Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why My Screenplay Was In Desperate Need Of Notes

I don't know how you typically feel after writing those blessed words, "Fade Out" at the end of a first draft, but I fluctuate somewhere between a fat cat in a patch of sunlight and a dog with his head out the window of the family Buick. Basically euphoric. The happy dance ensues, the champagne flows, and my inner child sings, "I wrote a screenplay! Nanny, nanny, nanny!" It's beautiful. For the rest of the week, I give my laptop a breather and bask in my accomplishment. "I would love to brunch with you! No need to write today, you see." "Why not go shopping? I'll be rich when they see my screenplay!" "This movie is so horribly written. I could have done much better, as evidenced by the future award winner living in my laptop's hard drive." 

Then I read the thing.

"WHAT IS THIS CRAP?" Suddenly clouds cover the sun and the Buick breaks down on the side of the road. "What happened to the life changing piece of art I finished writing only a week ago? Why is everything so boring? I completely forgot about this character! How did I miss this GIGANTIC plot hole? Wow, I suck." 

At that point I often fall into one of three traps:

1) Convince myself it really is wonderful and that I simply need to make a couple minor grammar tweaks; make those tweaks and call the thing done(ish). After all, I loved it for a reason, right? It must be mostly brilliant. I'm probably being too hard on myself.

2) Scrap the whole darn thing. Accept the fact that I ruined the project and it is beyond saving.

3) Rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite, et. until it no longer resembles anything close to the initial pitch and still has the same structural, thematic, or character problems the first draft had.

I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in this. At least I hope I'm not. If you've ever been in the same place as me, perhaps these words will give you some confidence.

First drafts will never be brilliant. They're first drafts. They should, however, show the potential for brilliance. More than likely, I totally nailed at least one thing I was going for. (You probably did too!) The truth of the matter is rewrites are completely, 100% necessary to the screenwriting process but (and here's the kicker) I will never be far enough removed from my work to rewrite with purpose. And purpose is the main thing a rewrite needs to have.

How do you find a purpose for your rewrite? Notes, my friend. Get notes.

Notes [from the right person] will...

Identify what works well.

Remember how stoked you were when you finished the draft? There must be at lease the potential for brilliance in there. A note-giver can read your story without the bitterness of falling short and highlight the moments of brilliance you can expand in the rewrite.

Pinpoint exactly what isn't working.

When you've been with this story for weeks or months on end, it's easy to make allowances. You answer questions subconsciously to which your audience won't have access. A note-giver can help you find those plot holes and figure out how to fill them.

Your note-giver also won't have any loyalties. If a scene, line, or character isn't working, your note-giver is free to admit it without feeling like he or she is betraying a friend or killing a darling. The story is king. Your note-giver can keep to that rule much more naturally than you can.

Help you figure out exactly what your story is about.

Often I've found that my story theme changes midway through the first draft. I don't even realize it's about something new until the second time I've read it all the way through. Your note-giver can help you determine which theme is stronger and how you can make the whole thing consistent.

This is also true with the whole feel of a piece. Asking your note-giver how he or she felt about characters, moments, and themes will help you figure out if you're succeeding with the feel you were aiming for. Then you can decide if it's still the feel you'd like to have or if you'd like to change it in the rewrites.

Catch all the little grammatical and formatting mistakes you missed.

Cut yourself some slack, you were probably staring at that screen for a while. That said, it is never acceptable to submit a script with grammar or formatting errors to contests or executives. 

Get you pumped.

Let's face it. No one writes a screenplay just to have it. We write a screenplay so it will become a movie so people will see it. Having someone else read your work feels sort of like a baby version of that. It's step one. Yes, it's scary. Yes, it's taking a chance. Yes, they might hate it. But they're reading it. And that means they can probably help you make it better. So get pumped!

Now go out there and get notes from someone. Give your rewrite a purpose! I know I will!

Need help deciphering the notes you've received?

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