WARNING – EXTREMELY LONG AND REASONABLY TECHNICAL POST
YOU MAY LIKE TO SKIP TO THE END AND READ THE HAPPY NEWS
OR YOU MAY NOT
RUN AWAY! SAVE YOURSELVES!
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
It’s been a bit of an epic week writing wise, but it’s finishing up in the nicest possible way.
Last Tuesday I had a meeting about an ongoing feature project. It was the first time I’d met the director and that’s always a difficult moment – will he be a nice guy or will he be a twat? Will he appreciate what you’ve done so far or will he ‘want to move in a different direction’ – code for ‘it’s shit, do it again’ … or sometimes ‘it’s shit, you’re fired’. But even getting fired can be considered pleasant compared to the most horrible thing a director can say:
“I think I should co-write it with you.”
To which, the correct response is to drop to your knees, throw your arms wide and scream to the heavens …
Sometimes there’s nothing worse than ‘Director’s Dialogue’. Not always, some directors are very, very good writers; but as I’ve said many times: most directors can’t direct and most writers can’t write, so a writer/director is usually someone who fails at two things.
And yes, you could point out exceptions, but I could also come round and stab you in the eye with a pencil – so let’s just leave it at that.
So I go for this meeting, a bit on the tired side and woefully unprepared. I didn’t go from home so I didn’t have a copy of the script with me and I hadn’t slept for a little over 24 hours … but it was fine. It was a sunny day, the director’s a nice guy and the first thing he said was about how much he liked the script and DIDN’T WANT TO CHANGE ANY OF THE WORDS I’D WRITTEN.
None of them?
To explain what he did want, I need to go back a little bit and give you a bit of info about the script.
The script was originally conceived as an ultra low budget, single location with no action and where none of the characters ever speak to each other. It’s a talking heads mockumentary with the characters giving their version of an event direct to camera. Since they’re all doing it against the same background, there’re no scene changes and the illusion of a conversation is created by cutting between the different characters. There were a couple of bits of other footage dropped in occasionally, but for all intents and purposes, from a script point of view, it’s one scene for 90 pages.
That was the first draft.
The second draft, along with some story and character changes, was about moving the characters to locations whic reflect their personalities. So instead of everyone coming to a central location to be interviewed, the documentary team went to them at their homes or places of work. Again, there’s no communication between characters and no changing scenes once they’ve been established. It seemed to me, the best way to write this is a scene heading when we first meet the character and then just INTERCUT between them for the rest of the script. What I didn’t want was a new scene heading for every line of dialogue because it would be a) unreadable and b) hundreds of pages long.
All well and good.
Draft three … there is no draft three.
Or not really, one character changed – which amounted to two or three pages worth of re-writes. I accidentally called it draft three while I was waiting for this meeting and it kind of stuck. And that brings us up to last Tuesday.
So we have a script which is essentially just dialogue and the director, quite rightly I thought, wants to make sure it’s visually interesting because otherwise it might as well be a radio play. Yes, the actors would make it come alive on screen, but he wanted to give them things to do as a start point. The other concern was, at 90 pages of pure dialogue, it would probably come in at around 60 mins of screen time.
The task seemed simple: take 90 pages of dialogue and add another 30-40 pages and action to every scene. What he was looking for was something funny (for ’tis a comedy) happening in the background or to the character every time we cut back to them; in other words, a visual gag for every line of dialogue.
That doesn’t sound too hard. He’d even come up with ideas for the first 30 pages so a third of it was already more or less done. On the way home I was thinking about this and came to the conclusion: as well as seeing something funny, since we were now going to be moving some of the characters around a bit, why not visually tell a different story for each character? It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, but the characters can be trying to achieve something and every time we see them they’re either closer or further away from their goal.
No problems. 30-40 pages of extra dialogue – that’s a couple of days’ work.
Funny visuals for each line of dialogue which follow on from each other to create multiple interlocking storylines – that’s … fucking hard.
Hence the reason, at 4 am this morning, I finished a week of 12 to 18 hour days.
Oh, and the rush is because the film shoots on the 17th May and needs to be scheduled asap. In fact, because of the way the script was written, until the end of the 4th draft no one has any idea of what locations might be needed – not even me.
And to be fair, I actually typed THE END at 10.30 pm yesterday; but a) it took a couple of hours to spell check and proof read and b) there was one more huge fucking problem: the resulting script is completely unfilmable.
Because it was shit?
Hopefully not, but you never know.
It’s unfilmable in a technical sense because of the way it’s been written. Again, purely for reasons of clarity and enjoyment of reading, there are very few scene headings. I only put scene headings in the first time we see someone in that location and don’t mention where they are again until they move to a new one.
So for the main characters, they might spend the first 30 or so pages of the script in one location; but only speak twice a page or so. From a scheduling point of view, that scene isn’t 30 pages long, it might only be 6 or 7 pages long. From an actor’s point of view they have to learn 6 or 7 pages of dialogue by combing through 30 pages of script.
For the minor characters it’s even worse. One character, for example, speaks on the first page and the last (as well as every now and then in between) – her total dialogue is one two-page scene – but she has to wade through 164*pages to find them. So do the ADs for scheduling – and they have to do that for every character!
Plus it’s difficult for me to work out what the character was doing last and to maintain a constant flow of their dialogue and story. Something needed to be done. Which is why, at 4 am this morning I finished a second script – the production script (178 pages!). I combed through 164 pages worth of dialogue and collected them all together into scenes, separating them with a transition: LATER – hence the extra pages.
The original script is now the STORY SCRIPT, which is one you can give people to read and enjoy – I would say for casting, but that’s pretty much all done now – and the PRODUCTION SCRIPT is for … well, production. It makes no fucking sense to read, since each scene is just one person’s side of a ten sided conversation, but at least it can be scheduled and filmed. As an extra level of common sense – all the scene numbers in both drafts match up.
The big problem now will be any tweaks for the next draft since every word changed has to be changed in two scripts where they’re on completely different pages – but fuck it, I’m not thinking about that for the moment. I’m thinking about tomorrow and the nice way to end the week of hard bloody graft.
Tomorrow there are two pleasant things happening:
- Karma Magnet is showing at the Southend Film Festival - 6.30pm at the Southend Central Library for anyone in the area and/or desperate to see it on a big (?) screen.
- A sitcom pilot I co-wrote with Lee Otway begins shooting. It’s got a great cast, so hopefully it’ll all turn out quite nicely.
I was going to post the cast list but I think that can wait until another post – this one has already got way out of hand.
As is traditional, I won’t be going anywhere near the filming and will be hiding somewhere exotic. A randomly thrown dart at the map tells me I’m going to be in … Crouch End.
Hmm … not that exotic then, but sounds vaguely rude so it might be fun.