Tuesday, 30 July 2013

Writing Assignment Tracker VIII

It’s all gone a bit freestyle since my last post, a couple of months ago.  Recap required.

I delivered my ‘First Draft Revisions’ on 16th May.  There was then a short hiatus while the assembled and somewhat disparate ‘client’ read the draft, collated their notes, had a family wedding etc.  Then came quite a chunky notes document on 19th June, fifteen pages of comments ranging from the top-level ‘have we captured the voice of our heroine yet?’ to line notes.  So, not green lit just yet.

We set up a call for the following week to go through them, but I responded via email in the interim, with something that turned into a bit of a ‘What are we trying to do here?’ Jerry Maguire mission statement.  Their document and my response collectively made the notes call a supremely productive one. 

It brought some of the broader notes into specific context, and specific solves were discussed.  We agreed that a prologue might be helpful to establish our heroine’s voice and back story, and show the ‘natural state’ that she effectively needs to recapture during the story that follows.

(Funnily enough, we had the same conversation at the same sort of stage in the development process with CHALET GIRL, although the prologue I wrote was a slightly more beautiful thing than what eventually appeared.  Sidebar – oh my god I can’t believe the first 46 minutes of CHALET GIRL is available free online and has been watched over a million times.  Don’t follow the link above, whatever you do!)

After this call I agreed to go away and write up this 8 page prologue, which I did in a few days (when it comes, it comes quickly).  Notes were turned around on that very speedily, too, and I then incorporated that into a revised draft of the whole of the first act.  That took another week.  Last week was about polishing the first act and pushing deep into the second act, all seeing how this new heroine’s voice / character / actions are impacting on the narrative flow.  I delivered that on Friday and am waiting for notes on that.

Thoughts on all this, then:

‘Voice’ is always a difficult term to get a handle on, but it’s so important that you all get on the same page with this.  I had a very different heroine in my head from the one in the collective clients’ head.  I was going broader, more Bridget Jones, a bit more hopeless.  They were looking for someone a bit more grown up, with real problems instead of banana skins.  Clearly, these two people are a long way from each other.  The person in my head spoke a different way and did different things (collectively, I suppose, ‘the voice’) to the person they were expecting.  Vital to get that aligned before we go any further, even if it means quite a big re-orientation now.

I’m now sharing my work with the clients as I go, which funnily enough I don’t mind at all.  For one thing, it gives me lots of little one week deadlines, which are easier to hit than big, scary eight week deadlines.  For another, we can do adjustments as we go, rather than going too far down the line and then having to backtrack and throw out lots of stuff.  Sometimes I’m frustrated that my set-ups don’t yet have their pay-offs, or that an act is being judged in isolation (it might be a more dramatic set-up act, with the comedy to come later on, for example).  But the team know the script so well by now that they know what is waiting around the corner.  It’s about being open and collaborative and respectful, and that isn’t a bad way to work at all.

That said, my agent did have to ask the question “Is this the second draft yet?”, because we rather slipped into it.  Another example of the realities of the writing process butting up against the terminology of a contract.  But for the moment at least everyone is still happy to employ common sense where required.

In amongst all of this, and shortly after my Jerry Maguire mission statement moment, I had a bit of a ‘let’s throw everything out and start again’ moment.  I felt like I had lost hold on what this story was, and felt like another, more interesting story ‘over there’ (still from the same source material) was beckoning me with crooked finger.  I shared these thoughts with the producer team, and now slightly wish I hadn’t.  It’s my job to keep looking forwards, to keep taking stock of where we are, what our options are, what the ramifications of our decisions are.  But for me to start looking back, to start second-guessing – that’s not helpful, that’s not what I’m paid for.  (If anyone’s going to do that, it’s usually the client!)

As Bill Nicholson once memorably described it, a screenwriter should be a gushing geyser of creativity.  Clients may then buy a Styrofoam cup (size dependant on fee) and dip it into the fountain (number of visits to the fountain dependant on contract).  The writer’s job is just to keep on gushing.

Another non-contract item that is looming is my wife giving birth to our third child in the next few weeks.  So a possible pause in the development process (everything seems to stop in August anyhow, so well timed wife) and a pause in the blogging (it’s pretty much on perma-pause anyway so you probably won’t notice).  Will pick up when there’s more to tell.

Updated grid, just for form’s sake:



Sched / Actual

Delivery Date
Sched / Actual

+/- Schedule


First Draft Treatment

1 month



Initial Step Outline

2 weeks



Initial Step Outline client comments

4 days



First Draft Treatment

2 weeks


-1 Day


First Draft Treatment client comments

3 weeks



Client comments

2.5 weeks


+3 Days


Second Draft Treatment

10 days



Writer response (not treatment)

2.5 weeks


-4 Days

Client comments

3 weeks



Second Draft Treatment

10 days


-1 Month


Second Draft Treatment client comments

4 weeks



Client comments


-1 Week


First Draft Script

12 weeks



9 weeks


+2 Weeks


First Draft Script client comments

8 weeks



3 weeks


+7 Weeks


Revised First Draft Script

4 weeks



5 weeks


+6 Weeks


Revised First Draft Script client comments

2 weeks





5 weeks


+4 Weeks


Second Draft Script

4 weeks




Second Draft first act





Second Draft Script First Set

6 weeks




Second Draft Script Second Set

6 weeks