I’ve been working on this film script for 4 years now. It started as a short story which got optioned. Then, my producer and script consultant thought it would make a good feature, so I started the journey of writing the screenplay.
Writing on your own is great because you’ve got full control. But when you get script consultants involved they’ve got their own ideas which, in the beginning, I felt obligated to incorporate. I tried to please everyone. Which, as we know, is impossible.
Enter story problems.
Story problems are good because they force us to think hard and deep about everything, character, plot twists, need, want, outer journey, inner journeys etc. etc.
Now, after 4 years of thinking (and writing) I’ve finally got a story I think works. What was the process? I think 3 things.
First, I was brutally honest with myself. I asked myself ‘if this script landed on your desk, would you make it? Would you invest six months to a year of your life finding a budget, casting, working with actors, crew etc and then post-production editing, soundtrack, distributors and sales agents. Does this script warrant that amount of work?’ My answer was No, I wouldn’t make it. Because there was too much plot. It was too wishy-washy. There was too much happening.
Next, I asked myself if I was moved. Did this story affect me emotionally? Again, the answer was No. I was bored. And I knew why. If I changed the script in a way to improve it I would have to ditch an idea from the script consultant, which I was scared to do for fear of losing interest or being accused of not being able to take feedback. But the fact was the script wasn’t working. And I couldn’t write it with the current plot. If I wanted to keep working on the script I had to make major changes.
Thirdly, I asked myself if the concept was original. Had I seen it before? And I answered No, it wasn’t. And yes, I had seen it before.
So, what could I do? Scrap it, put the last 4 years down to experience? A learning curve? Or attack the script’s issues. I was faced with 3 problems, which, through a glass-half-full lens, was three opportunities:
How could I give the story 1. a strong plot 2. emotional power and 3. an original concept?
I brought out the hatchet. I hacked off all the dead branches from a sprawling, tangled tree and left myself a solid, strong oak.
So my advice to writers just embarking on a story journey is this. Explore every avenue. Write hundreds of drafts of shite. Listen to everyone’s advice. Then forget everything everyone has told you and get back to the reason you write. What makes the story personal to you? Get angry. Get emotional. Dig deep.
A screenplay seems to be a fusion of research, imagination and experience. So throw these three into the mix. And…