I love it when I’ve finished a script for the first time, not necessarily the point when I type THE END for the first time; but that point when the first draft is properly finished. The point when it’s beautiful and it’s pristine. It’s something I’ve crafted, like an exquisite piece of furniture … only one about killer elves or something.
I love that first draft, the one I’ve taken extra special care to make sure all the joints fit and the drawers and secret compartments open smoothly, the one where it all just works and feels like one seamless piece of art.
Not all first drafts, obviously. Some of them are appalling piles of poo which aren’t fit to line even an Argos chest of drawers. Some of them I look at in rising panic as I realise I’ve just created the perfect evidence to prove the theory ‘I can’t fucking write’. Random bits of wood which are badly cobbled together to form hideously ugly furniture with no apparent use or function. The kind of thing you have no choice but to burn lest anyone lays eyes upon its mangled nastiness and is immediately struck blind and brain numb.
I apologise, by the way, I’ve no idea why I’ve started using furniture metaphors. I guess that’s just the kind of thing which happens at midnight on a Sunday.
The first draft (which may well be the eighth time I’ve gone from page 1 to page 110), the pure draft, the one which is MY idea. Mine. This is what I meant, this is what I wanted to write. This is the genius which has been bubbling in my brain for quite possibly days … the pristine draft before the notes arrive.
The notes which point out it makes no fucking sense.
Actually, those notes I don’t really mind. The kind where people point out the main character disappears on page 50 and finally turns up on the last page, having spent the intervening time stuck in the express lane queue at Tesco. Those are good notes.
Then there are the bad notes. The ones which revolve around expanding someone’s part because someone else wants to sleep with them. Or the nonsensical ones like:
“What if the protagonist is a kettle?”
“A talking kettle? Bit weird, but I suppose it could be a metaphor for–”
“No, not a talking kettle. What the fuck are you on about? There’s no such thing as a talking kettle. Just a kettle. Make the hero a kettle”
“Don’t look at me like that. Mother used to look at me like that.”
“Yeah. I’ve got to go and … I’ve just got to go.”
At which point you just make the changes requested until he loses interest, sacks you or gets arrested for trying to rape hamsters.
But the notes I really hate, the ones which make my heart sink, are the ones which are perfectly reasonable but just different. They don’t make the script better, they don’t make it worse, they just make it different. The ones where you realise the director and/or producer isn’t really imagining the same project as you.
“Ah, so when I said I wanted to write a biopic of Muhammad Ali; you thought we were making a heist film set in Vietnam?”
These notes upset me, I hate having to take the chainsaw to my chest of drawers, hack out the bits people just don’t like and replace them with new bits. No matter how much I smooth the edges down or patch the gaps … I can still see the join. When I read the fourth or the fifth draft (which may well be a thousand times better than the first) I can still see all the joins, all the bits which are no longer there.
To me, my script now looks grubby – as if I’ve written it in pencil, continuously rubbed it out and started over and over again. There’s no white space any more, it’s all grey.
Helpfully, my spellchecker thinks both of those spellings are right. OH TECHNOLOGY, YOU FECKLESS WHORE; TELL ME HOW TO SPELL LIKE A SIX YEAR OLD, GOD DAMN IT!
You know, I’m pretty certain I had a point when I started this.
Maybe it was that I prefer my first drafts to my final drafts, even when the final drafts are manifestly better – they just seem so … dirty.
It’s not much of a point, but I’ve been working for 17 hours and it’s all you’re going to get.
Oh leave me alone.