JMS on Usenet


Subject: Re: ATTN JMS: Aeon Flux commentary
Date: Wed, 14 Jun 2006 03:55:43 +0000 (UTC)

Bill wrote:
> In another thread, Amy mentioned the screenwriters' commentary track on
> the movie "Aeon Flux." In almost every occasion where the writing fell
> into mediocrity, the writers blamed notes from the studio for removing
> emotional resonance from the scene. That made them seem very
> inexperienced with the movie business to me.
> You have a verifiably successful resume now. You also have an
> established reputation for dealing with notes, as illustrated by
> Crusade, Capt. Power (IIRC), and probably others. How did you deal with
> notes when you first got into the business?

I dealt with it then pretty much as I deal with it now, in a
three-tiered system.

1) If the notes make sense logically and in terms of the story and the
characters, I embrace them.  Always have, always will.  Gregg Maday,
for instance, at WB was always great on notes during B5, very
thoughtful, very sharp, very helpful.  Ditto for the notes I got from
Gary Levine at Showtime on Jeremiah.

2) If I'm not sure about the notes, I'll take a best-efforts shot at
makng them work.  If I can make them work, they stay; if I can't, they

3) If I strenuously disagree with the notes, one of two things will
happen.  I don't take the prima donna approach, my philosophy if we're
at loggerheads is that we go into a room, and either I convince you of
the rightness of my views, or you convince me, but either way, I won't
leave the room until one convinces the other...not surrenders to, but
convinces.  I apply this if the person understands story but we have a
gentleman's disagreement.

If, on the other hand, the notes come from any agenda other than what
makes sense story wise, if they fly in the face of logic and character,
I simply refuse to make them.  Doesn't matter if it's a small note or a
big note, I make every such note a battle of attrition.  At that point,
it's "either fire me or leave me alone."

So whereas the Showtime notes on Jeremiah were great, the majority of
the notes from MGM were horrific beyond description...and I dug in my
heels and fought every last one of them, on the theory -- mostly
vindicated -- that after a while I just wear them out, to the point
that when they have another such note, they reach for the phone and
pause, knowing there's going to be a fight...and put the phone down.

For as much as studios supposedly don't like writers who are difficult,
my experience has been that if all you do is roll over for them, they
lose respect for you.  They want you to be passionate enough to fight
for what you believe in, even if in so doing you become a pain in the
ass.  Trouble is, a lot of writers, especially newer ones, are hesitant
to fight because the town has gone to great lengths to convince writers
that they are as replaceable as widgets: raise your voice and we'll
find someone else.

I've always been this way, long before there was a by all
rights, I should have been hard-core unemployable from the start.  That
I've always worked despite this is a good indication, I think, that you
can fight for your creative perspective IF you make it ONLY about story
logic.  The moment you make it about ego, everything goes afoul.

The problem with some bystanders is that they think anytime you fight
for your creative rights, you're acting from ego...but it's not.  It's
about doing your job the way it's supposed to be done: logically, and
with care...or as Balzac said, "with clean hands and composure."