Coming to Grips With Rewriting

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For a while, I hated the thought of re-writing. Loathed it, in fact. At this point in time, my reference for re-writes came mainly from the studios bringing in new writers to eviscerate a decent script into a complete pile of shit. (“Nottingham” or “Green Lantern” anyone?)

I was young, I was stupid, I was uneducated.

I thought rewriting your own script meant a complete page-one rewrite where you change the names and genders of all your characters and reset your story in space. Or something. Like I said, I was stupid.

Some perspective is needed. When I first started writing, I thought I could write pretty well, and just needed to learn formatting. This was mainly assumed because of the scripts I was reading were all completed versions typed up nicely after the movies came out. These are a horrible example of scripts to read in one sense: these tend to have camera directions, scene numbers, and the writers may sometimes write extensive paragraphs of description.

On the flipside, these scripts can be a terrific resource when looking for how to write great character descriptions, taught action sequences, and a wide variety of descriptive verbs.

When I say I was uneducated, that is partially true. I had gone through David Trottier’s book for formatting. This became a large problem.

As I’ve stated before, when I discovered Scriptshadow, the doors to an education in Screenwriting were blown wide open. One of the earliest things I remember reading was to never, under any circumstance, have a description paragraph be longer than three lines. This was a game changer, and a bit of a wake up call.

In Trottier’s book, he said it was okay to have (If memory serves) no more than five lines of description. Then, in the next edition, he reduces that number to four lines. Thus, I began to really take issue with this so-called guru. He kept changing the rules every single edition. Add to that, his latest edition of the book still states that the dialogue blocks can be four inches wide.

In the first article I read of Carson’s, he discussed cheating the margins, and how bad it looks on the writer. Since then, I have only glanced at Trottier’s book a couple of times just to compare recent editions.

In the year I’ve frequented the site, I have read current articles as well as the first year’s worth of archives; this leads me to state the following: He is consistent as hell! There are few to no differences in what he has been saying. If he changes his mind, or shows how an exception to a previous theory can work.

And that’s a big deal to me. With Trottier, his message was “Do this this way, because that’s how it’s done!” and with Carson, his message is “Using this movie as an example, here’s an example of how you can make a straight-up exposition scene become way more interesting.” FYI, the example I just used was from his breakdown of “The Big Lebowski.”

Scriptshadow is all about constantly learning a craft and finding ways and examples of how to improve.

This is the type of education I will take over all others. The we’re-all-in-the-same-boat idea. We’re learning together. Nothing turns by brain off like the teacher who acts like a know-it-all with his paint-by-numbers lessons that say there is only one way of doing things.

With a year’s worth of education absorbed, I can look back on previous projects with a clear sense of what I did wrong.

A couple of Scriptshadow articles really made me take notice: 10 Ways I Know I’m Reading an Amateur Script and Thoughts from a Script Reader. Both of these mentioned a couple of issues readers had with a script I submitted, and I never really knew how to address them in the next pass.

The big thing was discussing the fact that there were too many characters, some of whom didn’t seen three-dimensional. That was something I never quite understood. The characters were so clear in my head, why weren’t they coming across as clear on the page?

First things first, I never wrote up biographies for my characters. It seemed like too much of a hassle, and all I wanted to do was get to the writing. What I soon learned was that by digging deep into each character’s past, you will be able to create a character with consistent actions from beginning to end. If a character’s actions are inconsistent, it just shows the reader that the story was made up on the fly, and no real effort seemed to be put in.

Here’s a bit of character perspective: A one-dimensional character is nothing more than a single character trait. You see these on bad TV dramas. The heroin addict who is only seen getting high and doing literally nothing else. (A bit part) A two-dimensional character is a person with a family, some friends, and a couple traits. Maybe they’re successful, maybe they’re funny. We may find out a little about them, but only a bit. (A guest star) A three-dimensional character is someone whose past has been fully explored, and their current traits, habits, and behaviors reflect that exploration. (A series regular)

While all three of these types of characters might (and almost certainly do) appear in an episode of “CSI,” which of the three are we most likely to respond to? The most fleshed out, of course. Save for Sara Sidle, I could imagine being friends with all of the main characters.

With this knowledge in mind, I recently came across Carson’s article on rewriting. This made a ton of sense. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. (This site tends to have a lot of those moments) Basically, you go through the draft in passes, with each new pass focusing on one character. That way, you make sure they have proper motivation, a clear voice, and they’re consistent throughout. And best of all, you’re reading a story from THEIR perspective. That way, hell, you can just look at their previously written actions and say, “There’s NO WAY Tony would ditch his girlfriend to hang out with Jimmy; he already told him he had dinner with her parents that night. This is a major plot-hole!” I’m exaggerating the situation, but you get the gist.

From now on, I see rewriting as each pass being another chance at making the original idea stronger, not rethinking the whole thing. Sure, some things may change, but who knows? It may be for the best.

Since reading the rewrite article, I’ve come up with a few ideas of my own for the types of passes that can be done to enhance the script. I won’t share them until I test them, and be sure that I’m on the right track.

This has been a terrific year of education that I couldn’t be more thankful to have gotten the chance to undertake. I look forward to continuing with this endeavor and seeing how much I’ve improved as a writer after I complete the next script.

Until next time, Movie Buffs!


Preparing for Action

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Sorry it’s been a bit since my last useful post. My family and I just finished moving to a new place and all of my notes for future projects have all been in storage. Now I have them, so I plan on getting the ball rolling on making progress. There’s a lot to do, so a plan is always necessary.

On the right of the page is the list of my current projects. The one that’s the highest priority right now is “Soldiers of Fortune” so that’s what in all likelihood I’ll be updating you on the most as far as personal projects go.

