A short while back, I asked my scriptwriting professor if he would read a spec I wrote. He agreed, and a few months later, responded with a critique. It was negative-- he only read up to page 70-- but highly constructive in the brief lines of review he gave me. I saw this as an opportunity to learn more about the craft and asked if I could meet with him to discuss what I could do to make my script better. Once again, he agreed.
The question I have is this: what is the best way to conduct a constructive conversation with someone who has read your script and didn't like it? Or, to put it another way, what should I most definitely NOT do in such a conversation? For instance, I want to explain what my original intentions were, but I'm worried that I might come across as defensive and dickish to a man who was courteous enough to give me a read and honest feedback in the first place.
The number one rule for accepting notes: Listen.
When I get notes from someone, I always have a pad and pen and I write down as much of what they say as I can. Even if they've written down their notes and are going to give me a printout, I do this because I find if I'm writing, it stifles my urge to break in and try to explain myself. It also gives the appearance of being open and accepting of their notes.
The other benefit of this is that ANY reaction can be valuable, even if I'm convinced it's 100% wrong. Unless this person has bought your script and is paying to produce it, you are under no obligation to make changes just because they tell you they don't like something. If someone gives you a note that pisses you off, is it really worth getting into a fight over it?
Plus, I always assume that if this person spots something in a script, someone else will have that same reaction too, even if it's wrong. So if their misunderstanding is provoked by something in the script, you need to know what led them to those conclusions. That is the sort of tone you want to strike when you ask follow-up questions. I don't think you even need to explain your original intentions, at least not at first. All you need to do is probe deeper: "Okay, so you think this character is a pedophile... why are you picking up on that?" Or "It surprises me you think of the girlfriend as bitchy. Can you point to specific moments that provoked that?"
Arguing with them that how they reacted is wrong is always a waste of time. If I say I hated THE PURGE, there's no point in trying to tell me I didn't hate it because I know I hated it. There's no debate if someone liked or hated something, but you can debate what led them to such a conclusion. The best reviews are not ones that say "I loved it!" or "I hated it!" but instead explore why a creative work is worthy of acclaim or scorn. That's the kind of dialogue you want with a reader.
As questions that invite them to expound, not force them into retreat-and-defend mode. Never leave them feeling like you're saying, "What you're reading into this is WRONG!" I think it's totally fair to continue the dialoue in the tone of, "That's not what I want to do. I'm hoping that [plot point/development] comes off [intended reaction.] How do you think I can get there?"
Basically, you should always humor the person giving you notes. If the misinterpretation is caused by something that's easily addressed, you might as well remove that tumor before the script gets to someone who matters. It's like a prostate exam: if you went to the trouble of getting them to put their hand up your ass, you might as well get the full report on what they found. Otherwise you BOTH went through that for nothing.
1 week ago