Thursday, 1 May 2014

Update 3 - It's easy when it's good

Next topic.  Barely even a topic in fact, more a statement.  It’s easier to write when you know what you’re writing is good.

World’s most obvious sentence?  Possibly, but it feels pertinent.  Over the last few years I’ve worked on a couple of projects that have been quite hard work.  Round peg, square hole kind of jobs.  Books that don’t naturally lend themselves to film adaptation – at least, not without wholesale reinterpretation.  Rewrites with conflicting notes flying in from all directions.  One-line pitches that don’t quite extend to a hundred pages.

You do the work, you go through the process, you put something together that looks and feels like a screenplay, and in some cases that’s enough, people appreciate the endeavour and follow the journey.  But in other cases, however hard you try to hide them, the difficulties you had in the writing are communicated in the read.

I’d even put Chalet Girl in this group.  It was a fun idea and there was a clear and strong central journey for our protagonist.  But it always felt we were straining a touch to inject drama, or indeed comedy, into the material, rather than the material naturally offering it up to us.  I’m very proud of the film, and it delivers, and the director and producers and actors all did an amazing job and made my writing look and sound as good as it was ever going to look and sound, but in hindsight I do think some of that tough-slog process comes over in the finished product.

Compare this with some other projects I’ve worked on in the past few years.  Like Kajaki, or like this rewrite I’ve just done, or like the ten page treatment I wrote for Base, or like some of the delicious new proposal pdfs I’ve been sending out over the past few months.

When you know – you just know – that what you’re writing is good.  It fits, it flows, it feels right.

Kajaki was the accumulation of a couple of years of research, of talking with the guys who were there.  My job was to tell their incredible story, get out of the way, try not to fuck it up.

This rewrite, a fresh reimagining of a classic novel for a modern audience, just hit a wave – a combination of tone of voice, lean structure, a couple of stylistic tricks – and I rode it all the way to page 106.

I literally punched the air after I finished writing the Base treatment (with a co-writer).  It felt literally perfect, in form and tone and character, down to a killer ending that twisted it all upside down but in a way that made sense to the world and protagonist we had created.

Even this three-page proposal I sent out two days ago.  I’m just so excited about it.  I can’t stop re-reading it, just to check that it’s as good as I think it is.

I bet Richard Curtis thought the same when he finished Notting Hill.  Or Andrew Niccol when he finished The Truman Show.  Or Wilder and Diamond when they finished The Apartment.  Those scripts just fit, they flowed, they felt right.

Wow.  MASSIVE arrogance, hubris, presumption in the above statements.  Of course I don’t count myself as being in the same class as any of these writers.  And there is every chance that none of the final films of the scripts / treatment I mentioned will be any good. 

But I feel – I know – that I did a good job on my end of things.  And it has taken me thirteen or more years of professional writing to be able to say that, and to be able to tell the difference.

And the lesson in all this is it’s probably better to wait for the right idea to come along – or, to put it another way, to spend more time looking for, sniffing out, digging up the right idea – than it is to jump into a half-cooked idea, one that doesn’t easily fit / flow / feel, and crossing your fingers and hoping for the best. 

Inevitably, sometimes you might only realise that you’re on the right / wrong track half way through the process.  I guess the trick there is to refine your evaluation skills so that this point comes earlier and earlier as your career goes on, so you waste less and less time.

Topic ends.

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