The Dreaded Reverse Note

"You told me to do it that way," Mike told me at our script meeting this past Saturday, "I had it the way you now want it on the last draft."

I had finally done it.  What every clear headed creative type refuses to do, I had given a reverse note.

Working in reality television, I get these kinds of notes all the time.  Typically it's along the lines of "I know that Character A did X in the scene, but I think it would be better if he did Y" without realizing that "Y" negates larger story concerns for the character in question.  The first instinct is to fight the note, but those are hard fought battles rarely won.  Instead, it's best to find your happy place, do what you know is wrong and 'back pocket' the original, correct interpretation of the scene.

Of course, when the reverse note is given, it seldom comes with a recognition of it's nature.  Normally, when brought to the noters attention, it's met with dismissals, ignorance, or a general lack of responsibility.  Instead, it's met with a "I don't care what I said then, this is what I want now.  DO IT!"

Amidst the grumbling of the hours of extra work you've just found yourself with, comes a self promise never to be like that when you're in charge.  "I'll know what I want," you say during hour 15 in the same dingy edit bay with the same overworked and over frazzled editor, "I'll get it right the first time.  This wishy-washy, 'maybe this way...' stuff is for amateurs!"

It just becomes another in a long list of broken promises, I guess.

But there's still hope!  If you ever find yourself in this situation, I have three easy steps to help soften the blow of your annoying reversal note.

1- Apologize and take responsibility
Giving reversal notes is unfortunate, but it does tend to happen.  The best course is to first, before anything else, apologize to the person you gave a mountain of new work (or dismissed the mountain of work they did) and make sure they know you appreciate the work they are doing.  Owning up to a mistake doesn't make you appear weak, it makes you appear like a strong, confident leader that's smart enough to know when they're wrong.

2- Reexamine the scene.
When brought to your attention that your note is one of reversal, reexamine the note in question in the context of the scene.  Make sure the reversal is the right decision for the scene.  Does Character A <i>need</i> to do X, or does Y really work for the scene, but something else needs to be changed in a different part of the script instead?  Make sure your critical thinking skills are sharp for this step.

3- Make a decision
After reexamining it's time get down to brass tacks.  Talk it over with the other person there (be they editor, writer, or whatever) and figure out the best path forward.  You'll find that by involving the other person, you'll end up with a result that will be much better than originally expected.

Repeat these steps as needed, because if there's anything that I've learned it's that once you make one reversal, you're bound to make another.

And another.

And another...

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