In an undated but presumably recent article for some WGAW-related newsletter or whatever, director-screenwriter Nicholas Kazan recalls how Arthur Miller‘s Death of a Salesman was nearly picked to death by well-meaning collaborators before it opened on Broadway in 1947.
“If the most successful producer of that era wanted to change the title [of Miller’s play],” Kazan writes, “and if he and two of the leading directors of the time considered the play ‘unproducable’ and further agreed on what the problem was, and if all these ‘experts’ were wrong in every respect about a play regarded as a masterpiece, how does anyone ever dare to give notes?
“Why is it that, in Hollywood, every producer, studio executive, and development person just out of college feels entitled to make suggestions on every script they receive? How can they be so confident of their opinions? Are they truly unaware of the damage they can do?
“Why is every draft from every writer considered just a ‘work in progress,’ a rough approximation waiting to be improved by the wise counsel of a dozen or more readers?
“Why do we writers accept notes that will destroy what we have so painstakingly created?
“And if we refuse to make destructive changes, why are we considered ‘difficult’ rather than ‘principled and passionate’? Why are we not considered experts, both in general and, most especially, on the distinct universe of the script we have written?
“I told the preceding story to, and asked these questions of, a friend who runs a major studio. She said, ‘So what does this mean? Are we supposed to give no notes at all?!’
“I said, ‘No. Give notes, but as suggestions, not mandates. Feed the writer. If the writer is inspired by your idea, great; if not, drop the subject because the note is probably wrong. The writer may not be able to tell you why it’s wrong, but trust him or her, it is.'”