Posts by AllenIvers

The Vulcan Mind Meld: Story Development Notes

Posted by on May 30, 2014 in Creative Writing | 0 comments

The Vulcan Mind Meld: Story Development Notes

Grandpa Hank here. This week we’re fortunate to have a new voice, guest blogger Allen Ivers taking on the always sigh-inducing and often hilarious world of studio notes. Take it away, Allen…

The Vulcan Mind Meld: Story Development Notes

By Allen Ivers

The notes process is one of mystery, hope, frustration, and the occasional recreational drug use. Not necessarily by you. Probably you. Not exclusively you. Or something.

Navigating the labyrinth of a notes process can often be mind-numbing, and many people have their own clever metaphors for this development hell: too many cooks in the kitchen, and… maybe that’s the only metaphor. I refer you to my first broken sentence.

The notes process demands a certain kind of psychic ability. You need to be able to perceive intention, weave through word and thought to reach the driving point behind the initial urge of the producer to open his mouth; a lucid dreaming, if you will. A kind of experience one has outside of one’s body. You have to go into their mind like Leonardo DiCaprio and find out what they’re thinking… and then steal it.

I need a cup of coffee.

I’ve been knee-deep in the swamp of Hollywood development for two straight years now, and the only echoed response I’ve ever heard was “we like it, but…” Two people will never give the same note, because once you crest a certain structural objective level—one of simply architectural stability—the quality of your product rapidly becomes subjective instead.

My wife attended USC’s MFA for Screenwriting, and she wrote her thesis as a TV Pilot: a Sci-fi tale about a woman assassin caught between organized crime and a corrupt government—all the sex, drugs, and rock & roll you always wanted to see in Star Trek. Very cool piece, vivid world. But she was given one of the most asinine notes I’ve ever heard:

“Can the hero be a guy instead?” When pressed as to why, she was told: “I just can’t picture a woman being this violent. If this was a guy, I wouldn’t have to change anything.”

Two problems: The first being that any man who’s been married for any stretch of time can tell you: we can imagine it pretty vividly.

“I drink or he dies, these are the options.”

Second, this guy just gave a collection of what I like to call “Chaff.” Information completely unrelated to his note. All three statements side-step his actual issue, one of believability. This guy has a particular misogynistic hurdle to clear, but a hurdle none-the-less, and as writers we have to clear it. In and amongst this chaff is his actual note, and we have to go find it, suppressing anger, rage, terror, and personal injury.

The notes are, at the same time, subjective and objective. It takes a borderline Vulcan mind-meld to determine what the note REALLY MEANS.

The note she got means that we’re not buying our protagonist yet. We could start a fight about Hollywood’s misogyny, a fight worth having to be sure, but ultimately, the note says: “I don’t buy your protagonist yet.” Hence my Inception reference. You need to find out what they’re thinking behind the note. Because notes you get… will be dumb. They just will.

I was once given a note to have a character sneeze. That’s it. Why is he not sneezing?

She’s in a room full of asbestos, after all.

Another instance: I wrote a script called FINDER, still one of my best pieces, about a social outcast-turned inventor who builds himself a best friend. He has dozens of robots in his house. I was told the script needed “more robots.” And in the same draft, a different person said: “We can cut back on the robots.” Different people will have different readings, but what you need to see is: they seem pretty fixated on the robots. Why are they not fixated on my story? I must be missing something.

The notes process is a Mind-Theft, a Jedi Mind-Trick, a tricksy little riddle. And if you can crack what they MEAN to say, you’ll get what’s actually going to improve your story.

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