One of the things no one tells you about script writing (or perhaps they told you, I was either asleep or mitching off that day) is you don’t spend much time actually writing scripts.
And I’m not talking about the hours wasted on Internet porn, Simpsons marathons and just generally sitting around scratching your arse waiting for inspiration – I’m talking about the time you spend doing proper work with your fingers (of both hands) pushing buttons on the keyboard in order to produce words on the screen. In the last three or four months, the percentage of actual work time I’ve spent actually writing (or re-writing) actual scripts is roughly zero.
That’s shit in anyone’s book.
‘How can this be?’, you doubtlessly don’t care enough to ask. ‘What the hell have you been doing with your time?’
Well. all the other stuff:
Loglines, synopses, treatments, pitches, writer’s visions, character breakdowns, index cards, email ping pong, ADR lists, web content, this blog and other promotional stuff, commenting on various aspects of various productions, CVs, applying for new jobs, funding applications, updating my website … etc.
Then there’s all the other stuff, the stuff which winkles me away from my keyboard and forces me to confront the real (and reel) world:
Meetings, conference calls, the SWF, general networking, watching edits, watching web content, reading books for potential adaptations, watching films for potential remakes. watching referenced films so I know what the fuck the director/producer actually wants … etc.
Add onto that travelling time between various meetings, putting time aside to watch current films/TV so you know what everyone else is doing (or was doing a year ago) and the general thinking time needed to actually come up with all this shit and there’s very little time left for writing.
Not that lack of time’s really the issue since currently none of the six-million projects I’m working on are at the script stage. It just frustrates me sometimes that I write because I love it, yet writing is the smallest part of the process. It’s probably the most difficult, but the sheer weight of material you have to get through in order to sit down and start a new script is mind-boggling.
To be honest, I’ve kind of forgotten how to write one anyway – it’s been that fucking long.
That’s not to say I’m not doing any creative writing – I’ve just finished three weeks (interrupted by other stuff) of combing through an ADR list. This basically consists of sitting there with the rough edit of the film and staring intently at a scene trying to work out how long the actor’s face is out of shot then trying to sum up in one line everything which happened in the previous three scenes which (because of lack of time, money or competence) are no longer in the edit.
What the fuck does that mean? Why isn’t he wearing any trousers? Didn’t he just get shot in the head?
Sometimes scenes are lost, sometimes they get moved around, sometimes new scenes are added late in the day – the ADR list has to cover all of this.
On top of this, there’s the odd moment where either a line got improvised and makes no fucking sense, or perhaps it references something or someone who’s no longer in the film, or just plain doesn’t work – all those have to be replaced by something better of the same length.
Then there’s the pure effects shots, or long shots where you can’t see the actors, or scenes dipping in and out of cars – all of the voice over dialogue can be changed. Not necessarily because it doesn’t make sense – but there’s always that thought: can it be funnier? The car one is quite interesting – you can change any of the conversation you hear when the camera’s outside the car, but it has to match up with what they’re saying when the camera’s inside the car. Sometimes that switch has to occur in the middle of a sentence. This entails writing a line then reading it back in the character’s voice at the same pace and tone as the actor to see if it fits.
Oh and here’s a free piece of advice – if you do this on the train, people will stare.
But mostly stare.
It’s quite an interesting experiment which shows you how many choices there are with each single piece of dialogue. Frequently I find myself writing ten or so choices for each line because I can’t decide which one I like best. When I’m writing a full scene it all flows and a specific word or phrase choice seems more obvious than the others – when you’re looking at each line individually there are thousands of potential options, of which you have to select the one which is the most concise, the most informative and the most funny.
It’s quite fun.
As a specific example, one of the ADR notes required a term similar to ‘desk jockey’. Now I don’t want to use ‘desk jockey’ because I’ve heard it before and it’s already been used a few times in this film – I want a new term which I’ve never heard before … from a 1974 NYPD officer.
I managed 15 options† before I gave up and moved on – which I thought was perhaps a little overkill, but it’s kind of fun and I got lost in the possibilities.
Anyway, enough of this jibber-jabber – I’ve got to get back to work … not actually writing a script, of course; but I’m sure I’ve got some index cards to shuffle.
Unless there’s anything good on the telly?
* I have a sneaking suspicion this isn’t true – please feel free to comb through the last few months of blog posts and call me a liar.
† Made up number, I didn’t count them.