't mean really sappy. Do you mean like soap opera sappy?". And I was like, just write. All of that is diversion, right? And she did. And she really was like, oh my gosh, there's pieces of this I really like, like it cracked open something. So also, when you get notes, the judge is going to show up, who's going to judge you. And that person is not a writer. That part of you is not a writer, right? They're an analyzer. It's great information though, for you to have. The words you're using are sappy. The words you're using is "seen it before". Whatever those words are that come up. My advice to you is do a writing exercise and do it as full as you can.
Lorien: Write the worst version of this you can.
Meg: The worst version of it, the worst version of that scene, whatever that word is that you're using, right? You know, if you think, oh, we've seen that a million times, OK, write the scene we've seen a million times. Because I promise you, it's just a defense. That was something that actually you feel very vulnerable about, that your brain is afraid for you to go write about. All the juice is probably sitting right there. The judgment is a great indicator of where the juice is. It sounds opposite, but that's actually, it often works that way.
Lorien: There's a little gnome sitting at the top of the well, with the bucket, saying there's no ocean there.
Meg: There's no ocean here and you know, your ocean is probably polluted. And do you really want to bring up a polluted piece of some water?
Lorien: It's fear of being a hack.
Meg: Yes. Oh, that's a great one. Yeah. Then I would say write a scene that you're a hack.
Lorien: It goes away right away. Never, never goes away. Yeah, fraud syndrome.
Meg: Fraud syndrome. Right? We could have a whole topic on.
Jeff: Yeah, I would love to ask in terms of like who we should be getting notes for. One thing I do is I've got a lot of actor friends out here. I live in Los Angeles and we'll do a show on whether or not you need to live in L.A. or where you should be living to write, I think, eventually down the road. But I will table read my work when I feel like I have a draft that's ready and then just kind of do a workshop with the actors who are there. Do you guys advise that? I find it to be helpful, but I'd love to hear your thoughts.
Lorien: So I used to do that when I was a playwright, and it was really, really helpful because when I was a playwright, I didn't write theme directions. And so the actors had to bring so much to it, which I really appreciated it. And I like workshopping with actors and a director for screenwriting because it's so visual, such a visual medium. And I haven't done that or felt the impulse to do it and I don't know why.
Meg: I mean, again, I think it's like, you were talking about the way you get to the generals through the specific. It just depends on what helps you. If that helps you. And I mean, like really helps you, not just makes you feel better because there's differences, right?
Lorien: It is lovely to have your work read by good actors.
Meg: And if that's what you need right now to keep going. Do it. Or is it really helping you like, Oh my god, that just exploded
Lorien: Back to cards. Here we go.
Meg: Great. Yeah, that's even better, right? Or they're they're asking you questions that are making you think about it. Because those actors don't actually understand from your script what their motivation is. Wow. Great note, right? They might spitball with you. So again if that helps you, do it. Do you have to be in L.A. or have access to actors to do that? No. You know, sometimes, especially if it's a comedy, I find that's a little dangerous because if the person isn't a good comedic actor, you're going to think the lines are not good or doesn't work. So that's a little trickier I think, unless you have super funny friends and they are going to spitball and do a bunch of alts and make it even funnier. So it really depends on your process. And if that helps you, but always the the thing to keep in mind is, is it really churning it up and making it better? I have another friend who said, you know, is this better or just different? And that was his bar. Curtis' bar for getting notes in terms of his new ideas for it. He would always stop and be like, is this better or different? And sometimes you don't know. You just don't know. You have no perspective on it anymore. Just write it. Just write it. But eventually, if you keep getting that note, OK, it was just different. It wasn't better. I didn't go deep enough. I didn't really look down deep enough in the construct. And by the way, everybody, all the pros are doing this. I mean, we've worked on movies and we've known movies and animation where they realized they had the wrong main character. And they are deep in, so that's just the process of creativity. And the only way they figured out they had the wrong main character was getting notes. People saying, are you sure this is your main character?
Lorien: I think the dream is, and then we'll move on to our audience questions. I think the dream is writing something, and it's so good that it just sets the world on fire and you don't have to do any rewrites.
Meg: The director I'm working with, she's like, you know, you can't help, part of you just wants them to say, that was awesome. That was great.
Meg: Yeah, that's never going to happen now. Well, no. I mean, right now we're at a place, because we've been working on this for so many years, that we are at a spot where people are like, this is great, this is working. This is a movie. We get it. But...
Lorien: It's taken a long time
Meg: And they're still like, let's look here, let's look here. I mean, there's always going to be something, but you want that. You do want that. You do want somebody to have taken the time. I'm looking here because there's our beautiful Jeff on a screen over here. I'm actually talking to you, Jeff. You do want some. You do want people to always give you and you can decide to take them or not.
Lorien: And to Jeff's earlier point, it is very validating to have people read your work and comment, like invest in it. And really, like when I ask you a question about some problem I'm working on and you think about it and you give me an answer and you help me break through that problem, it feels like, oh, I'm a real life person.
