I always get a bit depressed somewhere around the middle of writing a feature script. The black wave rolls over me, the black clouds draw in and the black dog pisses all over my foot.
This is shit. It’s awful, what was the fucking point again? It’s taking far too long to tell this tale, nothing’s happening to people no one will care about and it’s all fucking bullshit anyway.
At times like this it feels like I’ve got three options:
- Give up.
- Carry on and hope it’s fixable in the next draft.
- Trust the treatment.
1. is only an option if no one is waiting for the script.
2. usually results in a total mess since the second half is written with an impending sense of doom and a lack of care – this draft doesn’t count.
3. is the way forward. For me.
I don’t know how you folks who don’t outline cope with the mid-point blues without a treatment to fall back on. Actually, I don’t know if you do get the mid-point blues. Maybe it’s just me? Maybe everyone else writes in the assured knowledge their work is a golden stream of delight roaring forth from Thalia’s frothy lips?
Me, I get depressed somewhere around the middle of act two; but I have the treatment to put my trust in.
My reasoning goes something like this:
- I began with a single sentence which sounded interesting.
- I fleshed it out into a synopsis, which sounded interesting.
- I wrote it up as a treatment, which read well and kept the attention of the producer/director/whoever from beginning to end enough for them to want the script.
- The story works, even if the script doesn’t. Trust the treatment, follow it as closely as writing a script will allow and the end result should be okay.
I think sometimes the problem is writing the script feels like being in a trench. Only the trench is part of a maze. I can’t see where I’m going when I’m in the trench because the walls are too high, so I make a map of the maze before I enter.
The black wave/cloud/dog comes because I get halfway through the maze and I start to think the way I’m experiencing the script is the same way the audience/reader will … and it’s boring. I’ve spent too long on this section of trench, I’ve been it for days! There’s no end in sight and the whole thing is so tedious I’d rather rearrange Alice’s toys into colour order than sit at my desk.
What I forget sometimes (and it’s worth scrolling back to check) is although a scene may feel like it’s 12 pages long and taken days to write … it’s probably only two or three.
Also, I find the first half of the script takes much, much longer to write than the second half. It’s excruciatingly slow going introducing all those characters, locations and situations for the first time. Once they’re there and I know what it all looks, sounds, feels like … the second half is usually a breeze. In fact, the second half frequently takes less time to write than the first ten pages.
It’s all about the perception of movement: movement through the story, movement through the character’s emotions, even movement of eyes across a page. When I’m reading a script, a page takes a minute to read (I really try to slow down and read in real time these days); when I’m writing a script, a page can take hours.
Or at least it can feel that way.
When the audience/reader comes through this way, they should be running down the only route available instead of having to pick and choose their direction with every footstep (which makes no sense in a trench, but sort of sense in a maze).
If a story is a maze, then the film is the best route through the maze as found by the writer. The audience can only follow your route (and then bitch about it afterwards in the pub).
Which is where the treatment comes in.
Or the map.
If I feel I’ve been wandering along the same trench for too long, I try and trust in the map – I sketched out the best way through the maze, so long as I follow it I should be fine. It didn’t feel like tedious when I drew the map, so as long as I’m sticking to the one page of treatment = (roughly) ten pages of script … I should be fine.
And the black waves breaks harmlessly against the prow of my ego, the black cloud dissipates with no ill effects and the black dog … can just fuck off.
Plough through the mid-point blues to the sunshine and the pint at the other end.
Until the next draft …