Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Confessions Of A Draft Dodger

Everyone says it, and everyone knows it’s true: Screenwriting is rewriting. But why is the rewrite such a pain?

A budding screenwriter on hearing
his first draft isn't Oscar material
I recently entered a new script of mine into Phil Gladwin's Screenwriting Goldmine competition and it didn’t get anywhere. I knew this would happen when I submitted it. Not because I have such a low opinion of my own writing. Precisely the opposite, probably. Hubris. It was only a first draft, and I knew as much. Not a totally incoherent vomit draft, but a first draft as in: Meticulous outlining, reams of notes, a wall full of index cards, a detailed treatment, a rough first draft, an edited first draft, an edited-again-after-getting-professional-feedback (from the likes of Danny Stack) first draft. In other words, a first draft as in: This is a good starting point rather than a script that is as good as I can ever get it and ready to show off to industry people.

It’s Not Ready. Get Over Yourself.
The thrill of typing Fade Out after all the hard work that gets you there, can be blinding. I don’t know how it works in terms of neuroscience, but I’m guessing it’s a bit like fashion. You see old pictures of yourself and you wonder how you could ever have seriously liked flared jeans, padded shoulders or spiky hair. I mean, come on, anyone can see how ridiculous that looks… now. In terms of writing, it’s a similar process of mental adjustment, but the process is faster. When you finish writing the draft, everything in it seems cool and just right. Leave it alone for a while, write something else, forget about it and then reread it and then it will hit you… wow, did I seriously think that line was funny, or that scene was full of suspense? That’s a critical moment, when you can go one of two ways: admit the script isn’t ready and get over yourself, or go into denial and pretend/hope/pray no one will notice. Guess which is more sensible.

Listen To The Voice You Most Want Ignore
If you’re seriously mentally ill, skip this bit. If, like me, you’re only moderately insane, then you probably also have this very, very quiet voice in your head that is always annoyingly correct in retrospect. It whispers barely audible script notes which you really do not want to hear (because they demand additional work) and which are remarkably easy to pretend you didn’t hear. Or perhaps you find yourself imagining an encounter with an imaginary movie executive in an imaginary world where you’re invited in to discuss your imaginarily polished script which in reality is still a first draft. And the imaginary executive has a shitload of really tough notes and questions about the script. News flash: The imaginary exec is the part of your mind that knows what’s still wrong with the script. Don’t ignore it, because it has your best interests at heart: Trying to market a half-baked script reflects badly on you the writer. It closes rather than opens doors. Better to spend more time fixing stuff first.

Dogs Don’t Fool Themselves, Humans Do
It’s not a pretty thing to own up to, but if this experience has taught me one thing, it’s that I’m (still) really good at fooling myself. If I were a dog (in the taxonomical sense), I would not try to pretend, say, that I had sniffed a lamppost long enough if I still weren’t genuinely 100% sure the neighbour’s bitch had been there five minutes ago. I might feign hunger if I thought I’d get an extra bowlful of Bonzo, but I wouldn’t try and convince myself I didn’t want to eat if my stomach told me otherwise. I’m guessing a dog wouldn’t know how to do that even if it wanted to. It’s a peculiarly human trait to be able to override one’s instinctive drives or intuitive insights by envisaging the consequences of an action. In many situations this is an excellent thing, and it keeps millions of people out of prison and mental institutions every day. But sometimes an instinct or intuition can be a life-saver too. However, you won’t know which it is if you don’t acknowledge it in the first place.
If only I'd listened to my intuition...

In any case, from now on I’ll be paying more attention to my intuition, listening out more often for that little voice (but not in public places, I promise), and in general being less of a dog.

On a final note, my script involved a wedding band, and I was considering registering for the upcoming London Screenwriting Festival's Comedy ScriptLab with this script as a possible starting point for a TV comedy show. So I thought I’d just do a bit of research and discovered to my horror (just in time) that Turner TV is about to launch a new TV sitcom called, wait for it… The Wedding Band, featuring some very similar characters to the ones in my script. Feeling suitably pissed off that someone had stolen my premise (see, still fooling myself), I thought for a while I’d just use the script for toilet paper. Then the answer hit me: Drop the wedding band and rewrite the script from page one. It will make the premise, the lead character and the entire story much leaner and more like the father-and-son adventure I originally intended it to be. Now suddenly I feel all Zen about rewriting. 

I swear I will never understand this screenwriting thing.


Adaddinsane said...

Serendipity - I said similar things on my blog too.

Raving Dave Herman said...

Just read your post, and now I wish I'd sent in my other four scripts too... ;) Just goes to show you though, that the necessity of rewriting is something we all know about and ignore at our peril!