Sunday, May 04, 2008

Children Of Scum - and Cutting Class

Last year I mentioned that I had a line in a friend’s short film, but I never told you what happened after that...

Here is the trailer for the short film (I'm the pizza guy):



But in the finished film, I am nowhere to be found. I got cut. The film showed at the Beverly Hills Short Festival a few weeks ago, and I showed up for the screening... and Danny (the writer-director) wondered why I was there - and apologized for about the 100th time for cutting me out of the film.

Now, I don’t know the reason why he cut me out of the film - maybe my performance sucked? But, my guess is that I was cut for time. When I first read the script, I thought - heck, I’m the punchline! The movie is a fake DVD extra for what has to be the worst film ever made - even though none of the people involved seem to know this - and the humor comes from the “stars” and creative team going on-and-on in interviews about how brilliant the film is, intercut with scenes of the really really bad movie. My character was *not* a member of the cast and crew... well, maybe the crew - I was a pizza delivery guy who delivered food to the set. So I was the easy cut for time... the difficult cut? One of the lead actors had this amazing speech that was silly on the page, and he made a million times sillier. This was one of the scenes from the bad film, and he did some amazing bad acting. It’s not easy to act that bad. On set, it was difficult not to laugh while he was doing the scene. It was hysterical... That scene was trimmed to the nubs. That was a huge loss.

My character could easily be cut for time, was kind of a silly character in the real life section of the film, and I think was also the only character who was in behind the scenes footage from the “past”... I was the easy and logical cut.

And, you know, compared to that actor who had us all trying not to laugh on set, my performance probably wasn’t all that hot.

I would have cut myself for time.

Frequently on message boards someone posts that they have a 137 page script and wonder why the evil powers that be don’t want scripts that long... and they have no idea how they can cut their masterpiece down to 110 pages. Well, the answer is, you have to cut it down. A screenplay is a *precision* document - and the reason why they want that 110 page script is because, using that ballpark page-per-minute guide, they need a film that can play every 2 hours with enough time in between showings to sweep out the popcorn and pry any shoes stuck to the floor with sticky soft drink residue. There’s a reason for it - and that means you need to cut your script.

You need to make tough decisions and creative decisions. You need to make sure everything in your script moves the story forward, is entertaining, and exposes character. If a character can be cut - cut it! If a scene can be cut - cut it! If a line of dialogue can be cut - cut it! It’s easy to become so attached to a line or character or scene that you can’t imagine cutting it - guess what? You still need to cut it!

I have had conversations with writers who have been told by a dozen people that a scene or character didn’t work - but they were fighting to keep it. Everyone they give their script to tells them that it’s too wordy... but they don’t want to trim it down. Everyone tells them some character serves no story purpose... but they refuse to cut that character. Everyone tells them something doesn’t work... but they don’t want to fix it. They were arguing to keep it. It’s like they were looking a second opinion that would agree with them. So they keep giving it to people... and they all say the same thing - the script needs work. They don’t want to make the changes, they would rather argue... and search for that one person in the world that agrees with them. That doesn’t solve the problem - they need to make the cuts, however painful those cuts may be.

If one person tells you something doesn’t work, that might just be that person’s opinion. But if everyone is saying the same thing, you need to take a look at that.

Also, there’s this great line from THE WILD BUNCH that says it’s not whether you give your word, it’s who you give it to... so not all feedback is equal. If your mom loves your script and someone in the business has problems with it, you might give more credence to the person in the business, no matter how much you love your mom.

It’s not about what works for you - it’s about what works for the script. Sometimes we hang on to some scene because we love that scene or maybe we’re just stubborn. But once we have written FADE OUT and let the script sit for a while and we’re going back to do the next draft, it’s time to look at the script *objectively* and make the hard choices that make it a better screenplay.

The first draft of my VOLATILE script had 8 tasks and several scenes with some funny interactions with other people... but the script was missing something, and I tore it apart and re-assembled it... and cut out 2 tasks (including my favorite) and all of the funny stuff that didn’t advance the story. Scenes I loved - gone. Some characters - gone. But the screenplay - a hundred times better - sleek, to the point. But if a bunch of people tell me the same thing is a problem with the current draft? I’m gonna fix it.

