Late last year I’d finished the first draft of a horror script I’d been working on. I sent it off and sadly got caught up in the year ending before I could say any more.
So how did it go? Was the script well received? Have I further cemented my reputation as some kind of genius writer?
Um … no.
It was received … politely I think is the best way of putting it.
To be honest, I wasn’t happy with it and if it weren’t for the fact I’d worked for the producer before (and knew he knew I could do better) I wouldn’t have sent it in.
Plus, there was always that vague hope he might not notice how bad the script was and be happy regardless.
He did and he wasn’t. But was ever so diplomatic about it.
For anyone who’s never had a script meeting, here’s a handy tip: the longer the list of things which need changing, the better the script has been received. This may sound odd and contrary to common sense, but it’s largely true. A good script will generate a long list of teeny, tiny minor tweaks for almost every page. No script is ever exactly perfect and you’ll never hear:
“This is fucking great, don’t touch a comma we’re filming it tomorrow.”
Actually, you might hear that, but whoever says it will more than likely turn out to be a twat.
So a good script where all the characters are well drawn, the structure’s sound and the plot makes sense will have a lot of minor things which need adjusting to cope with the schedule, the budget and to accommodate the producer’s tennis partner’s wife. Who the producer is secretly knocking off on the side and had to promise a role to in order to get into her pants.
This script, by way of comparison, had a tweak list of exactly four things:
The plot, the characters, the dialogue and the structure.
Although, to be fair, he did quite like the font.
And if I’m being honest, he wouldn’t actually show me the list (another bad sign since it probably contains a lot of swearing) and I had to steal it when he went to the toilet.
Unfortunately, he’d been expecting just such a sneaky move and had been awfully polite in print too.
So we talked it over for a while and batted some ideas back and forth. He mentioned he wanted to swap the protagonist for someone else. I mentioned I wanted to add in an extra plot twist and suddenly it all made sense. All the issues the first draft had could suddenly be solved without actually changing that much, but in a way changing everything.
It would work, it would make sense and everyone would be happy.
Except the characters who get stabbed in the face – they’re still a bit miffed about the whole thing.
So I went away, rattled out the second draft and handed it in on New Year’s Eve.
It struck me afterwards that the problem with the first draft (apart from my own incompetence) was we didn’t meet face to face and had communicated entirely by email. This is a really bad idea and should be avoided at all costs.
The problem is, when you work solely by email you get too attached to bad ideas and dismiss good ideas as being stupid. Because of the effort involved in actually writing an idea down (and thus leaving a permanent record of your stupidity if no one likes it) you tend …
Sorry, I’m saying you to make it sound like we’re all in the same boat when it’s probably just me. When I say ‘you’, as always, I mean ‘I’.
You tend to self-censor thoughts and spend a long time working out an idea before sending it off. Two problems there: 1) You don’t say the stupid thoughts which spark off the sensible ideas and 2) you get too attached to ideas and argue for their survival when you really shouldn’t.
For example, a stupid idea brought up in public might be:
“Why don’t we make John a donkey?”
“You mean a stupid person?”
“No. A donkey. An actual donkey!”
“Because it would be incredibly expensive and donkeys can’t hold swords.”
Meanwhile, the thought process goes ‘Donkeys, horse shit, midgets, …’
“Fuck, hang on. What if Mary was a lesbian?”
“Holy shit! You’re right, that explains why she’d be hanging around with Jenny after …”
And so on.
The same initial idea over email would either be abandoned before it was spoken or rationalised by a two page description of how including a donkey in the cast would work and how you know where there’s a donkey sanctuary with a dodgy lock. And when the brutal rebuttal came back you’d spend the next week defending a remarkably stupid idea until the producer sacked you or gave in.
So after meeting face to face for the second draft notes, I’ve learnt the second draft itself has gone down rather well. It was readable for a start and not just a random collection of inappropriate words like the first draft. The second draft is what the first draft should have been in the first place. The second draft basically is a first draft while the first draft was just a steaming pile of utter shit.
We had a meeting a few days ago to discuss the third draft and the producer had a 117 point list. 80 pages, 117 points?
That’s more like it.
And he let me read it.
Well, he read it to me – I have problems with long words.
A third of them were easily dismissible points – just ‘what if?s’, ‘could we?s’ and random thoughts about different approaches – most of which don’t work. A third were points I thought I’d included and sometimes had, but which needed making clearer. And a third were bloody brilliant ideas which sparked off more discussion and will improve the script immeasurably.
I like meetings like that. It’s just the way it should go. The only stupid idea is not saying whatever crosses your mind. Unless it’s the one about the kittens, the baseball bat and the washing machine – I’ve learnt to keep that one to myself.
Anyway, I’m happy, he’s happy, the script’s happy (in an inanimate, papery sort of way) and the only people not happy are the characters who are still getting stabbed in the face. But fuck them, they should have been nicer people.
And the best thing?
I’m confident the third draft is going to be even better.