Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Experience Points

We all know that part of the challenge of being a young writer (or any writer for that matter) is keeping motivated to write and finding the avenues to best develop what you produce. I’ve been thinking lately about how fortunate those in the league are to have a platform where at any given time we can bounce our material off of several trained writers. In some cases the fortune extends to the point where we can contact former professors, some of whom are continuing professional writers, for feedback on our work. Once you’ve maintained the will to write, the ability to get trustworthy feedback is the next goal in my opinion. But sometimes we in the league strongly question or flat out reject the notes we give one another, and we’ve done the same with notes a professor has given us at one time or another. As I await notes for a high concept script from a high concept screenwriter and former professor, it made me wonder; as a young writer how do you draw the balance between accepting script altering notes from a wiser more experienced writer, and maintaining your vision of the script?

I wish this was where I could make a respectful attempt at answering the question, but the truth is that I’m still trying to figure this one out for myself. Hopefully the league will chime in. This will be my first experience with receiving detailed notes from a professor beyond my time as a student. I’d like to think I’ve vastly improved my craft since those days, but to what degree does my experience allow me to challenge his notes in the event that he feels adamant about some major changes? I don’t know. For now I’m tempted to put his notes on a pedestal, although I may discover something new about myself within the next few weeks. In any event, there’s a lot to say about experience.

One of the most beautiful and creatively fatal mentalities that often accompany a young writer, is his/her belief that they can create whatever they want and have it be gold. I saw that all throughout my time in Tisch and I experienced it myself. There was a time when I learned what I needed and completed a new draft thinking that it was ready and I had left little room for improvement. Then came a brief sit down with chair of the dramatic writing department as I proudly handed him my perfection. He scanned the first act and before I could figure out what I wanted for lunch he’d drawn a line through a few pages here, rearranged a few pages there. He didn’t even read the rest of the script. I took a look at his notes, and whereas over hours upon hours of work I couldn’t find any major room for improvement in my work, in five minutes he vastly improved my first act. I was humbled, in awe of a vision for structure, story, and character that I can only hope to one day possess. He developed that vision with experience. I try to remind myself that at some point in the past he was probably similarly na├»ve and blind as I was.


Zombie said...

There's something about a former professor that always humbles me. I guess it's similar to the way my father can still be bossed around by his (87-year-old and senile) father. Once an authority figure, always an authority figure, maybe?

I'm prepping my current script to give to the best professor I had at NYU. When he rips it apart (and I know he will) I'll probably be crushed, but the script will be the better for it. At least, hopefully.

Cake Man said...

Feedback is an interesting thing. I think that we've all come a long way in our ability to give it, but there are definitely times when we're just scratching the surface. It can be difficult to see the bigger picture on paper or determine what the gorilla in the corner is that none of us are addressing.

I know that I have personally received notes from professors and other more seasoned writers that I simply did not agree with. Some were radical just to be radical and get me to think differently about my project, while others were radical deviations from my original idea. Some notes, though they would have drastically changed my script, would have made it great. I was just too stubborn to listen (for better or worse).

I think that as young writers, we walk a fine line. We need to maintain our own ideas, while listening to and being open to what needs improvement. I wouldn't take a note just to take it, but I wouldn't reject one on that principle, either.