#FemaleFilmmakerFriday – How to Give Notes

I’m going to admit something: I am struggling with the beginning of this blog post and with its focus. Giving notes is something that absolutely gets colored by your gender and it absolutely shouldn’t be. My temptation is to say: talk how you talk, say what you need, get the cuts you want, but that’s not reality. That’s not the world we live in.

I also want to caveat by saying that the post production teams I have worked with have been wonderful. I have never had a problem getting things done because I’m a woman. But even still, there are certain behaviors I find myself making sure I have or certain things I make sure to do because I know that the way I phrase something needs to be couched in a way a man would never have to think about.

I guess it’s a little bit like when women do a scan down the street for Trouble. There is probably no Trouble. Most people are great. Things are probably fine. But she still looks and she still does that key-shiv-hold thing.

And so, with absolutely no shade to anyone I’ve worked with because I adore every single person, here is How I Give Notes.

  1. Watch the cut. Sound, edit, whatever you’re looking at. Just watch it once.
  2. Note when you want to give notes but try really hard not to start pausing and writing notes yet. Make sure you get the whole thing.
  3. Rewatch the cut, this time with notepad (the app) ready for your speedy fingers. You will need to pause and rewind and replay.
  4. Include in your text the cut number AND the time stamp codes. If you’re working with a partner, use a shared document to help streamline the process; you should NEVER be sending two sets of (potentially conflicting) notes to your team.
  5. Write down EVERYTHING you like AND everything you do not like. Go in chronological order for ease. If you think of something later, make sure it’s in the right spot when you compile.
  6. This is important: if you don’t like something, it’s probably not helpful to just say “I don’t like this”. Try to explain why it isn’t working and, if possible, offer a solution. When you don’t HAVE a solution, that’s okay. Just be straight: “This moment at TIMECODE isn’t quite working for me and I cannot pinpoint what to do to fix it; it feels like the pacing is off. What are your thoughts?”
  7. To that end, “what are your thoughts” is your best friend. One of my favorite things about film and TV is that it is a collaborative art form; you work with tons of people who have ideas. Use ’em!
  8. Always start with what you like, then move into things that need adjustments. Partially so you don’t lose the great stuff! but also because it is the kind thing to do.
  9. I go in this order: Things I like, list with timestamps of issues + fixes/ideas, overall bigger picture notes, thank you, repeat great stuff.
  10. Say thank you.
  11. Pick your battles.

I truly think the best thing you can do is engage and incorporate. Your way is not the only way. Your way might not be the best way — it might not even be good. Stay open and diplomatic.

That said, when you know you know something (I, for example, am pretty good at pacing), push for it.

So what’s different when you’re a lady vs when you’re a man giving notes? I mean, I hope nothing. I think I’m generally a kind, thoughtful note giver and I’d like to think everyone works like this most of the time. But I think there is an emphasis on making sure people have their voices heard when you’re a woman working with a male crew. I also find myself playing diplomat (NOT with the project I share below!) and smoothing bruised egos to make sure the project chugs along. To that end, I also sometimes find myself being the timetable task master. I don’t know what to make of that. Things need to get finished. Someone has to take on that role.

But. BUT.

Anyway, below is an example of some of the internal notes Tom & I used for The Long Dig (2020). At this point, our editor was super familiar with us and we were just trying to bang things out so they were a touch messier than they had been when we started:

Here is a tidier version of notes for our sound guy:

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