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The reason I am saying ‘technically’ is because this screenplay I have just finished now, is not my screenplay, in that I have not come up with the story, the plot, the actions or the dialogue. Technically I have ‘just’ written the story I saw happening on screen. This the assignment in Phase 2, Reverse Screenwriting. Which is much harder than one might think, as I wrote about in the past weeks. But what a joy as well! And it went much faster than I thought, so I took some days off in between, here and there, resulting in a very nice do-able pace with enough breathing time.
The movie I chose wasn’t the longest on the list of 20, some were over 130 minutes, but I didn’t choose it for its shorter length, I chose it because I liked the combination of the genres, crime and comedy, like I shared before. And it turned out to be jam-packed with pretty much every story- and formatting technique there is. So, nothing short about that, making it an extremely educational experience. I actually dare to say that I did not do badly, despite not having seen the original script yet. I am happy with my result. Very happy. And you know by now how high my standards are. Nose-bleeding high.
After the writing of it, came of course the re-writing, because like we all know ‘writing is re-writing’. That quote is, or else should be, on every writer’s wall. The beautiful thing of it is that the re-writing already happened during the writing. No, I did not go back after having written some pages, because that won’t help. I like getting it done first, getting it all out, and then go back to re-write. But what I mean is that my writing changed already as I got further and further. Because I learned while writing. Where I first wrote something in a certain way, as I kept writing, I grew in my writing, so it felt. My mind came up with better ways to describe things. You could say that the imagination and creativity bloomed more and more as it got used more and more. Like an old steam train, that keeps running better and better, as it runs longer and longer. Same with walking and I could name a dozen more examples. The more you get in the habit and the longer you practice something, the better you will get at it and the smoother it will go. That’s why they say ‘write every day’. And it really felt that way.
And re-writing is hard and tricky. And is best to approach with different goals, I learned. There are of course the typos. You want to get rid of those. Which are the hardest, like I also addressed in the previous post, what your brain knows it should say, so it will overlook it quickly, due to the visual perception. And then there are the grammar changes, how to say things in a better way, grammatically. And then I looked at the page count of course and keeping the 1:1 ratio, script vs. screen, in my mind. I didn’t let it legalistically dictate me to write shorter and more concise, but since I was about 30% over, I knew I had to look at that as well. Was I using too many words to describe something? Did I use too many parentheticals? I must have cut half of them, which I found hard to do, because some dialogue really needed them, indicating who they were addressing, and changing in emotions in one block of dialogue and so on. And then I went back to my descriptions of the characters and their actions. And in this again growing in my vocabulary. And also thinking of the 20+ scripts and how they described certain actions. In the end it became a much more unison script. The style of writing and the tone began to be the same from beginning to the end. And I think that is one very important factor as well. Consistency. Doing things the same throughout the script. Let’s say in theory that you have used one way to do some kind of formatting for instance, which might not be correct. But then at least do it the same throughout. Then at least the reader gets used to it, if it’s not something terrible.
Despite having checked the script over and over during the last couple of days, still finding little things, after I uploaded I still found an error left and right. Actually not that many, but I think that just happened, because I didn’t have someone else proofread it for me. And one of the faults I discovered post-upload, which I was sure of I had written correctly, was the ‘interruption’ markings ‘–‘ (double dash) in dialogue. You know, when someone interrupts someone else and the first person’s dialogue gets cut off. Instead of doing it ‘this way–‘ (without a space between the word and the interruption markings), I did it ‘this way –‘, (with a space in between). I found this out when I downloaded another want-to-read script online, which had this, but then I was relieved that at least I had done it consistently throughout the script, because that was the ‘rule’ I had in my mind, you know what I mean? Some people now reading this might think ‘big deal, one space in between a letter’, but if you start going down that road, you might as well invent all the rules how you see fit.