Meg: Even if the answer is no, Mike, that's not what I'm trying to do. But now that you've said that right, I've realized I'm trying to do this.
Lorien: But it feels so validating and thank you so much.
Meg: Because you love notes.
Lorien: I love notes, capital letters. I love getting notes. I love notes. I'm going to work on that.
Meg: So now we're going to move to our next section, which is it's time to take your questions. We're going to answer some of your questions that have come in. The first question is, how do you overcome that feeling like you want it to be done but know it needs more work? And that's from Phil Switek in Boston. I'm assuming that's Boston, Massachusetts.
Jeff: That is Boston, Massachusetts.
Meg: Ok, Phil, so how do you overcome the feeling like, OK, so given I'm just working on the script that I've had a project for 10 years, again, that's because I stopped and went on to do other things and came back and then went on again and came back. So yeah, and even at Pixar, in places, you're rewriting the same scene, maybe multiple times and banging your head against... Can I write this scene again and make it feel fresh and authentic? What I do is, I do think it is good to take a break. So if you really are at this place like, I almost hate this now, I cannot I don't want to do anymore on it. I think it is a favor to the project to say and I would put a specific time limit on it for yourself. So it's not just out of fear. Ok, I'm going to put this aside for a week and I'm going to go blue sky a bunch of new ideas and just have fun. Just have fun with new ideas if you like blue skying. Just a lot, a lot of fun, right? A week, two weeks, whatever feels right, but make a commitment to yourself, you are going to go back again in case this is avoidance. And now look at it again and look at the notes again and you will see it differently. It's amazing. You will totally see it differently and see if you can now go back in. So my first thought is, yes, go ahead and take a break. I mean, listen, if you're being paid, you're not going to be able to do that. We can talk about what to do then.
Lorien: So then it's those micro breaks, right? Like yesterday, I was working on a project and I kept getting, you know, after an hour and a half, I'd get into a stuck place and I can't solve this problem, which isn't actually the question, but I...
Meg: It is. Same process.
Lorien: Instead of going to Facebook, where I would go and waste time. I went and lifted weights for five minutes. I'm going to be so buff. That was a much more positive thing, a break I took. My brain was on something else. I was physical and then I could come back and attack that problem. So it was just that micro break. I can't put this away for a week, it's due.
Meg: Now, if you are going to stay in and you want to stay in and don't want to take a break or even when you come back, if it's still feeling the same way. My gut instinct would be have you moved so far off of the emotional reason, thematic whatever you want to call it, that you cared about this project. In All the noting and all the drafts, you've actually moved off the rudder, you've moved off the well of it, so you're not even sure what it is anymore, which, by the way, is totally normal. It happens about draft three where you're like, I don't even know why I wanted to do this project. That's your job then to say, OK, OK, OK, why did I want to do this? Where did this idea come from? Where was I emotionally? What did I emotionally love about it? What was my original first scene? What did I feel some passion about? It might be a character. It might be a moment. Go back into that and try to reconnect to that because that's the well. You might have moved so far off you've gotten so far up into your head, thinking about it, but that part of your brain, that analysis part of your brain, doesn't write. So you could maybe do some writing exercises, like just free form exercises on trying to remember why you loved this, right? Let the character do something crazy in a scene to see if it reenergizes something. Maybe as a writing exercise, combine two characters. Anything crazy, crazy, crazy, crazy thing. It's just an exercise. You're not doing it, it's just to reconnect back down into that story.
Lorien: Yeah, I got to a point a couple of weeks ago where I just felt like I have no original ideas. I have nothing. Like tired, like I just felt tired. And so I took a generative writing class with Colette Sartor. She's a professor of writing and it was prose, and it was something that I used to write. But I love my voice in that space and it's easy and fun, and I just felt really reconnected to my voice and it was like, ah, right, I just felt such relief like, OK, I do have ideas. But there was some block around coming up with new ideas that will sell in TV or something like that, right? So it was for me it was going all the way back to the beginning of how I started writing.
Meg: And the last thing I'd say is go look at the engine, like you might have spent too many drafts up in the symptoms and now you're getting exhausted because there's just...
Lorien: Do you mean like in the plot?
Meg: I mean, the engine. So what is this about? What's the world? Is there a genre? Who's the main character? What do they want? What do they need? What's the main relationship of the movie?
Lorien: That stuff is all real easy, by the way.
Meg: Well, that's the hardest stuff to get an engine that's working, right? You might have spent so much time up in your symptoms that, yeah, you are exhausted to keep doing symptoms. That's actually a good signal to you. Wow. I maybe have not really blown this up. I'm just putting out little fires everywhere. But no, you've got a raging problem down here.
Lorien: Alright. So I think we will take more questions next week.
Meg: Yes, we will. So thanks for hanging with us this week. Next week, our topic will be idea to page. So you've got a great idea. Now what?
Lorien: So thank you so much. This has been fun.