Would you rather have your script exactly the way you first wrote it, or the very best version of your story?

CHILDREN OF SCUM is playing at Mockfest in Hollywood on Saturday May 17th at 5 pm.

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Conflict and character
Yesterday’s Dinner: Sesame Chicken at City Wok in Studio City.

Movies: IRON MAN - best superhero movie I've seen since the first SPIDER-MAN. Great match of actor to role with Robert Downey jr's bad-boy image perfectly fitting the spoiled party boy Tony Stark. Film has to great emotional scenes right up front - including a romantic open heart surgery scene! This turns a "kid's film" into a "adult film". Stay until the end of the film or you'll miss Samuel L. Jackson's cameo!

Pages: Friday - 5 pages on a screenplay. Saturday - 8.5 pages on a screenplay. Sunday - 20 query letters and a pile of e-mails to producers.

8 comments:

Emily Blake said...

When I finished the first draft of the zombie script is was 119 pages so I chopped and chopped away until it was 113. Then I sent the script out to people and they were all like "You should add this stuff!" and they were right and so I added and when I sent the script off to the Nicholl it was 119 pages.

I tried.

Cunningham said...

The trailer, while cute, is an example of poor indie film lighting. Notice how everything looks washed out and grey? You don't want that. Notice how the images aren't sharp? You don't want that.

I know this is a screenwriter-based blog, but I have to throw this in there because if you ARE going to film your own script, then hire a great DP who can make your film look good. Otherwise, the script you've been cutting or sharpening or honing or whatever other verb is in vogue is going to waste.

And no, it doesn't have to cost you more money to make it look better.

Oasis said...

**The trailer, while cute, is an example of poor indie film lighting. Notice how everything looks washed out and grey? You don't want that. Notice how the images aren't sharp? You don't want that.

I know this is a screenwriter-based blog, but I have to throw this in there because if you ARE going to film your own script, then hire a great DP who can make your film look good. Otherwise, the script you've been cutting or sharpening or honing or whatever other verb is in vogue is going to waste.

And no, it doesn't have to cost you more money to make it look better.**


I agree with all Cunningham has to say here..although as far as cost I am sadly unknowlegeable.

However, I must say "THE PIZZA GUY" gets the award for Best Actor.

Did you notice his take when the guy tried to close the door...like "anybody else in there got any money."

I thought you were great Bill. In fact, I thought (based on the scenes presented) he made a grave error, cutting you IMHO.

Cunningham said...

I'll second that.

Bill and pizza goes together like, well...

"Bill and Pizza."

wcmartell said...

Part of the deal is...

These scenes are from the worst film ever made. Though I don't know if they tried to make the lighting look flat, I think it doesn't hurt the movie.

Here's another film from the same people:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JsqKilcR0g

And the only thing missing is beer....

- Bill

Oasis said...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0JsqKilcR0g

Much better.

dannyboy52472 said...

Hey, how cool. Thanks for the plug, Bill!

Bill is wonderful in the part - heck, I wrote the part *for him to play*, and he was kind and gracious enough to do it.

And as a way of saying thank you I cut him out of the movie.

The joke about Bill's character is that he's a pizza delivery guy with nothing at all to say about the film. The interviewer for the DVD retrospective asks him all kinds of questions about the movie, but gets bupkiss. Finally, out of desperation, the interviewer asks about pizza, and Bill brightens up.

He's very funny, but his scene - with the character saying nothing - came between all these other characters just RAVING about this piece of junk film. The movie just kind of ... stopped. It's one of those things that you don't notice while writing or shooting, but then you get in the editing room ...

So, because I was concerned about the pacing, I made the awful decision to cut the character.

Sorry, Bill. :-(

Bill's scene is on the DVD - come to Mockfest next Saturday and I'll bring some extra copies.

Danny

Oasis said...

Actually Danny,

it's not all bad. I've watched it several times now.

I think for me, it was getting beyond the blood and vomit...I'm sort of weak when it comes to watching that. But now that I know it's coming, I'm rather enjoying it, and I think I would enjoy your movie.

Seriously. I thought about it, and came back to post this reply...before reading your post.

Also, the guy doing the VO. Very nice.


Best wishes,


p.s. How would one go about getting a copy, without access to Mockfest?

eXTReMe Tracker