I’ve spent the last few months doing casting rewrites on a script which is due to shoot in September, as well as rewriting another script which was recently optioned.
The casting rewrites are … a thing. If you’ve not had to go through that, I’ll probably blog about the process soonish.
The option rewrite, on the other hand, I’ll blog about now. If you’ll indulge me?
You will? Splendid.
So the script was optioned and the notes came back from the producer and director: one set of coherent notes presented by one person, first by email and then in detail via conversation.
This is how it’s supposed to be done.
Everyone giving notes agrees between themselves first before giving them to the writer so there are no contradictions.* Notes come via email (as opposed to dumped on you in a room) so you’ve got time to cycle through the stages of grief (anger, resentment, more anger, crying, fury, anger, rage, denial, incandescent rage … then accepting all the notes are correct) before responding. A follow up conversation by phone or in person to talk through the notes and explain what the intention is. Normally, the intention isn’t always what you think it is. A note asking you to cut a scene often means there’s a different scene earlier on which muddies the waters and makes this scene seem irrelevant. A conversation about these things allows you to state your case.
So with all that out of the way, I went to work.
Christmas got in the way, but after that I got straight to work.
In this instance there were three notes and a realisation which kind of made a lot of the other notes irrelevant. This can happen. In this case the three notes were:
- Moving the script from the UK to the US.
- Changing the secondary character’s motivations to make him less of a one-note dick.
- Bringing three of the minor characters to the forefront to make the starring duo part of a five-piece gang.
And the realisation (by me) was that I wanted to change the theme which meant the protagonist’s motivation had to change, which meant all of scenes in the first act have to be different. And all of his scenes in the second act need altering. And the ones in the third act too.
Basically draft 2 is going to be a completely different version of the same story. Everything is going to change … but a lot of scenes will probably still work in a slightly altered form.
I’ve often said that 50% of the script often gets abandoned for draft 2. I think this is kind of a benchmark to expect, if not aim for. Assume you’re going to be throwing away 50% of what you’ve written and you’re prepared.
That was probably true in this case … but the other 50% was going to be heavily rewritten too. And in a different order.
So it’s time for a hammer draft.
My hammer drafts are lumpen, misshapen monstrosities which barely make sense. Essentially I’m picking up square scenes and hammering them into round holes elsewhere in the script.
So A, B, C … becomes:
New A, X, Q, second half of old A, B, F, G, H, C, something with a chicken, Y, V … and so on.
The task at this point is just to get the pieces roughly fitting. The next pass is for smoothing off the splintered edges and tightening up dialogue and checking everything flows properly … this draft is just hammering things into place. Because here’s the thing I visualise – they say you can’t put a square peg in a round hole … well that’s just silly, of course you can. You either have to fill in the gaps around the edges of the peg with something else or you hammer it in with enough force to knock off the corners and leave you with the important core of the scene.
It’s not pretty and the joins/breaks will be clearly obvious … but only at first. Next time through you’re filling, sanding and painting until it all looks like that’s the only place any of these scenes could ever have been.
It’s a process I really enjoy even though it’s bastard hard work and sometimes harder than just throwing it all away and starting again. It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle where the challenge is to disassemble an existing jigsaw, trim the pieces and reassemble them into a different, yet familiar picture.
Hammer drafts, I love them.
But they come with a warning: NEVER, EVER SHOW THEM TO ANYONE. EVER.
You’ll think that everyone’s on the same page as you and they’ll understand you’re just showing them a work in progress … but they might not get it. And if they don’t understand that what they’re not supposed to be looking at the intricacies of the dialogue or the transitions … you’re fucked.
My hammer drafts are for my eyes only … because they make no fucking sense.
A draft or two later, when they’re all shiny and the welds have been smoothed and painted over … that’s the public draft. The one that gets torn apart so the whole process can start again …
* Except when the notes are inherently contradictory. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, contradictory notes can both be true. The protagonist can be too aggressive and too passive in different places, we all just have to pick which one she’s supposed to be or devise a mechanism to explain why she flips from one to the other.