Tried & True #13 – The Director’s Horrifying Rewrite

© Pixelbliss - Fotolia.comWhen I think about Friday the 13th and all of its horror, I can’t help but consider the horrifying feeling a writer gets when the director starts hacking at his work. It gets even more complicated when the writer is the director and a part of a team of writers, which is my case with Tried & True.

For the past two weeks I dove into my script analysis from a director’s vantage point. I found a dozen scenes that didn’t move the story forward and I also found half dozen scenes that need to be added to the story – All to focus the story more tightly on the protagonist.

Ruthless Script Analysis

I do several analysis passes on a script in order to prepare for filming and discussions with each of my department heads. During the process, it becomes obvious which scenes are cinematic and which ones would make for a nice Movie of the Week (MOW).

My standard is to make the story so fascinating and cinematic that it has to play on the big screen. I also want to make sure the story is easy to follow and any complexities are used more as a garnish for the discerning viewer, rather than a plot interrupter for those who can’t or choose not to follow such details.

What I find interesting about the process is how many scenes stay intact with minor changes that tweak the perspective. I expect the pacing of the film to increase with the add precision or focus on the main character’s goals, but no matter how many times I’ve done this I’m always amazed at the new clarity that rises within the plotlines.

Complex stories always fail at the box office, but simple stories surrounded in a complexity of details do extremely well. It’s like listening to a great speaker. If he’s on point with his message, no matter how many supporting facts or stories he shares, people will always walk away knowing his specific three points with a desire to implement his recommendation.

Horrifying Cuts Bring Happiness

So the hacking began and I noticed a slight twitch in my pride. It was hard cutting scenes, but the final read was well worth it. Not to mention the benefits of reducing the page count to something more palatable for a courtroom drama.

I also noticed that the process helped me catch the typical contrived scenes that always seep into family friendly films. While these trite scenes have no place in a drama, they are endearing and hard to cut. The only solace received from cutting these scenes comes from the fact that no one notices they were cut. In other words, since they didn’t advance the story they couldn’t be missed.

Considering what elements in a scene must remain or be shifted to another scene makes for an interesting process. I sometimes wonder if I completely deleted a scene would it impact or change the story. If there is no impact, then it is one that must be cut. If, however, a couple elements are important, but could be relocated, then the scene is also worth cutting.

It’s only when the scene elements are so well integrated into the scene and critically important to the story that I have to keep it in the script. In those cases, I may have to find a way to punch up the scene to something worthy of the silver screen, or reanalyze the story structure to make sure I hadn’t veered off the path of clarity.

Horrified Co-Writers

One of the biggest issues during the analysis process is making sure you do something to save face for the other writers. I’m fortunate with Tried & True screenwriter Guy Cote, as he is always willing to bend on scene content when the replacement idea is far better or more focused than the previous draft.

Producer Anthony DeRosa is also willing to bend if he knows the scene works better for our audience. Since the film was written for Millennials, with added scenes that will help the Baby Boomers to embrace the story, we have quite the fine line to walk in how each scene is presented.

As for the Gen X audience, they too should be pleased with the story, but none of the scene elements were created with them in mind. However, GenXers are very resilient from having to play middleman between the Millennials and Baby Boomers that they will certainly be able to enjoy the story, if not embrace it.

Well, its time to get back to the script, as I’m still trying to figure out how to get rid of one last contrived scene. I’m hoping to shift into preproduction in the near future with the hopes that we can begin filming in late August or early September. So, the only real horror would be if I couldn’t have the script ready in time. Happy Friday the 13th.

Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers
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How to Become a G.R.E.A.T. Screenwriter

© Pixelbliss - Fotolia.comOver the past few years I’ve spoken with a couple dozen screenwriters including three Oscar® winners. In each conversation I’ve asked how I should best spend my 10,000 hours in becoming a great screenwriter. For those of you not familiar with Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell repeatedly mentions the “10,000-Hour Rule”, claiming that it took experts in any given field 10,000 hours of task specific practice to master their craft.

In this article, I’ve summarized the various answers that I’ve received and created the G.R.E.A.T. acronym to share how to set 21-40 hours a week aside to become a great screenwriter.

G.  GO TO THE MOVIES every week (2-4 hours/week). Screenwriters go to a minimum of one movie every week on average. Additional movies can be watched on NETFLIX or from a personal DVD/Blu-Ray library (which all screenwriters own), but it’s critically important for screenwriters to attend films in theatres every week. This brings an advantage of understanding their audience and how they react to various types of scenes in a movie.

R.  READ A SCREENPLAY every week (2-3 hours/week). Studios make their best screenplays available every year for Oscar® nomination consideration. Screenwriters download the 20-30 screenplays and read each one to learn about their competition and to glean any useful information to improve his or her skills. Screenplays can also be found online and purchased from writer stores.

E.  EXERCISE WRITING SKILLS every day (14-28 hours/week). Authors write and screenwriters do the same every day. Yes, every day. Screenwriters experience what some refer to as a form of withdrawal when they don’t write. The creative side of the brain is very aware of its lack on the days that the writer doesn’t reduce some thoughts to writing. All professionals stay up on their writing to stay polished and creative.

A.  ASSOCIATE WITH SCREENWRITERS every month (1 hour/week). While networking is critical in the entertainment business, staying connected to associate screenwriters is also important. The creative soul is helped by the sharing of tips and tricks, along with the sharing of related circumstances that only writers understand. These comradery sessions encourage us to better ourselves regularly so we have something worth sharing.

T.  TAKE NOTES every day (2-4 hours/week). Screenwriters find great moments in every day life that are worth capturing for their “future” folder. During the research phase of a given story everything is captured in multiple forms for later. This might include roughing out a quick draft of a given scene, collecting clips from another source that can be adapted, or research notes captured on a napkin or scratch pad when submerged in the library or surfing the net. Those who try to stash the information in their memory typically lose those great moments.

The G.R.E.A.T. Screenwriter is a person who does all of the above without giving it consideration, as it is a part of who he or she is. The process is fulfilling for the screenwriter and makes total sense. However, the person who wants to be a screenwriter, but doesn’t have it in their veins will find the above list painful to execute.

For instance, a screenwriter will not only watch the films they love and the types of films they desire to write, but will also watch films they would never normally watch to better understand the genre, style, and narrative structure. On the other hand, the non-writer who wants to craft a screenplay will avoid films they don’t like and that don’t match the type of story they want to write.

While studying Scorsese’s film, The Wolf of Wall Street, I learned that the screenwriter used the F-word 506 times. Due to the rule of diminishing returns, the word was weakened to a meaningless quip. By understanding the lack of impact that film made on me, I was able to rewrite an action film without any language. By the end of the story when the main character screams out, “No!”, it actually makes a far greater impact than the F-word did in Scorsese’s film.

Copyright © 2014 by CJ Powers