Monday, 7 October 2013

Writing Assignment Tracker IX

Hello.  It’s been a while.  This is because: (a) we’ve had the summer, and for whatever reason nothing and I mean NOTHING happens in the film industry during the summer – which incidentally makes it an ideal time for writing; (b) we’ve had our baby, welcome little girl, you’re doing pretty amazingly so far; and (c) I’ve been writing writing writing away on this second draft, no time for bloggery.

I read through my previous blog post to remind myself where we had got to.  Now I see, to my horror, that I’ve been writing this second draft for over sixteen weeks – against the four weeks that were in the contract.  Line items (a) and (b) above have something to do with that, of course, but it also has to be said that this has been the most comprehensive re-working of the script since, and possibly even including, the first draft.  This, to my mind – and I haven’t got client comments back yet – has been the turning-the-corner draft, the now-I-think-I-sort-of-see-the-kind-of-movie-this-could-become draft.  Time will tell, but I’m really happy with the work, and the time it has taken.  (And, no, nobody appears too crazily fussed about the late delivery.  Get it right is preferable to get it in.)

I have just two observations to make on this stage of the process.  The first is that I have continued to deliver as I write, as it were.  I delivered a new prologue in June, a new first act in July, a new first and second act in August and the whole shebang at the end of last week (by which time, amusingly enough, the new prologue had all but disappeared, although the work and thought that went into it certainly had not).  As I said before, I’ve found this a challenging, liberating and productive way of working: challenging in meeting shorter deadlines; liberating in dealing only with the pages or sequences in front of you, rather than forever working all the way through from beginning to middle to end; and productive because the real-time response to much of this work has helped me to tweak and refine (and occasionally reverse) as I’ve gone along.

The second observation is that while the plot, the scene-to-scene-to-scene order of the script has changed very little from the last full draft to this, the script itself is a very different creature.  This draft has been hugely informed both by the earlier idea of ‘voice’ (I’m feeling increasingly confident that the voice of my protagonist is locked down now) and by a new sense of the journey that she is undertaking. 

The old mineshaft / palaeontology metaphor has been brought to bear again, and it’s as apposite as it ever was.  The early drafts prepare the ground and establish the shape of the piece.  But it’s only when you start to tunnel, to mine, to excavate, to go deep underground, that the essence of the piece begins to reveal itself to you.  This all speaks to the idea of theme, and how the hero’s journey is, at its heart, an emotional examination and manifestation of that theme. 

It’s also reminded me that it’s a bit of a chasing-tail situation, one which I still can’t quite get my head around.  I’ve found, and lots of people have written about this in the past, that a script’s theme only really starts to emerge after you’ve written a few drafts.  Only once you have found the narrative shape, the oppositional forces, the protagonist’s voice, can you begin to lock down the emotional journey that runs alongside the external jeopardy.  And, once you have unearthed that, you then need to go back into the script and layer that bedrock of theme and emotion back through the journey.  Do we need a new opening / defining image?  Do we need some new visual imagery throughout?  Do we need new scenes or speeches that hit this theme square on the nose?  Is the ending the apotheosis of this thematic journey?

It reinforces so many golden rules about writing.  One, it’s all about the rewrite.  Two, don’t kill yourself if it takes you ages to unearth something which then seems to be glaringly obvious: that’s the journey, just know to keep your eye out for it next time around.  Three, you might start out thinking you’re writing about X, but if the script keeps on tugging towards Y, then you’d be advised to follow that.  (This becomes difficult when you start out writing A Big Commercial Genre Film and all the time the script is screaming I’m Indie!  I’m Quirky!  I Don’t Fit Into A Box!  Then you probably have to pick an end point and work back from there.)

And at the end of the day there’s a lot of luck involved.  You hope that what you discover as you go deeper down the mineshaft tallies up with what you’re already set in place above it.  But sometimes it might not.  Sometimes the rewrites get bigger, not smaller, as you go along.  You just can never predict.  Which is why this process, of charting a writing commission with pre-determined ‘steps’ has been instructive for me – and, I hope, for you.  This latest pass – arbitrarily named the Second Draft – was supposed to take four weeks, and it took four times that.  Previous passes have taken considerably less time than was anticipated.  The treatment stage took a lot longer than planned.  (And I’m still wondering how much value you really get out of a treatment, if the digging is only going to start in earnest when the drafting begins.)

A new model, which is being discussed for a job that is coming up, is ‘All You Can Eat Rewrites Until March For XXX’.  There’s a trust / respect requirement on both sides for this deal to work, of course.  But given my recent experience of sharing my work with the client as I’ve gone along (and the benefits that entailed), and my increasing scepticism that any detailed step-contract for a writing gig will probably be out of date by the time the ink is dry on the signatures, I’m thinking this might be the way to go in the future.

Back to this job.  The question now is whether the clients think the script is ready, or close to ready, to go out to a director, or some pieces of cast?  Watch this space – I know I will be.




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 first two acts





Second Draft complete

16 weeks


-7 Weeks


Second Draft Script First Set

6 weeks




Second Draft Script Second Set

6 weeks




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