How to Receive Feedback: The DOs and DONTs

Carole Kirschner Feedback Dos and Donts.jpg

So you’ve just sold a TV pilot idea. Congratulations! Don’t ruin all that hard work by not knowing how to properly receive feedback during the development process. Here’s what you should – and shouldn’t – do when receiving feedback. 

DO: Compliment your execs or producers for their thoughtful feedback. 

No matter how much you disagree with what they’re saying, they put time and effort into giving this feedback and feel it’s in the script’s best interest. Acknowledge that. If it’s a particularly good note, it goes a long way to say “good note!” But don’t lie and say “Good note!” when you obviously feel it’s a terrible note. Don’t be disingenuous, people can tell.

DON’T: Outright reject their notes.  

No matter how much you hate the note you’re hearing, even if you know immediately you’re not going to take it, project yourself as a good collaborator and reasonable person by saying something like, “I’ll take a look that.” (A word of caution: some experienced execs – not all, but some –  feel like this is code for “F*ck that, I’m never taking that note,” so only use it if you sincerely mean it.) You can also use phrases like, “that’s interesting,” “I see what you’re saying,” or “let me see if I can make that work.” 

DO: Look for the note behind the note. 

Just because a television executive or film producer has a long list of credits does not mean they’re great at articulating feedback. Remember, they’re not writers. If you’re confused by or disagree with a note, try to find the note behindthe note. Take a look at the area in the script where they’ve given a note to see if something is lacking there. And along that same line…

DON’T: Take their notes verbatim. 

Again, they’re not writers. That’s why they’ve hired you. Don’t feel like you have to take every one of their notes, especially if it starts with the phrase “this is the bad pitch.” It’s the note behind the note that’s important, not the exact fix they’re pitching. If you take their note verbatim and the script suffers, they won’t remember that it was their “bad pitch.” 

DO: Try it. 

Once you’ve cooled off and/or recovered from a notes call and are done venting to your fellow writers about how terrible your execs are at giving feedback, make sure to actually try their notes. Ask yourself, “Okay, what if I did exactly what they’re asking?” You might be surprised by what you learn, or by what great ideas their notes inspire. And if you still disagree with the note after trying it, you’ll be able to articulate exactly why it didn’t work. 

DON’T: Take every note. 

I tell this to all the writers I work with: you don’t want to take every note. Almost no credible executive or producer wants you to roll over and take every note. You’re in the meeting because they responded to yourvision.  If a note resonates, take it. If it doesn’t resonate… or worse, changes the whole tone or trajectory of your script, don’t take it. Let them know you’re concerned it will take the project in a whole different direction than what everyone initially agreed on. Be courteous and polite, but stand firm.

DO: Respect their time. 

Don’t use a notes call as your personal writers’ room. Your execs are busy and are likely juggling many projects. If you have a question about a note, clarify it, but don’t spend three hours on the phone pitching them ideas based off of their notes. 

DON’T: Argue.

It’s not helpful in the short-term, and in the long-term it could make executives not want to work with you again. For more on this, read my blog about why you should avoid getting on the LITS list. 

DON’T: Be precious about your ideas.

Collaboration is the cornerstone of the entertainment industry. Don’t close yourself off to good ideas because you’re too afraid to try a different path. Stay open, stay kind, and stay focused.

Let me know how these feedback tips work for you. Tweet me @CaroleKirschHappy writing!