Ken Levine: When Actors Have Notes…


Actors: How to give notes to writers
by Ken Levine 

Actors, here are some tips on how to convey your script concerns to writers in a way that might result in them addressing your problems without hating you, slashing your tires, or making you the butt of room jokes for seven continuous months.

One ground rule though: This is predicated on your note being a legitimate concern with the sole purpose of improving the show. There’s no hidden agenda…

[S]o, it’s just a matter of communicating your concerns in a way that will make us receptive to you and here’s the key – WANT to make those changes.

Quite simply, it’s all about showing us respect…

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Back in the day, our Laughin’ Leader, LB, was story editor of a drama series called GIBBSVILLE, starring (in this order, which should have been reversed) John Savage and Gig Young.

Shooting the first episode was, according to Brody, a disaster. “Gig couldn’t get any of his dialog right. Couldn’t wrap his mouth around all the lines we had carefully crafted to present him as the typical cool, breezy, clever Gig Young character. I mean, we’re talking 20 takes for each scene.”

LB and the executive staff didn’t know what to do, but, fortunately, Gig did. He asked for a meeting with LB. Asked, not demanded, and even went to LB’s little office. There, he explained that he knew he had a problem, and that his – Gig’s – problem was that LB was trying too hard. “Don’t worry about making me sound like Gig Young,” he told our lad. “Just please give me simple, declarative dialog and I’ll take care of the rest.”

Being that the show couldn’t continue as it was – time is money, after all – LB followed Gig’s advice, starting with the next day’s pages. And the result was that from that point on Gig was a 1 Take Wonder, with the real wonder of the situation being that he did indeed take the straightforward dialog he was being given and, “because he was one hell of an actor, he made it sound cooler, breezier, and more clever than anything I and any of the other writers had ever written before.”

The situation was saved. But as Our Friend Who’s Never Heard of Us, Ken Levine, points out, it wouldn’t have happened if a very talented star hadn’t known how to give notes to writers while “showing us respect.”