Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Tough times reign in WriterDad Manor. The wife and I are even more exhausted by our offspring than usual; I was up until about three in the morning trying to convince the Peanut to settle down, and my spouse has shouldered the burden of the day shift. After hours of dealing with a fussy baby, the Missus is beginning to get that hollow-eyed stare that uncomfortably reminds me of Jack Nicholson in THE SHINING. Any more of this and I’ll need to keep tabs on the contents of the knife block in the kitchen.

Of course, I could use a good knife wound to the chest at this point: I got the producers’ notes for the Wedding Comedy today. Or rather, I got the notes from two of the producers. I’m still waiting to hear from the development guy from the other production company involved in the project; he’s out of the country for a funeral. Some people will do anything to get out of work.

As I read through the notes, I got that all-too-familiar sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach as I realized that they — call them Producer A and Producer B — basically want me to bring the story back to the way it was before, in the last draft. That would be the draft that they took apart in our notes meeting a couple of weeks ago. It’s at moments like this that I start wondering where I stuck that DeVry University application that I requested in a similar fit of despair years ago.

Fortunately, a quick follow-up phone call from Producer A stopped me from Googling “online adult education.” In discussing his major objections, I realized that he actually had a couple of good points. Damn it. On the plus side, my efforts were not a total waste; much of my new outline is still usable. I just need to revamp my first act and bring it closer to the way it was before… but, ya know, better.

*Sigh*

The cliche of the Hollywood development process is that writers deal with nothing but empty-headed idiots who have as much story sense as a chimp, and I’m not talking SPACE CHIMPS. In reality, most of the people I’ve encountered in my poor man’s adventures in the screen trade have been bright, reasonable and passionate about what they do — overworked, overwhelmed and over-caffeinated, but bright, reasonable and passionate nonetheless.

Sure, you’ll field your share of stupid suggestions. Β (“I love the character of the Nazi hunter, but what if we made him an Eskimo instead?”)Β  But oftentimes, development folk can provide a more objective look at a script than the actual writer himself, who has been slaving away at the damn thing for so long that the suggestion to change a single “the” might prompt howls of protest: “You totally don’t get why the ‘the’ absolutely has to be there! Change it and the whole story falls apart!” But just because they may be in a better position to point out a problem doesn’t necessarily mean they have any better sense of how to fix it than you do. That’s when the phrase “what if” starts getting thrown around a lot in the discussion, for better or worse — or, more accurately, for better AND worse.

Contrary to what certain writing gurus might insist, screenwriting isn’t rocket science. Sure, it’s a craft, but it’s the art of it that elevates a script above the mass of competently written but ultimately soulless collections of 120 pages that clog the mail rooms of companies across Hollywood. And making art means making mistakes: sometimes you’ve got to tear down your first act and realize, oh yeah, it was pretty good the way it was. Sometimes you have to throw something away, then fish it out of the trash bin. Sometimes — yes, like the mighty Cinderella power ballad — you don’t know what you got till it’s gone. So you put it back together but tighten it up a bit while you’re at it, tidy things up a little. And there it is — the way it was before, but better. Hopefully.

At times like this I have to remind myself that it’s just the process. In a collaborative medium like film, this is the way it is, and that’s why I’m not going to blow my brains out or join the Marines or — worst of all — go to law school. At least until I get the next round of notes, of course.

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4 Comments on “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back”

  1. William Says:

    Quoting Cinderella? C’mon guy, you’re better than that. πŸ™‚

  2. writerdad303 Says:

    Hey, count yourself lucky I didn’t scrape the very bottom of the hair metal barrel and try to quote somebody like Trixter or Britny Fox…:)

  3. Jen Says:

    Found your blog through WhataCard. LOVE the Cinderella Reference. Next time whip out a Lita Ford power ballad with a crusty Ozzy stumbling around in the background! Btw.. beautiful baby!

  4. writerdad303 Says:

    Thanks for the compliment on the baby, Jen — we’re pretty fond of her. πŸ™‚ Glad you dug the reference; next bad thing that happens to me, I’ll be sure to mention that it makes me want to close my eyes forever. πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by the blog!


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