Six or seven years ago, a producer I know told me he was going to Cannes and wanted some scripts to take with him. He told me this in January and after months of frantic scribbling, in May I handed him five brand new feature scripts.
Which he then forgot to take with him.
But never mind, that focused period of writing gave me the backbone of my spec portfolio; of which: one is in production, one is in development and a third has been optioned and dropped three times on the grounds it’s funny but ultimately pointless. I think it gets optioned on the first point after the first read and dropped when the second point becomes apparent three or four reads later.
“Hang on, there’s fuck all happening! It’s just a shit load of jokes.”
Which was mostly down to my writing style at the time: start at the beginning and write until you’ve had enough. The result was scripts with not a lot of structure, depth, subtext, theme or even story. Still, they all had something going for them and it turns out a few minor tweaks created at least the illusion of all these weighty attributes and on the whole people were happy to read them.
The script which is in development is a classic example: I wrote it in a rush without really thinking and generally, people like it. Some people love it. The producer who holds the option has asked for a few minor re-writes which I’ve been happy to oblige, but basically it’s still in the form it was when it was first written. When someone asks you to fix x, y and z you don’t think about the rest of the alphabet. They obviously like the rest of the alphabet or they would have mentioned it. Sure, you polish the other letters as you go through, but you don’t start redesigning them or swapping them around.
And when I say ‘you’ I of course mean ‘me’. You’re probably all a bit more diligent.
So then we had this meeting with a potential new director who loves bits of the script but feels it needs a major re-write. Fair enough, he might be the director depending on how this re-write goes and if he wants stuff done differently (within certain reasonable parameters: i.e. providing it’s not ruining anything) then he can have stuff done differently. There’s this pointless flashback which needs burning anyway – I’ve been meaning to do it for a while but forgot during the last tweak and haven’t had the opportunity since.
One of his first observation was: the bad guys don’t do anything. We cut back to them a lot, but basically they’re just waiting for the good guys to come and get them.
Now it’s not quite as bad as Superman Returns where the bad guys have so little to do they just sit down and play cards until Supes comes to get them; but it’s not far off … and it’s heavily disguised. “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing” springs to mind. They look like they’re doing stuff, but if you strip it down, they’re essentially just polishing their desk and tidying their paperclips whilst they’re waiting to be punished. They have no plan.
The second major problem is all the characters are thrown in at the deep end, which means the first act is explosive and full of action and ‘oh fuck!’ moments; but when it’s all over there’s a hell of a lot of explaining to do. To make matters worse, this is a fantasy film so the whole world and all its rules needs to be set-up for the audience. And since there was too much action to begin with, the first half of the second act is just people wandering or sitting still and explaining what happened to them and how everything is supposed to work in the world they live in.
The potential director though, has a plan. The script starts in the aftermath of a climatic event which has changed the world and shows how people react to that. When I wrote it, it was a low-budget script so starting immediately after the expensive bit seemed like a good idea. But since the budget’s been resized – why not show the whole shebang?
The three of us (writer, director, producer) threw a load of ideas around and we came up with way to set-up, introduce and overturn all the rules of the world in the first scene. Suddenly, all the exposition in the film is useless since you can SEE what happens instead of just being told about it.
Excellent! Removing this and the pointless bad guy scenes leaves loads of space for the bad guys to actually have a plan instead of achieving everything they set out to do before the film starts and then wondering what’s on telly for the rest of it.
First step: get the script and a load of index cards; go through the script and write down on cards the general gist of every scene. White for goodies, green for baddies, red for action where they meet. The resulting colourful mess looks pretty well balanced. There’s red every ten pages or so and the number of white and green cards is roughly equal.
The problem comes when you look at each card and realise most of the green cards say ‘pointless bad guy scene’ and a lot of the white cards say ‘pointless walking or talking scene’.
That’s actually great. I can remove all those scenes from the board and the script. Which actually clears out 35 pages of script without breaking a sweat. I don’t even read the scenes properly, they’re just gone.
So now I have 35 pages for the first scene and the whole of the bad guys’ story; something which will pit them against the good guys throughout. Let’s get some proper drama into this fucker! Let’s give it some fucking berries! Obviously, the rest of the story’s going to change too and I doubt any page will survive unscathed, but it’s great to see all that space to work with. This is liberating, this is inspiring! To work!
That was yesterday. Twenty four hours later and how much of this mighty restructuring have I achieved?
Not a single word.
I have, however, managed to redesign my website.
That took a while. The favicon in particular took hours to get right. Luckily, because the connection I’m using is slightly slower than leaning out of the window and shouting at people and is marginally less stable than the economy, the site is only partially uploaded. Bits of it work, bits of it don’t and the whole thing is generally a bit of a mess.
My sock drawer, on the other hand, is immaculate. Never before have so many socks been so meticulously arranged by colour and cross-indexed by fade and the size of the holes in both toe AND heel. It’s terribly exciting. If I want to find a sock, any sock, any one at all, I can just open my drawer and put my hand on it.
I could, of course, have done this before since I only have one sock drawer and there aren’t many socks in it; but it’s the principle which counts. They’ve been organised, there’s a system now.
After all that it was straight down to work, but then I remembered I still hadn’t watched the films a different producer gave me to watch before writing the last treatment. Now that’s finished, he’s going to want them back, so perhaps I’d better just watch one of them first.
Which unfortunately was so dull I fell asleep.
Which leads me to now. Fresh, prepared and ready to work.
I just thought I’d log on and tell you all about it first.
Which I have.
Here we go then.
Damn you, I was just getting down to some serious work.
“Find a song that sums up what you think it means to be a writer and post the lyrics on your blog and why you’ve chosen it.”
Hmm … this is going to take some thinking about. Better make a cup of tea and go for a lie down.