Wednesday, October 08, 2014

I Threw That Script Away!

From 4 years ago...

Sometimes, instead of rewriting a screenplay, you have to throw it away and start from scratch. The problem is, most people never want to do anything this drastic. They become married to their writing and try to find some way to salvage what they’ve written, even though the best case scenario is to part it out... and the more likely scenario is that even the parts are defective in some way. It’s human nature to want to save what you’ve written, but often a first draft or second draft or even third draft is just a way to organize your thoughts and show you how *not* to write this story. In a couple of months I plan on throwing a screenplay away and starting from scratch - and last night I scribbled some notes on the new screenplay.

Usually outlining prevents you from having to scrap a script. You devote a creative step to making sure the story works and is the best that it can be, then you go to script. When you are finding your story with your first draft, you are more likely to have to scrap all sorts of things that are not the story when you go to second draft - and this may also be part of a larger refining process where you keep throwing away drafts until you have figured out the story and know which scenes matter and which scenes don’t. But even with an outline you can screw up and have to scrap the first version of the script. And that means you have to be objective enough to reject that draft and get on to the next draft.

The script I’m throwing away had an interesting path to the page. A creative exec had asked me what I was working on, and I said I was trying to figure out this thriller script - and I pitched him the concept. Cool high concept - and the CE asked if he could read it when I finished the script. “Sure.” (Why else had I pitched him the concept? Part of the “what are you working on?” question is for them to see if they can get dibseys, and for us to pitch a script.) That would have been the end of that, but the production company connected with a distributor who was looking to do upscale action and thriller films... so the CE called me and asked if I could come in and pitch it to his boss. I had imagined the script as a big studio budget thing, they were looking for something a step down from that - but still a theatrical release with a star in the lead. Not a summer tentpole, but one of those genre films that comes at the end of summer - maybe $20m budget.

I pitched it, they liked it, they asked me if I would write a treatment for free that they could take to the distrib... I agreed... and wrote up a theatrical budget version of the story. There were still story problems that I hadn’t solved, but I did a good job of covering those up uin the treatment and hoped to solve them when we went to script. Everyone was happy with it - the producer gave it to the distrib and they were happy with it. They wanted the title changed - and I was cool with that...

And then something happened and the production company’s relationship with the distrib hit a bump and the project was dead before we went to script and before I was paid a cent. Welcome to Hollywood. But a couple of months later the CE called me again and asked if I would be interested in doing the low budget version of that idea for a cable network? I said I wasn’t sure it would work - though it had a cool concept, the treatment also had some big action set pieces and those wouldn’t work on a lower budget. Plus, the difference between an anything goes theatrical budget and a really tight cable budget meant lots of restructuring - I had to trim down the number of locations, get rid of crowd scenes, etc. But I was willing to write a new treatment - again for free. That new treatment didn’t work as well, and required that a bunch of set pieces that I thought were critical to the story be changed to small scenes at existing locations. Well, they liked the concept so much that they didn’t think the other things mattered... and they thought they had a star signed (I had two meetings with him to get his input - a guy who had starred in a couple of B theatrical action flicks). Because I was worried about the story problems that I still hadn’t ironed out (and they still hadn’t noticed) I thought I would get a jump on the project and start writing the screenplay - even though we didn’t have a contract, yet. Well, the whole thing crashed and burned when I was about at the end of act 1, so I never got paid a cent... and I still owned the script. I have actually bought back a couple of scripts that were shelved, but didn’t have to pay a cent for this one because I hadn’t been paid a cent.

At the time, I was doing other cable movies for other producers and though maybe this script would be something I could sell if I finished - so I got to Fade Out... and then set it aside because I had writing jobs lined up, and when I came back to it a couple of years later I decided the idea was too good for low budget, so I did a page one rewrite to bump the budget up to theatrical level and add some of the big set pieces... except not all of the big set pieces, because the story had changed. What I should have done at that point was throw the existing script away and started from scratch - but instead I tried to save what I had written. I ended up with big budget flesh on a low budget skeleton, and it just didn’t work. But a handful of big companies read it based on the concept... and almost all said they would read it again if I did a rewrite that fixed all of the problems. One producer asks about it every year... and every year I tell him that I have not done that rewrite, yet.

So, now I’m going to throw away the script and start from scratch. There may be some scenes from the earlier version that end up in this version - but they will be typed from scratch so that I don’t try to save something that doesn’t work. Basically I’m writing a new script with the same concept - only this time, hopefully it will work.

Sometimes you just have to throw all of that hard work away and just start from scratch.

- Bill

1 comment:

Todd said...

love The Driver, have fun... great tip on letting go of stuff... I am learning that concept

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