This week I'm rewriting another writer's script which is a new one for me. The script is really good, which helps, and all I'm really doing is some really brutal editing as it's a bit too wordy, but the process is making me wonder how I'd feel about someone doing the same thing to my scripts. It has happened to me before, but for the most part it's been done by directors or producers on projects that are either in production or just about to go into production. Once on a short film I wrote I was really bothered by some of the changes, but generally at that stage I'm happy for people to do what they want as long as it gets the film finished quicker. I'm doing it as a favour so I'm not taking a credit - at this level, where no one's really getting paid, I think the credits are the most valuable thing you can get from a project so I'd never interfere with that (which has happened to me a few times before and it's quite annoying). But if I think of the spec script I'm writing right now, which is very self-indulgent and probably overwritten, I'm not sure I'd like someone ploughing through it with the delete key like I'm doing on this writer's script.
I think what it comes down to, in this case especially, is dialogue. There's this funny and unfortunately rather prevalent idea that all writer's really do is write dialogue. I've come across this so many times at the independent level of the industry, but to be honest I think it's worth probably about 30% of the work a writer does. The bulk of the work is in the structure and the pacing and the character development (through actions as much as words). To me that's the difficult stuff, but the problem is that in a good script all that work, essentially the mechanics of it, should be invisible. And if you succeed and it is invisible people who don't know any better come along, tweak a few lines of dialogue and then credit themselves on the script!
But despite what I know about scriptwriting, I think dialogue is the part of the script even I'm most precious about. I know from having a feature and some shorts produced that the dialogue you write will usually be adapted and changed on set anyway. And yet I'm still bothered by dialogue getting cut or changed. Ultimately I think it's a way of claiming ownership of the film. When Ten Dead Men was being edited I was worried that the structure was changing so much that even that part of my script would be lost. So I held onto the lines of dialogue I knew were in there and I knew were mine, thinking of them I suppose, like a signature. As it happened, the structure didn't change massively and it was still recognisable as my script, but the fact is that for a long time the thing I was most proud of was getting a couple of interesting lines, a couple of bits of me, into a film.
So now I'm going through another writer's script and I'm not so much trimming the dialogue as going at it with a chainsaw. And I worry that the writer will look at it and think that I've taken out everything that was his about the script. But the fact is the hard work - the story and structure which in this case is solid - will still all be there, and that's the stuff that's important.
Okay, I think I've justified that to myself successfully enough now. I'm aiming to finish the rewrite this weekend, but the self-indulgent spec script I keep mentioning is starting to take over. It's going really well so far, I've no idea if it's any good, but there's a good chance I might even finish it this month. Depending on what else comes up.
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