So…this hasn’t worked out exactly like I wanted it to. From my end.
I’m still working on the script I pitched a while back. Thankfully, I’m working with people who have been in favor of giving me the time I’ve needed to get it right. And I think I am getting it right. It feels that way, even as I’m enveloped by that inevitable sense of dread that comes with being ready to hand it off. “Egads,” I says to myself, I says, “you don’t really expect them to find this smart and funny and worthy of production, do you?” You shut up, Geoffbrain!
Feels like this one is taking me an unusually long amount of time for two main reasons:
1. It’s set in Korea, a country I knew very little about, tangibly, before embarking on this process. In that, this is the most research I’ve ever done for a script, because the concept is steeped not only in the current pop culture of the country but in how that culture evolved – and from whence it evolved. And it’s important, to me at least, that this come through in the script so that Seoul isn’t *just* a backdrop or *just* a location. I’m not trying for detail-laden accuracy. I am, however, trying for as much AUTHENTICITY as I can get in this first draft. Because it’s the key to the story and the characters. So there’s an extra layer to this particular script, and the danger I run into in NOT nailing it at the outset is people reading it and going, “What are you, some kind of racist?” I mean, I AM, but I don’t want them to know that. That’d be disadvantageous.
So I’ve probably spent more time on this than I should have, but I want to be comfortable that I’ve done the story justice when I hand it in, basically.
2. The concept we’re dealing with is a well-tread, highly tropey one. It’s been done before, make no mistake about it. And I don’t want to try to hide from that – in fact, there’s some comedy to be mined from the tropes alone. But in order to pull that off, I have to go several steps further than I normally would in other concepts. Having cliches and expectations isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it’s basically unavoidable at this point. But to look anything like you’re not just humping and repurposing the work of a thousand others, you have to push that much harder to make it GOOD. To do it BETTER.
And with that in mind, I’m putting a lot of pressure on myself to be different and take chances. This is harder than it seems. Because I am largely stupid.
But also, I’m fighting the absolute worst habit I’ve developed as a professional screenwriter – too often, I catch myself writing something and then second-guessing what I’ve just written because I know I’m going to get a note about it. That mindset has been CRIPPLING to me on this particular project, and it’s only in the last two weeks or so I feel I’ve really let it go and gotten back to writing instinctually. It’s been a great feeling, but it’s also led me to go back through the script with a fine-tooth comb and be honest with myself about where I can push jokes further (without leaving PG-13 territory) or where I can turn the story on its head a bit more. And I think this is always a goal of mine, but I definitely lost sight of it at the outset of this one. Thankfully, I realized as much before it was too late. And thank God for that. Even though I don’t believe in Him. Can’t hurt to offer gratitude just in case.
So that’s me. That’s where I’m coming from. However, as I know none of you give a fuck, here’s where the Selected Ten are – and BTW, a mere WEEK from today, they submit their scripts to the Black List:
JESSE & JERREN
“Hi, everybody. Our initial plan was to bang out a first draft in three weeks so we’d have another three weeks to rewrite. Which, in retrospect: LOL forever. This weekend, after combining all our pages to see where we actually stood, we found we had two acts complete (third act in constant state of near-completion), totaling 165 PAGES. It took 10 minutes to print out. Two acts.
This discovery, to quote Abraham Lincoln on his death bed, ‘Sucked a million butts.’
It was discouraging for a minute. But then we remembered, ‘Oh yeah, this is what we ALWAYS do.’ It’s all in the over-writing for us, then we parse through and dig out the good stuff. We spent all of Sunday tearing through it page by page. We scaled everything–plot, character, theme–back to its base to find out how we can streamline it. We removed extraneous story lines wholesale, and braided other story lines together. We trimmed a full 50 pages, without even getting into cosmetic changes or dialogue edits. We felt good.
Heading into this week, we set up a very clear blueprint for what Act 2 needs during rewrite, which Jesse is tackling now. Meanwhile, Jerren is pressing forward into climax territory (cool sentence!). We’re feeling excited and tired. Since this challenge began, Jerren has only taken one day off from writing and Jesse has gotten three haircuts.”
Weird how, in the final days of needing to get a piece of writing done, you have more revelations about what it ISN’T than what it IS. Personally, I’m a big proponent – as I’ve mentioned time and again – of having too much content as opposed to not enough. The issue, then, becomes a careful game of chess: what to cut, what to keep, and how culling or saving reshapes the narrative, if at all. Worst part of this step is losing stuff that you love that just doesn’t fit. Best part is using that stuff in another script later.
“I’ve now been writing the screenplay for a week. Writing it from a fully-constructed story, where I already know exactly what happens in each scene, is a fantastic experience.
The characters can finally speak to each other, after all this building and structuring, and it gives life to their interactions. Sounds a bit poncey, I know, but it’s a buzz hearing them talk to each other and seeing it play out in my head. It’s going down at quite a lick, too: I’m at page 60.