One ‘funny’ lesson in the page count, was that I now also know that the Hollywood standard in a script is 2 lines between the scenes and not 1. In the software I noticed that there were 2, but in several of the 20+ scripts I checked there was only 1, including my transcription screenplay How To Train Your Dragon (2010). Therefore, that visual stuck in my mind. So, I thought I had found the ‘reason’ for still being over. I changed it to 1 and shared my discovery in the group, only to be ‘reprimanded’ by the teacher who said that more space is the highly recommended preference. In my defence, I didn’t know, because the ones I checked were all 1 line. As it turned out, when I did an official count, a total of 7 out of the 21 scripts were 1 line instead of 2, so the majority has 2 lines indeed. He explained that the reason for the 2 lines is because more white space on the page gives the reader a much clearer distinction between the scenes. And that’s what you want, your script to be as clear as possible when read. So, I switched back to 2 lines. And another thing, which never crossed my mind, is the difference between the US paper size and A4 size, when printing to PDF. This also ‘saves’ pages (when switching to A4, the non-American size). But since the gross of film producers are in the US, you are advised to deliver it in US paper size, because that is what they are used to. Anyways, a little, yet also important administrative lesson in between. Duly noted.
Then, I also went over the script, making sure all the actions are in the present and active tense. No walking, talking, driving, drinking, sleeping. But instead, he/she walks, talks, drives, drinks, sleeps. And despite having had it in my mind the whole time I was writing, I was amazed how many of the –ing’s still had crept into the script. And I was amazed also, what it does to the script and its pace, flow and readability, when you do it right. You get right into the action as you read, when you write it in this active tense. Even if it’s not a fast action. That doesn’t matter. It becomes active regardless. And then after that, I also checked the capitalization of big sounds and important props, as I had also seen in many scripts and I know is right to do. And this too, strangely enough, brings the script to life as well. And I think originally is meant for the sound engineers, foley artists and special effects department, so they know where to step in and do their magic for the movie. But also by this formatting, you can then almost hear the sound and see the important prop in front of you. A good thing when trying to visualize a movie.
And finally I just uploaded it, despite still being about 20% over in pages. I just could not get myself to leave out even more. The page count was a huge incentive to write more concise, but at some point I had cut it as much as I felt comfortable with. And I refused, as some students wrote, to write it as a blank slate, leaving out almost all actions and descriptions, and they came to being a whole lot under. I refuse to do that, as I also already mentioned in my previous post.
I feel good, because I know I did the best I knew how to, from all the things I had learned from the first phase. And when looking at my script, it looks ‘clean’. Consistent. And yes, still a couple of typos, that were simply missed, no matter how many times I checked, but at a certain point I went with the motto ‘better done than perfect’. Even Pixar goes by that, after having delivered their movie to the screen and they had wanted to still perfect things. Can you imagine? And especially because this was an exercise, let’s not forget that. No perfection allowed. In which of course I still strived for excellence, as always, but also knew when to let it go.
And what a great exercise this was. Not normal! Not normal in the sense how practical it is and how it trains your brain even further, putting into action all that has been embroidered, but also not normal in how strange it feels that I am capable of doing this now, technically. Still not blowing my own horn, but I feel much, much, MUCH more competent than only a little 5 months ago. I honestly hadn’t even gotten to this stage yet then, with the screenplay I had been trying to write since February, of really getting to the actual writing of it. What I had written so far was not in screenplay format, for one, but just pieces of story, more in novel form perhaps. Bit and pieces. But now, now I know how to really write in this form. And not to forget know much, MUCH more about story structure and how it works (and doesn’t), more than ever before. That’s gargantuan! To bring back that favourite word.
I still will have to compare my script with the original, which I hope to receive soon, but like I also posted in the group on FB and wrote to the teacher, when I uploaded my version, no matter what the original looks like, I am content with my result. Very content. And that’s a good place to be while preparing for the next and final phase, in which we, as the pièce de résistance, will now write our very own screenplay. No more pretending. No more writing other people’s inventions. During this phase we will be the screenwriter. For real now. It will now have to all come out of our own imagination. We will have to come up with our own inventions now, I mean story wise. This will entirely be our own work.
Can you tell I am a bit nervous? Onwards and upwards we go, she says with hesitation. But we said A, so we continue to say B. With even more tools under our belt now. So, onto Phase 3: Creative Screenwriting it is, in which a whole bunch of new screenwriters will be ‘born’. And I will be one of them, if we keep at it as we have. And no matter what I will continue to do after, when this course is done, I will be able to say: I wrote the first draft of my very own screenplay! And that in itself will be quite an accomplishment. The journey continues!