The Power of “Yes”

Craig Mazin at The Artful Writer offers this piece of advice to working screenwriters:

If you’re a professional screenwriter and you’re asked to make a change that you think is awful, say “Yes.”

Always say yes.

Destroy the main character? “Yes!” Change that brilliant ending that
brings everything full circle with a twist-and-a-half? “Sure!” If the
producer or director has an idea that’s just god-awful, death-dealing,
movie-wrecking, story-killing, your answer to the request should be a
charming and pleasant “Okay!” Say it with pride. Alacrity, even.

Why?  Because saying yes costs you nothing, and gains you much.

When I say “yes,” I’m not agreeing to be slavish.  I’m simply agreeing to try.
If I determine that their suggestion is not to be done, I can explain
why. When you remove that initial “no,” you remove 99% of the hostility
and disfunction from the writer-employer relationship while ceding 0%
of your authority and power. And it’s funny. Ever since I began saying
“yes” a few years back, two interesting things have come to pass.

I haven’t had to write anything I didn’t believe in…

…and no one’s fired me.

I don’t agree with this advice… and I’ve never been fired.  What I don’t do is say "No." What I might say is "That’s an interesting thought, but here’s what will happen to the story if I do it," or "I don’t think that’s a good idea, and here’s why," or "Let me think about it."  But I never say yes to a note I have no intention of doing. But that’s if I’m writing a TV movie or a feature or a pilot. 

On the other hand, if I am writing a freelance episode of a TV series, I might respond to a bad note by saying  "if I do that, here’s how it will impact the story," but I won’t press the point if the executive producer disagrees. I will always say "Yes." I will always do the note, gladly and with no argument, no matter what. Why? Because your job on a TV series is to do what the showrunner wants. It’s his  show, his  characters, not yours. You are a carpenter. You have come to do a job in his house.  Your job is to do what the customer wants to the very best of your ability.

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