I can’t really say this is my first draft. I did a lot of writing and rewriting/restructuring in the weeks before I ever started on the screenplay, and during that process I came up with more than 1 version of the story. The final draft of that composition, is the story I’m working from now. There will be no major re-writes now; the story is as I want it to be.
I expect to type FADE OUT by the end of this week, which will give me 10 days to polish and tweak. I hope to be able to fit in at least a couple of days off during that time, so that I can some back to it with at least a small amount of perspective.
Some days I think what I have is good, other days I don’t. My last script was a stinker, yet at the time I thought it was great. You never can tell.”
Damian is the perfect example of one of the things that I believe so much about screenwriting, and why I think screenwriting books are total bullshit: there’s no one right way to do this. Damian and I couldn’t possibly approach writing any differently, and yet here he is, 60 pages in after a week and on his way to having, essentially, a second draft done. You gotta find what works for you, not copy what’s worked for someone else. Damian is also equipped with the right attitude: you never can tell, which is why it’s ESSENTIAL that you always be open to criticism.
“I want to start this week by saying a few things about the other writers. *Spoiler alert* I hate them. Jokes.
I was talking to Claire on Twitter, and I realised how lucky I’ve been with how much time I’ve been able to carve out compared to others. I’m not one of those people who say ‘you can always find time, if you want it, if you’re driven enough’. If you can make extra time for yourself, good for you, don’t be a penis about it. I don’t have kids, or family in this country. I have a lot less to contend with. Basically, I’m saying, regardless of how far you are in this process, seriously, well done. You’re wicked. You rule.
So, this week’s update.
There is an artist called Bortusk Leer. My wife and I love his work, and are lucky to have a number of his pieces. When you google them, which obviously you will now, they’re nutso. They’re these amazingly colourful monsters, they make me smile every time I see them. Why mention this?
There is a director called Romain Gavras. If you’ve not seen his MIA music videos or Adidas commercials, get on that. His videos leave me wide-eyed like a loon every time I watch them. For the rewrites, I’m blazing out pretty much any song from a Romain Gavras video. Why mention this?
When I think about why I write, I think about the films I love, I think about Bortusk and Romain. My favourite films still make me grin ear-to-ear. I want to write stories like that. Whenever someone reads this script I hope it will make them laugh, and cheer, and smile. What’s the point otherwise?”
One of the most frequent questions I get from other/aspiring writers is, “What kind of music do you write to?” And it feels like everyone has some kind of muse in that regard, and often it’s scores/soundtracks to their favorite movies. And that makes a lot of sense to me on one level. And then on another it totally doesn’t, because I never listen to music when I’m writing. Never have, no desire to try. If I’m listening to music I’d prefer to engage with it on some level rather than have it become white noise or a synched part of the process. But I feel I’m WAY in the minority. I’m interested in what other writers get out of this, because it’s a totally alien concept to me.
“I finished hand editing my script and just a few days ago, I finished applying the edits and notes. My script grew by twenty pages and I cleaned up many of the loose ends and trails I left along the way. When I was finished, I sent the script to a group of my ‘trusted friends’ and took a deep breath.
That’s when the panic set in. I was terrified that I had just spent five weeks writing a script that doesn’t really tell a story. It just starts, some things happen, and then something else happens, and then it’s over. Boo hoo. I was terrified that I had just written 97 pages of nonsense and I had completely blown the opportunity I was given with this project. I had to step away.
One of my professional heroes is the screenwriter John August (if you haven’t heard of him, or ‘Scriptnotes’, you need to look him up ASAP). He was gracious enough to meet with me over a cup of coffee to talk about the life of a professional screenwriter, broadway, etc. In addition to being a phenomenal screenwriter and app designer, he’s also a very nice human being. Inspirational across the board.
He asked me about my spec and I told him a bit about the characters and the plot. He made a major suggestion that nearly turns my script on it’s head, but at the same time, if done well, it could conceivably be the only way to get it made. It’s risky (and the same risk is also being taken by another writer in this challenge) but it’s so unique that it could actually work out well.
So… with less than two weeks remaining, I’m considering a Page One rewrite. Maybe not starting from scratch, but crafting the story in the direction of playing head-on into the unique situation by embracing it as the only possibility… or place. It’s this, or else.
Boy, do I have a lot of work to do.”
Verrrrrrrrrrry interesting update from Chris this week, and I’ll tell you what: it takes balls to do what he’s doing. Next couple of weeks should be insanely interesting for him. I’m going to resist commenting any more in favor of waiting to see how this works out for him. EXCITING THOUGH.
“It’s been a strange week. A lot of real life drama pulling focus from my make-believe comedy. My characters have gone quiet and I don’t know if it’s because they think I’ve done them justice or–much more likely–because they can’t be bothered to compete with all the other noise in my head.
