Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Rewrite Weekend

So, one of my circling projects is an older screenplay that some new folks are interested in. On Thursday I got a phone call that things were heating up and there would be some rewrite notes coming to me soon by e-mail, and if I might be able to do a quick rewrite over the weekend before it’s submitted that would be great.

By Friday evening, when I left to go to the movies with my friends - no e-mail.

Well, I made an executive decision - I had a basic idea of what the rewrite notes would be, and I also knew what *I* wanted to do to improve the script (and give it a better chance), so I thought I’d do a rewrite over the weekend anyway, and if their notes popped up I would work those in. I could wait (and do nothing) or work (and get things accomplished). I think human nature is to wait for the notes, but that's probably a mistake.

The two major things in this rewrite - a core change to match the demographics of the market which did not favor the sex of the lead character. Though there was some talk about giving every character a sex change - men turned to women and women turned to men, like in the second version of THE MALTESE FALCON - they decided it made more sense to keep everyone the same sex and just take the focus from the lead character and shift it two the two secondary leads of the opposite sex. The story stays the same, we just shift point of view - and that completely works in this story.

The other major thing was the ending. A dozen years ago when this was about to be made (and then fell apart at the last minute) that producer gave me some notes including a “Producer’s Twist”... and that screwed up the end of the script, and I’d have to rewrite the last 20 or so pages. You know how a plot twist isn’t something that *changes* the story, it merely reveals something that was already part of the story? THE SIXTH SENSE is a great example - that twist at the end isn’t a change at all, and when you view the film again you realize that the information revealed in that twist was *always* there - in every scene since page 7 - and you just hadn’t noticed it. (Or, maybe you had - some people claim they figured it out early). But a twist is something that has been set up and is part of the story all along, but revealed later. And once it is revealed, you go “Of course! It was there all along! How could I have missed it!” A “Producer’s Twist” doesn’t work that way at all - it’s some twist that was never set up, never part of the story - just tacked on at the end. Imagine if at the end of WITNESS there was this twist that Harrison Ford had been dead since getting shot in the parking lot and the Amish kid says in the last 5 minutes that he sees dead people... like Harrison. You watch the film again and there’s *nothing* that would ever make you think Harrison is dead - he interacts with everyone and dances in the barn, etc. It’s a complete tack-on. That would be a “Producer’s Twist” - they think they are being clever by adding an extra twist - and usually not just a twist that isn’t set up, but often makes no sense at all. Then you have to go off and type it up.

So, that producer a dozen years ago had come up with a “Producer’s Twist” to make the hero into the villain at the end... but the villain is also still the villain, so there’s just this extra unexplained villain at the end and no good guy at all. It just ruined the whole script, and the twist was completely unmotivated, and we ended up with no likeable characters by the end. So I had rewritten the last 20-25 pages to try to make it suck less and make slightly more sense, but I always hated that twist.

Okay, here’s the thing - technology has changed in the past dozen years. Back then a brand new desk top computer might have a 2GB hard drive... the laptop I’m typing this on has 500GBs! So storage was a premium, and all of my scripts were on floppies. Because floppies were not cheap, I didn’t have a disk for each draft - I’d just copy over the old draft with the new draft. Any cool scenes that got cut I’d save on another floppy - never know when I might find some use for them later. But when I did the rewrite that ruined this script a dozen years ago - I saved it over the good version. Now, somewhere there is a hard copy of that good version - but it would take me forever to find... easier to just figure out how to fix the end and remove that “Producer’s Twist” than find the old version on paper and *retype it*.

Again - another reason why it would be easy for me to do nothing. Hey, instead of working, I cvan just wait for the notes and do nothing! There are always good excuses not to work, we have to fight them. Nothing ever gets done if we allow all of those good reasons not to work to get in the way of working.

So, Saturday I did a marathon writing day - and by 1:25am (Sunday) I had rewritten the first 69 pages of the script, not only shifting the POV so that another character was the lead, but writing the big scenes that made that character into the lead and adding some new suspense scenes that I really liked... but Sunday would be the big day - those last 20 pages or so, plus the pages that came before them.

Sunday I was originally going to go to this paperback book show way the hell out in the west valley, but most of the writers I wanted to see were not going to be there... so I decided to skip it and finish the rewrite.

One of the things I had done in Saturday’s rewrite was to create a whole new suspense element that threaded throughout the screenplay - and paid off in some of Sunday’s early scenes. Another thing I had to deal with was intensifying a scene that created a domino reaction in Sunday’s pages. Plus the POV change stuff. Some of the characters who died before made it to the end this time around - and that had to be set up... and some of the characters who made it until the end last time died this time around (so they wouldn’t be there to do some of the story/plot things that had to be done, and some other character would have to do those things... and those characters would have to be changed to be the kind of people who would do those things - and that’s a major character overhaul that changes everything. Almost every line of their dialogue and almost every action had to be changed.

When I broke for dunch (between dinner and lunch - maybe “linner” sounds better?) I sat down with those last 22 pages (printed out) and figured out how the new ending would work. Some of the scenes could be salvaged, just with different characters in them (since the other folks were dead). Some new scenes had to be written. But the biggest thing was that the *order* of the scenes was completely different. Oh, and since the POV shift thing - a different character was the “hero” and a different character was the “love interest” and one of these characters had not survived before! But the romantic thing had to be wrapped up differently. I scribbled notes on the pages, along with arrows and cross outs and name changes... and by the time I had finished by dunch I knew what the last 20 pages or so would look like... now all I had to do is write them! Easy... not!

Just after midnight on Sunday (technically Monday) I had the rewrite finished. I did a final read through, caught 3 typos, made a decision to leave an iffy line of description, and e-mailed a copy for them to read first thing Monday morning.

I am happy with it - mostly due to some new suspense scenes I wrote Saturday that are "Hitchcockian". This thing is like WAIT UNTIL DARK and REBECCA and SPIRAL STAIRCASE and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN all rolled into one...

But the moral of the story? Sometimes you have to do an enormous amount of work in a limited amount of time and you can’t wait for inspiration - you have to learn to inspire yourself. For me, the hardest part is getting started. Once I get going, I get into the story and characters and get excited about figuring out how to fix that next scene. But I have to push myself for a while - and write even though I’d rather do something else (anything else). You have to learn how to give yourself that push - and get enough momentum going that you get into that writing groove... even though you may not feel like it. Screenwriting is a job where you might have plenty of time to write the first few drafts and then some insane deadline to do the rewrite they are actually going to film. In this case, most of the “work” was getting myself off my lazy butt and into that rewrite. I could have done some work on Friday, but thought I’d just wait for the notes... and mostly goofed off all day!

Today I’m “goofing off” writing this, when I’m supposed to be working on another script project. It’s easy to lose the momentum and watch the latest YouTube video where Hitler has problems with Rebecca Black’s FRIDAY song and blows his top... but we have to self-motivate and get those pages done! Especially if we have plenty of time to write that first draft.

- Bill

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Be Indispensible - what makes you a good employee at your day job makes you a good writer.
Dinner: Subway - tuna melt.
Pages: Didn't make my 5 pages on Monday, but did some work over the weekend.
Bicycle: New bike - hardly ridden! It's been raining every day in Los Angeles. Monday it didn't rain, but was cloudy and muddy. Plan to ride Tuesday.
Movies: LIMITLESS and LINCOLN LAWYER and 2 others in the cinema we'll discuss later... when they are released.

1 comment:

Todd said...

Great post on discipline for rewrites. That's the ticket right there. Write. No time off.

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