Hello, how are you? What have you been doing with yourself?
I’ve been beavering way, writing this and that, having the biggest film of my career quietly fall apart without the slightest idea why.*
One of the ‘this’es I’ve been writing is a feature script I’m very proud of, one of my favourite to date. It’s kind of everything I love in a film whilst being utterly achievable on a small budget.
Except the bits that aren’t.
The project was born of a #PhonePhill conversation (or one of many such conversations) with Calum Chalmers. This is a completely unintended and lovely side effect of the whole #PhonePhill thing. It was never meant to spawn anything other than chat.
But there you go. Chat led to chats led to ideas led to a feature script. It’s currently residing with a couple of trusted friends who are reading and (hopefully) tearing the fucking thing to shreds.
As pleasant as this process has been and and good as Calum and I think we’ve got the script (me as writer, him as director) there’s always a chance we’ve completely overlooked something. Or that something we think makes sense doesn’t. Or that there’s somehow a massive and glaring plot hole right in the bit between the opening and closing credits.
It strikes me that even if we have nailed it and gotten a water-tight, plot-tight, sense-making script … we still have to face the Peril of Two.
For me, the preferable way of writing is to have the script triumvirate (writer, director, producer) in place from the very beginning. That way, when we’re all in agreement, the script stands. Anyone else who has an input after that has to run the gauntlet of three people who are already in agreement.
That’s the Power of Three.
The peril of having just two (writer and producer or writer and director) on board during scripting is there’s a very high chance I’ll have to do the whole thing again when the third member arrives. Everyone likes to put their stamp on the project and (for the most part) everyone has good ideas which help refine what’s already there … but for some reason there seems to be an inordinate number of producers or directors who sign onto a project because they love the script … and then demand a complete page one rewrite.
So, okay, if the idea is awesome and it’s just the execution that’s appalling then fair enough. But it often seems to be a complete change of the core idea itself.
“I love this script, love it. Please choose me to realise your ideas … only, maybe instead of a drama about homeless teens it could be a thriller about some murderous ostrich eggs?”
Or, on one memorable occasion a few years ago, a prospective producer told the director and I the equivalent of telling George Lucas:
“I love this penetrating family drama about moisture farming, it’s a world I understand really well … but then it veers off into this weird space thing. We need to cut all the space stuff and get back to the core of the story.”
Yeah … I’m not sure you’ve understood this script.
Frequently the incoming person goes through all the ideas we discarded during development, the ones we tried but don’t work. Those aren’t bad ideas, they just don’t have a place in this script and we have to try and remember all the arguments and discussions we had which led to one or both of us letting go of what we’d become erroneously attached to.
That’s frustrating and time consuming … but that’s not the Peril of Two.
The peril comes when the one of us who’s not me is so enamoured with the incoming director/producer they agree with them. Suddenly, the script they paid me for, the one we worked on together which they loved and fulfilled their brief completely … is no good. In the absolute worst case scenario I’ve been secretly blamed for managing to accommodate all of their ideas, for making their flights of fancy work.
That’s quite annoying. Sometimes I get to rewrite it, which feels like a waste of time when it’s essentially a new project and means burning all the ideas developed so far … and sometimes I get replaced. Which, to be honest, is probably the preferable outcome.
It’s annoying though. Annoying when you get hired to write an idea, the client loves the idea, the client finds someone else to help make the idea … only to have the new person say they don’t like it, the client to agree and then claim it was my idea in the first place and they don’t know what I was thinking†.
Luckily, that’s an extreme case and doesn’t happen very often. I like to think I’ve got better at spotting those people and avoiding working for them in the first place. I’m pretty sure I have, it hasn’t happened for a long time at any rate. The last time it happened the director told the ‘moisture farming guy’ where to go, so that was a win.
Hopefully that won’t happen this time. I’m pretty certain (almost, if not 100% certain) there won’t be any secret blaming with Calum, he’s not that kind of guy, but sooner or later we’ll have to start bringing other people into the mix and then … well, we’ll have to see what we shall see, won’t we?
* It fell apart very quietly. So quietly in fact I had literally no idea it wasn’t happening until I tried to find out where and when I was supposed to report for the shoot.
Still don’t know why.
It was probably cancelled by aliens. Or ghosts. Those are the only two possible explanations.
† Imagine you were a prop designer, hired to design a new TARDIS. The producer gives you the brief – make it red, like the Glasgow Police Boxes originally were.
You suggest sticking with the traditional Doctor Who/Metropolitan blue might be better, but they disagree. They want to take a bold new direction, a Scottish direction. It’s their TARDIS, they want it red and they want to pay you to design it.
So you do your research, find the exact shade of red the original boxes were painted, you work out which red will most closely resemble it under studio lights and location lighting and … you know, stuff. You submit the plans and the producer loves them – this is exactly what they wanted!
Then someone else comes along and points out that making the TARDIS red is a stupid idea. The producer actually respects/is a little afraid of this person so they blame you having the idea in the first place and get you fired.