I also had a mini freak out over my title, which I’ve had (and loved) since the very beginning. But I’m not the sharpest skewer in the fondue set, so something pretty obvious escaped me until fucking YESTERDAY.
My story centers around a DIY disaster of damn near lethal proportions. It’s a two-hander with a male and a female protagonist who have opposing personalities, motives, definitions of “sobriety”, everything. Sort of like if The Odd Couple tried to flip The Money Pit, only in this case Felix has a vagina and Oscar is lying about his identity.
Anyway, there’s hammers! And fuck ups! Endless fuck ups. So of course the title is Nailed It….
Yeah. I’m less than two weeks away from submitting my very amateur script to The Black List with the words “‘NAILED IT’ on the cover. I might as well just add ‘By Kanye West’…
Yesterday I realized this. Yesterday. Then I sob-chuckled and slowly rotated around and around in my office chair until my dogs exchanged a look and both left the room.”
I’m THE WORST at titles. GOING THE DISTANCE wasn’t one I picked – the exec whose life it was based on had it as an idea from before I even started writing. I used to stress like crazy over that shit, and then I just gave up and most stuff goes out now as “UNTITLED LATULIPPE COMEDY”. Fuck it. That in mind, Rachel, keep your title. No one is going to mistake you for being conceited based on the title of your script, and I think a more likely scenario is that you get some good subliminal vibes from it. If it means anything, I like it quite a bit based on your premise.
“It’s really weird how on September 30th I would look at a calendar and go, ‘Man, look at all that time I have left.’ Now I look at a calendar and go, ‘Fuuuuuuuuck.’ It’s not that I won’t finish. I’m definitely going to finish. I’m probably 10 pages away from a coherent first draft, but from there comes the rewrites. Which houses the biggest challenge of screenwriting for me: rewrites.
How do I know a rewrite is better than the original? Much of the time I usually know either way, but sometimes I honestly have no idea. There are times where I write something awesome over something shitty and I feel like a genius, but at times I feel like I’m just spinning my tires and writing for the sake of rewriting. This is a question I’ve posed to a bunch of my former teachers and I never got a definitive answer. Is it a gut thing?
Jesus, what a humorless update. I usually make sure to inject some jokes into these. But I’ve had a scorcher of a headache the past week.
Oh, actually, I know a great place to find some humor. In about two weeks! In my script! On the Black List! T-minus fourteen days! Get your download buttons ready! (It’s all about marketing, folks!)”
Ah yes, another paradox – when rewriting goes from being necessary to you actually fucking up your script. And in reality, at this stage of the game, you are done rewriting when: you feel like you’re done rewriting. There’s absolutely no reason for force yourself to keep tweaking shit when you have the sense that you’ve done what you needed to do. Overthinking ruins just as many scripts as bad ideas and lack of talent. In fact, overthinking and overwriting is exactly why so many movies become disasters – the group decision that MORE tinkering is always better than less. At a certain stage, this becomes a violent spiral of diminishing returns. If you’ve addressed all your notes and you’re happy with what you’ve got, stop. It’s time to turn it in.
“I’m almost 32 pages into my second draft which is good but not great I guess. Still behind on my quotas but that’s okay. Getting into the juicy Second Act soon which should be all kinds of fun.
As usual, I’m thinking all kinds of negative thoughts about my First Act. It’s too long. It’s too bloated. It’s too boring. Nothing much is happening. The characters are cliche. The story is cliche. My life is cliche.
I’m going to defer judgement on my story – and by extension, myself – till after I get this draft done.
Only 2 more weeks to go! OMG!
I can hit that deadline like William Tell and that apple. I can do this. Right?
From writing this, I realize that I don’t know enough to make this screenplay good.
This may well have action elements too. Which means it’s gotta be leaner, smarter, more punchy. Which means my scene description needs to be better. Right now, it’s blasted boring. My style hasn’t evolved much lately and I need to do something about that.
Read a ton of scripts, I think.
Also because of the time pressure, I’m wondering whether I’m falling naturally into cliché. I’m trying not to , but goshdarn it, it’s so tempting and easy.
Another thing I’ve thought of that is super-exciting. Most movies are about a ‘hero’s journey’. My hero’s journey might actually be a pilgrimage.
Which opens up all kinds of research questions. Why do people take pilgrimages? What is the spiritual significance?
Gosh, I love theme. But it doesn’t always present itself at once. In fact, it often presents itself quite late in the game. When character, story, jokes, beats and arcs are all firmly in place. Which is a shame. But still it’s fun to play around with these ideas for the time being.
Getting up to the end of that First Act. I can do this right? Yeah. I can.”
Man, is there ever a lot going on in that Sabinabrain or what? Rather than unpacking and analyzing this update, I’m just going to let it be and let Sabina crack on without trying to add content to an already-cluttered-yet-firing-on-all-cylinders mind. In doing that, though, I want to say this: I like the way she thinks.
