Monday, February 27, 2006

How (Not) to Write a Script in Four Days

The first thing you shouldn’t do is tell people what you plan to do. Undertaking a script is an arduous task and not to be taken lightly so announcing to the world that you’re going to write a screenplay in four days is only asking for trouble on a number of different levels. One of the more pertinent problems of this type of announcement is that you’ve got to finish what you started. And naturally, after day one, you won’t want anything to do with a computer and keyboard.

But you’ve got a four day deadline that you’ve only got yourself to blame for so it’s just best to suck it up and crack on.

Day One: Research and Basic Outlining
At this early stage of the process, I’m thinking that my script is going to be a fun and lively sci-fi/action/horror/thriller along the lines of Underworld and Blade so, to get myself in the right frame of mind and to help me get in the zone, I view these said films and make some notes on the general style and structure.

I then do some very rough outlining: “Lead characters in action in their ‘normal’ supernatural roles. Mid-attack or whatever, their powers and motivation falter, and they find themselves ‘human’. Souls and power sucked out of them by the villain. Gather together and try to figure out what’s going on. Villain gathering strength from the supernatural gangland, plans to take over the world.” The purpose of this is that I have some vague notion of somewhere to go rather than getting stuck after page 5.

No pages of the script are written.

Day Two: Write 30 Pages
It’s so easy to write that. ‘Write 30 pages’. Three words. So simple. And it also conjures up an equally beguiling image of sitting down at a computer and whacking out 30 pages because you’ve got some vague notion of where you want the story to go.

Wrong.

Immediately the inner-critic kicks in and tells me that while the opening sequence is okay, in a rough draft kind of way, the rest is rubbish. I’m on page 14. I want to stop and re-read and edit and change but I tell myself that this won’t help me in my challenge. I’ve got to get the script done, not perfect. So I plough on regardless. I finish the first 22 pages before I take some time-out for refreshments, promising to write another 20 (30 if I’m buzzing) before I got to bed on a drunken high. I get drunk and too tired to write. Only finish 32 pages. Still, it’s achieved the first day’s golden purpose: write 30 pages. Easy.

Day Three: Write Another 30 Pages
Aw hell. Another 30 pages? There’s rugby on TV y’know (Scotland beat England!). And I have a life too. So I procrastinate. I do things around the house and spend quality time with my better half. We go to see Walk the Line and afterwards, suitably inspired, I try to crack another 30 pages of the script before I call it a day.

Quality of plot and action quickly goes out the window but I have no time to stop and amend. I just get it down. It hurts on two levels: one, it’s rubbish, and two, trying to come up with more rubbish to complete the writing agenda. I get to page 58 on the script. Not quite the allocated pages but it’ll do.

Day Four: Finish the Bloody Thing

Or ‘Write Until your Soul Bleeds”. All the craft and skill of a quality screenplay is sadly lacking as the plot veers off into inconsistencies and tonal confusion that only a frazzled scribe could make. Me. It’s quite fun though, in a ‘hey, not bad for four days’ work’. And some of the narrative doesn’t make me wince. I say ‘some of the narrative’, what I really mean is ‘page one’. But the pages must be confronted and completed. It’s like being on a 3,000 mile car journey on a flat road and the only way to get there is to chew up the miles, resolute at the wheel.

Some of the action stuff isn’t bad but the story lacks cohesion with its characters and plot. I try to convince myself that most of the films in this genre do the same but it’s a slim excuse.

Complete the script at 1am. 98 pages. Punch drunk with elation, disappointment and whiskey. I wanted it to be better but I suppose I should be grateful I got it done. But now the philosophical question: is it better to have a rough first draft completed over a quick period which will now need time and care to get it into shape or is it best to carefully prepare a first draft so that you’re closer to sending it out?

My initial feeling is that this bashed out script is certainly better than the first script I ever wrote. But that wouldn’t be hard. And it has some fun moments, scenes, characters and plot turns that I can use and elaborate. It’s all very rough, raw and inconsistent. But of course it would be. I’m very happy with the idea and the characters but the plot, pace and structure has a long way to go yet.

For those who’re interested, I’ve put up the first eighteen pages of the script (where I introduce the main characters) at the Files section of my website. The film is called ‘Us Mere Mortals’ and is about four creatures of the night who are turned into humans so they unite to form an unlikely team of vigilantes in their quest to regain their immortality. Some violent and sexual scenes, which you can take as a warning, or an encouragement.

Back to real work…

17 comments:

James Moran said...

Then again, if you hadn't told us all you were doing it, it would have been easy to abandon it halfway through. The risk of public shaming is a strong incentive.

Lee said...

Which is exactly why I have a blog.

I love the lash.

Nice work, Danny.

Monkeywhalefreak said...

Congradulations. Great use of breasts in the opening too.

Tim Clague said...

Nutter!

Grubber said...

Loved the zombie!

Lucy said...

Wherever there are blood, guts and boobs I'm there (film wise I might add) - but I can't access Danny's site, damn it! There're just a lot of blank boxes with "x" in the left hand corner. Anybody have any idea what that might mean?!?!

Danny Stack said...

That's weird Lucy. Don't know what to say. Lee? Help us Lee! Where is that masked man?

Robin Kelly said...

Lucy, have you got all the plug-ins for your browser?

Anyway, the script was a fun read and a reminder about how powerful the use of sound is.

Lee said...

Robin's right. The site uses Flash, so you may need to visit Macromedia to get the plug-in.

Lucy said...

Ok, howls of frustration at sad non-techno girlie at the back: what's a plug in?!

I downloaded Flash and enabled cookies, still nothing. Is a plug in extra to that?

I will whip myself later.

Lee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lee said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Lee said...

Both comments deleted because the links I included in them direct to the file didn't work.

Lucy, have you tried a different browser?

Lucy said...

Does that mean open a new window? Cos I've tried multiple times.

Getting full-on embarrassed now! : /

Lee said...

Nah, it means if you are using, say, AOL to surf the web, download Firefox and use that instead.

Lucy said...

Thanks Lee!!! Will try that...

deepstructure said...

doesn't seem like the flash works in firefox. im using 1.5 and no luck. the page loads, and the cursor changes to indicate a link - but clicking does nothing. i had to (shudder), open ie to get to the download page.