The other one is “Hindsight.” With that one, the updates will more likely than not be about taking the finished script and breaking it down for potential production.

One side note: My old computer with all of my software (Photoshop, Sony Vegas, etc.) is in the midst of dying. More specifically, the hard drive is failing. Having been without employment for nine months make replacing the parts a more trying task.

The unemployment has been intentional, however. I was going to utilize a year or so to write a few spec scripts before once again gaining employment so I could save up to move to Los Angeles. My parents’ decision to move to North Carolina did upset that plan, but when you’re living rent-free (for now, anyway) you aren’t left with a whole ton of options.

I am planning a computer build in the near future, and that project I will most likely document on here as well. (An editing/authoring machine — it’s been in the works for a few years now) I will most likely have to get a job here in Madison before the move to North Carolina to start saving up. I’m hoping in the free time I have, I will be able to fine-tune my screenwriting process and figure out how to utilize what little time I’ll have to maximize results.

Right now, this week and next are going to be devoted to getting 100% settled in to the new apartment, and getting my head back into the screenwriting game. In the near future, you should expect a few more films dissected for screenwriting tips to be gained from them.

I’m thinking these will focus on the lower budget (in my mind) spectrum of filmmaking. IE, what I can put into the low budget feature script that I can shoot locally and still have the project kick ass. Right now, I’m thinking of looking at the first three features directed by Tarantino, for starters.

There are some other really good titles in mind, but I’ll discuss them later. So I’ll beg your indulgence, since this week will be a little slow.

Until next time, Movie Buffs.

I Got to See “Nebraska”

I love the UW Cinematheque. I mean, I LOVE the UW Cinematheque. These guys are awesome! Over the years, I’ve gotten to see some A-Class films. Usually on 35mm, too. Oh, and did I mention… for free!! How cool is that? I’m not trying to brag or anything, I’m just really happy I found out about this when I did. Among the films I’ve gotten to see: “The Third Man,” “The Bicycle Thief,” “Once Upon a Time in the West,” “Rope,” “North by Northwest,” and “Psycho.” But this isn’t about those. No, this is about an event I attended earlier this month. A special presentation of Alexander Payne’s latest film, “Nebraska.” On 35mm. For free. Oh, and Alexander Payne himself IN ATTENDANCE!

I got to see this film with who I consider to be one of my two best friends. It was this friend, who just so happened to introduce me to the works of Alexander Payne. The exact title is up in the air, but discussion after the screening prompted us to believe it was “Election” that we both saw first. We have both been fans for the better part of a decade now, and Alexander Payne is one of the few directors who, in our opinions, has never made a bad film and who retains a perfect track record with us. As another bit of coincidence would have it, this friend and I saw his last film, “The Descendants” on my birthday of that year. Possibly on 35mm, I’m not certain.

The day they made the announcement, you couldn’t imagine just how stoked I was. The movie was one thing. But to have the man himself there? That was better than my birthday and Christmas combined!

The buildup to the event was enormous. The event itself was big. A huge turnout. I would imagine it was a packed house. They asked several times for people with open seats next to them to put their hand up. Then, after mad anticipation, Alexander Payne came out and introduced the film, thanking everyone for the huge turnout, and letting us know that since this was the first film he’d shot digitally, this was the first time outside of the lab that he was going to see a film print of it. Then the lights dimmed.

“Nebraska” was a terrific film. Like all of Payne’s works, it was witty, dramatic, and most importantly, heartfelt. The summary is quite simple. An elderly man (Bruce Dern’s Woody), aided by his son (Will Forte’s David), tries to claim a one million dollar sweepstakes he received in the mail.

It was a terrific romp. Bruce Dern, who briefly appeared in 2012’s “Django Unchained” stole damn near every scene he was in. Will Forte, formerly of Saturday Night Live, gives a great performance as well. I’m hoping he’ll be able to land a few roles akin to this in the future.

The film itself was fantastic. My only quips were a few scenes in the beginning that felt a little too on-the-nose and expositional. But thankfully, those are just in the first five or so minutes. From that point on, it becomes a journey trying to answer the question brought up in “Back to the Future”: How well do I know my own parents? Here, Forte’s David goes about his father’s boyhood town and learns about his dad’s past, both interesting and sometimes a little more than he needed to know. A truly great scene is near the end when the family visits Woody’s family’s home, which he remarks, his dad built himself. The scene is silent with members of the family exploring the now weathered remains. This is an example of nostalgia done right. The entire film is a case study in how you can create distinct and memorable characters.

Following the screening, Alexander came out and there was a short Q&A. It was only able to be a few minutes since there was a screening of another film afterward. He stated that he was glad the film played as well as it did as he was in high spirits. He much more energetic in person than one might expect from past interviews.

As luck would have it, I was one of the lucky few to ask a question. After the Q&A, my friend and I got to shake hands with him and thank him for coming. My friend’s friend who accompanied us to the event even got an autograph. I had hoped we might get a photo with him, but alas, time did not allow for it. We all left the event in high spirits and agreed that this was the highlight of the year.

Once again, Mr. Payne did not disappoint, adding yet another perfect title to his repertoire. The man’s record remains untarnished in my eyes. I cannot recommend the film enough. It’s a masterpiece worth watching over and over again. Like all of Mr. Payne’s films, it should be used as a learning tool for figuring out how to craft your own voice.

I cannot begin to thank the UW Cinematheque enough for this momentous event. I hope they are able to do more like this, but if not, this was a smashing success that I guarantee will live long in the memories of all those in attendance. With regard to Mr. Payne, I eagerly await his next undertaking.

Not pictured: a satisfied audience.