“We’re getting to the hairy end now and I’m hitting a different kind of low point. I’m no longer afraid I won’t make the deadline. I will have over 90 pages with words I wrote on them. I don’t want to sell myself too short on that. I’ve never written a script this long before and I did it during a time where I was working full-time and I had other challenges, such as my husband going away and leaving me as a single mum for 8 days. He also works a lot of nights and weekends so I very rarely have more than a couple of hours to write each day. So yay me.
As for the script itself I am still grooming my vomit draft into something that reads. In that initial draft all the characters basically talk like me, so I am working hard on giving each character their own voice. I’m also searching for a way of describing the action that is engaging and attention grabbing, but doesn’t sound like I’m trying too hard. In the shorts I have written I have only needed to convince directors that it will make an interesting film, but I haven’t been too worried about trying to convince them that I am a great writer. I’m not sure that I am.
This is all leaving me with a serious case of imposter syndrome. So you’ve written a script. Who cares? What makes you think any one would
want to read it? Let alone Hollywood types who read professional scripts every day? On top of that productive internal monologue I am
questioning why I haven’t written something more important, or funny, or worthy, or weird.
But I have gotten over a major blockage for me during this process, and for that I will be eternally grateful. I am capable of writing a feature script. One day I might even write a good one.”
Methinks Claire is being a bit hard on herself, and I hope she realizes so having read all the other updates. Most writers go through the same insecurities and feelings of artistic ineptitude that she is. And I think it says a lot about Claire that she’s recognized something in her writing that I and MANY other writers struggle with in perpetuity: realizing when your characters all sound the same (I have yet to confirm that we all developed this tendency from watching Kevin Smith movies). It’s a really though habit to break, but if you can at least recognize that you’re doing it, you can fix it with relative ease. Always important to watch out for.
“Eh. My script is kind of dumb. And then I saw Skeleton Twins and read the script for Whiplash and thought, ‘Why can’t I write THAT?’
It sucks that to become a good writer you have to go through years of mediocre writing. It sucks that I know I am currently in those years and I just have to deal with it and keep trying. It’s that time when you’re taste doesn’t match your skill level yet – that’s what I’ve learned from Ira Glass. Here’s this quote of his that I remind myself of every day: http://vimeo.com/85040589
Don’t have much of an update, it feels like about six hours have elapsed since last week’s update. This end date is sneaking up on me… Ah.”
Again, I think Emily’s just being hard on herself, and again, I hope she’s reading these updates from the others so she knows that she’s not at all alone in these fears. And it’s worth mentioning: worrying about being mediocre is one thing. But unless you put your work out there and get feedback from people who know what they’re talking about, it becomes nothing more than an excuse to stop growing. You should at least get confirmation that you need to grow; hell, you might even surprise yourself about where you are. In other words, DO NOT GIVE UP EMILY OR I SWEAR I WILL HUNT YOU DOWN AND CUT YOU.
“I think the best way to explain how I feel about the Six Week Spec process right now is to say that I don’t really know how I feel about it anymore. One minute I think, ‘Okay, this doesn’t totally blow.’ Then the next I’m thinking, ‘Yeah, okay, this totally fucking blows.’
I think I need to just stop thinking for a while.
One perk recently is that, when people ask me what I’m writing about, I’m answering with more and more confidence. At the beginning, I’d say things like, ‘Well, it’s kind of about so and so and goes something like this but I don’t know.’ Now, it’s more like, ‘Here’s my idea, here’s the full fledged plot, here’s what I’m going for.’ So that’s exciting.
So again, I really like my story. But I’m still struggling to really like the way I’m writing it. It seems to be an issue that’s plaguing all of us.”
This is not a knock on Delaney or Emily or any of the younger writers in the Selected Ten at all, but more of an observation that makes sense: the younger writers seem to be having more issues with confidence and trusting themselves than the older ones. And like I said, that’s hardly counterintuitive; those of us who’ve had more time on this planet have had more time, practically, to develop and trust our voices. And it’s scary as shit when you’re just starting, when you may or not be struggling to figure out how you fit into the world and what your place is in this universal conveyor belt. The only possibly-helpful advice I can offer is this: embrace that. In the right context, that curiosity can be turned into an incredible sense of wonder and can ask some really brilliant questions. It’s great to recognize that you’re not “there” yet, so the best you can do is take hold of it and run with it and see where it takes you. Just because you haven’t figured it all out yet doesn’t mean this time of your life is invalid. Couldn’t be further from the truth.
The reactions from these writers…they couldn’t have turned out any better if I’d paid experienced writers to write them. These weekly updates have turned into everything I’ve wanted you guys to see about the writing process. I hope they’ve been equally as valuable to those of you following along.