Thursday, November 29, 2012

All Done? Good, Give Me One More Draft!

So you're all done, ay?  Good to know. Give me one more draft!

You'll hear that again and again when making a film, commonly even up through pre-production.  I'm so used to rewriting that it's tough to consider myself done with anything as a writer just about ever.  But sometimes it's time to truly stop and safely assume your script is ready to be shot.  My feature, Trust Us, has been through so many drafts over the years that I really think I've lost count.  It went from a 10 page play, to a 30 page play, to a 120 page or so script... to a billion new drafts of that script.  I have to say, though, every draft seems to get better, and when I think I'm done, there's always a way to improve it.  I'm convinced that fact never changes.  There's a point, however, when changes start to hurt a script.  I thought I might be at that point, but, as a few newcomers have come to help out the project with a fresh outlook on the script, I learned very quickly that's it true: there's always room for one more.

Trust me, I'm the last person on this project who thinks I need a rewrite.  So many people have responded so well to the script already.  But then I heard why some things could be tweaked and therefore improved.  Perspective is an interesting word when applied to writing.  When I finish a draft of any of my screenplays for the first time, I know there's work to be done on another draft.  I also wrote down what I thought was best at the time.  I know I need to step away and come back.  Suddenly, my perspective changes.  Man, I could really improve this.  This isn't what I thought I wrote.  This is a GOOD thing.  This means you're ready for your next draft.

In my case, I've done this several times.  But sometimes a new perspective is useful at the very end of the writing process.  It's not even about what's missing or wrong with the script at this point.  It's more about how can I really put this over the edge.  What things can be done that my team and I have been overlooking this whole time?  How can I explain this to those who don't know the script like the back of their hand?  Folks, we run out of new readers with fresh eyes over a couple of year's time.  Everyone you would show the script to has read it.  Everyone's comfortable.  This is exactly why that one last draft could be necessary.  You really know this when you start hearing of ways to improve your script, and you as the writer simply get excited.

I haven't touched Trust Us in over a year, so going back to it now isn't so bad.  It's one last chance to try going to some places you didn't go to yet.  Maybe two characters interact that you thought never would, and it becomes a cool scene you wish you always had!  Maybe there's a new way to explain information to make it easier for the audience.  Maybe one character needs to add one aspect to make him or her a hundred times more interesting.  Maybe it's better to flip the order of two scenes.  These places usually exist in the script, and as the writer of a million drafts, you may not be qualified to find them anymore.  Rest assured, when someone does, and it's good stuff, you're going to be salivating to get it in there and make last minute tweaks.

Now, there's always a time to stop rewriting.  Don't drive yourself crazy feeling like you NEED to rewrite.  You may not, and you'll know whether things work or don't work when you give it another go.  The only way to know this for sure is to stay true to the script.  But please, don't ever feel you're the only one who can improve your own script.  That's very far from the truth.  I've had people read and re-read my script and give comments, and if they're good, you'd better believe I'm fixing things.  I'd be arrogant (and foolish) to not listen to anybody.  Film is far too collaborative and complex for that.  Don't just take any critique that comes your way either, though.  Make sure it's the best thing for your film.  Stick to your guns when necessary if you think everyone's crazy, but if there's even a hint of logic in the consensus: they're probably right, you're probably wrong.  Just as us writers and directors need to scrap every bad idea that comes our way, sometimes we need people to scrap our bad ideas that come their way, too.  In film you're surrounded by such creative and smart minds, why would we not use that to our film's advantage?  That's craziness!  My script is so much better because I took the advice of people I trust.  At some point the film has to become even bigger than the filmmaker in order to make it work.  At the same time, as the filmmaker and creator of the project, I have to be true to myself in process.  I'm realizing now why we call our movies our "babies."  Once born, I have to put its needs in front of everything, even me.

So this isn't about the rewrites we do before we show our screenplay to people, it's about the rewrites you do after.  The kind that has to impress everyone involved: the producers, the cast, the audience,  the marketing, and in non-indie cases, the studio.  After all, aren't we out to impress everyone with our film?  We want the audience to love it too, so don't count them out because you think you have a monopoly on what's good.  Save that stuff for the old guy with the monocle.  That's not what filmmaking is.  When outside forces (NOT you) start to form ideas, opinions, and directions, you just may see things you simply weren't concentrating on: plot holes, character choices, logistics, the order of events... whatever.  Once pointed out, these things are hard to ignore, and you would have probably never seen them otherwise.  And my movie is about time travel!  If that's not something that would create questions, concerns, and needed explanations, I don't know what would.

I've had several drafts, but I recently learned there's room for one more draft of Trust Us. This is how I hope to turn what I think is an excellent idea, to a promising script, to a good script, to a great script, to an excellent script.  (We all think our scripts are excellent, can't I too?) Just know, one helpful way to be excellent is to be done... then have just one more draft!