Why I Shut Up and Listen to Criticism
The screenwriter Danny Strong explains how listening to critical feedback is essential to the creative process.
Danny Strong is best known for the five years he played Jonathan Levenson on the landmark television series "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" for which he was named "One of the top ten scene stealer's on television" by the San Francisco Chronicle. He is also widely recognized for his four seasons as Doyle on "Gilmore Girls" and for his starring role opposite Amanda Bynes in the teen comedy "Sydney White." His script Recount, an HBO original film about the 2000 election debacle in Florida, was voted number one on the 2007 Black List, an annual list of the years top screenplays as determined by Hollywood development executives. Danny was named by Variety magazine as one of their "Top Ten Screenwriters to Watch" for 2007.
If you want to be a writer who has complete control over your own material then you should write books or you should write plays. Because that doesn’t exist in the world of screenwriting. Film is ultimately considered a director’s medium. The director has the vision of the piece.
Who knows what the director’s going to do with you. He might replace you. Sometimes multiple writers come on to a project. That’s a reality you have to accept if that’s what you want to do for a living, and no one is saying you have to be a screenwriter for a living.
In television, the writers are much more in charge but until you’re a show runner - the overall creative force behind a show - you don’t have any of control, either. The show runner can rewrite your show. Other writers on staff can rewrite it if the show runner wants them to rewrite it. You’re constantly dealing with studio notes all the time.
I have found that being antagonistic to your producers or to your studio notes is not beneficial from a business standpoint or from a creative standpoint. These are people that are finding problems in a script. As opposed to being defensive about criticism, you need to take it in and think "Okay, maybe there’s a problem here. Maybe I can come up with something better than what I had before."
The journey of writing a script is a constant journey of notes, feedback, and then rewrites. It’s a rewriting process and I like to think that when I rewrite a script it gets better every time because I’m taking input.
I’m not always following other peoples' solutions. A lot of times they don’t have solutions. But I’m still able to pinpoint problems based on what people are saying. I’m happy to take a good idea from anywhere it comes. It’s that process that makes a project better and better and better the more you work on it.
I think people that are antagonistic to that process do not succeed as screenwriters because their own insecurities about themselves get in the way of what can make their story better.
In Their Own Words is recorded in Big Think's studio.
Image courtesy of Shutterstock
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