Making the circuit of film festivals as a screenwriter is difficult. Not because of the thousands of entries that your work competes against, but because when you don’t win there is always a reason. Hopefully it’s not that your script has inadequacies, but because there was a better story out there being told.
So far STEELE BLUE: The Forgotten Crime has made it into three festivals and was rejected by one. My story has placed, made it as a finalist, and a semi-finalist. While I’d like to pat myself on the back for writing a script that has gotten extremely far compared to the vast majority of submitted scripts, I tend to focus on the “why” of my story not working.
Please don’t get me wrong. I do appreciate my script being accepted in several genre specific, prominent and gold status festivals. But I’m realistic enough to know that there is always room to improve my story. Clearly the basis of the story isn’t bad, but the way I chose to tell it didn’t sit perfectly with a couple of judges and studio executives. This gives me an opportunity to find a better way to introduce certain elements to make the story easier for all audiences to embrace.
Based on the shared judge’s responses, I’ve learned that the factual oddities of PTSD are stranger than fiction and hard for judges to swallow. That’s right, the factual information I put into the story is what audiences have a hard time accepting. They love the death-defying truck chase on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, which is barely plausible in its far-reaching fictionalization, but the truth of a specific type of PTSD makes the story unbelievable for some.
I need to better couch the truth or fictionalize the illness into something more palatable for the audience. Since the biggest issue is that some don’t accept the fact that people would live according to what a doctor prescribes, I have to consider demonstrating how that would play out. While this eats up critical story time, I have to make sure the world I’m building is plausible to the audience. After all, if they don’t buy into how this illness actually works, the entire action plotline crumbles.
These types of struggles are why only a small percentage of stories are written by one person. Many times it takes another perspective to round out a story so it’s more easily digested by a broader audience. But once the concept is accepted, the rest of the story flows as imagined.
Extending the opening of the story to show Cassie in her immediate PTSD home life, instead of jumping to eleven years later, should do the trick. Unfortunately, I have to cut several later scenes in the story to keep the film at a good length based on its genre. A few added scenes earlier in the picture won’t take but a few days to write, but cutting a few scenes out of a later portion of the movie could take weeks.
The strengthening of the story through this festival process causes me to question whether or not I go back and do a rewrite on the book. I can’t help but wonder if the same objections to the story exist with readers of the book.
I may have to consider a rewrite or be prepared for the audience to say the movie was better than the book—Since film is my first language, I’m okay with the film being a better story. However, I do like to make sure my stories are always the best they can be for all audiences.
© 2020 by CJ Powers