I’m on a roll. The second one is now in the hands of my agent and producer. I’m excited about it, because it is so different than the first. No news on the first one, still in the meeting with producers phase which surprisingly becomes normal quickly. My next scheduled meeting is with the producer for Pulp Fiction and Django Unchained. This feels normal now.
The second one is completely different than the first. I’ve been trying to document the creative process to see if I can get a roadmap to how I’ve been so productive. I got Celtx screenwriting software at end of May (love it) and have finished two screenplays since then. I never got writer’s block, nor did I feel like there wasn’t a great purpose for each page or scene.
So here, I’m going to document a bit how I do it. First, of course, I think of a story concept. Some call it a logline, but my agent does not like loglines. (And my producer hates ‘treatments’). So what I do now is I don’t bother with them – I go and finish the entire thing before I send it to them for comments. It’s more efficient that way, and I don’t have to bother these really knowledgeable people until I have something. I just don’t want to waste their time.
Speaking of wasting their time, part of me wrote the second one just to see if the first one was a lucky fluke. If so, I’d hate to have a top agent invest time in a writer who just had one lucky streak. I’m happy to report that I have two, and the third one is going on right now.
Once I have the story concept, I have to build a loose structure. I say loose because I don’t want pressure to keep everything bound to the original idea. I let it go off in tangents, hone and trim, and let it go off in tangents again. This is how I started off writing about a supermodel, and wound up making the story about a fireman’s daughter.
Once the structure is formed, then I think of scenes that would be cinematic standouts. I’m super proud of the “graveyard” scene in the first one, as well as the huge Times Square scene. I keep those in notes, and let them gestate. To me it’s super important also to not cling to any of these scenes, because I want to be able to easily warp the highly flexible structure.
Once the structure and some of the cinematic ideas start to take form, then I name the main character. This is the lens that we’re going to see the entire story. That piece of advice I got over breakfast with my agent. As I was describing my plot, he asked me, “through whose eyes do we see this story?” and I realized that I was bouncing around telling three stories in pursuit of character development. I choose one, and then the other characters then begin mock dialogs with my main character around the very loose structure.
The idea is to 1) have a structure and then 2) search for the supports to the structure, knowing that the structure is fluid in the beginning. This takes the pressure off me very, very much to always be clever and brilliant. If I can spitball towards the loose structure, in character development the structure changes, and changes. This then changes the characters. I will most often just force myself to make two characters have a long, long dialog (kind of like improv, but on paper). This mock dialog really makes my people come to life. In arguing with each other, we start to see what their value systems are, and how they fit into the structure. I can’t tell you how important mock dialoging is!
Then comes assembly. I put all of these pieces together in a very rough, very loose script that has big gaps in transitions and way over-described actions and repetitive dialog. These “un-honed” chunks basically remind me of the story I’m trying to tell. I’ll put in parentheticals that will get removed. This puts the highlights in with huge reminders to myself what I’m trying to say.
Then comes the less exciting part of writing the transition scenes between the highlights. However, some of these, though mundane, become pure gold later. I mean, I have to do them, and I have to do them with rapid pacing. Once this pacing comes in, then it becomes obvious that I’ve got to get rid of the gunk. So I go back and trim dialog a lot, replacing the spoken word with unspoken visuals. This speeds up the pacing of the dialogs to match the transitions.
At this point I check the page count, aiming at my target of 100 pages. (First one was 107 pages, second one was 104). Then I speed read the screenplay multiple times. It is in the fast reading that I get a sense of the pacing. Slow sections get sped up or something cool happens within the speech or surroundings. I do this repeatedly until I’m happy with the rough.
At this point it goes to my editor, Andy. He is a brilliant and knowledgeable screenwriter. He’s the only editor I have ever worked with. He will go through and find parts that got skipped over, correct and polish my formatting, and then we have a final draft.
I want to say this for my followers and to my kids. The best (and only) way to learn, IMHO, is on the job training. No school is going to be able to teach you how to write fiction, or how to photograph a wedding, or start and run a number of multi-million dollar business, or to invent, litigate, manage a team, etc. etc. until you learn while doing. School is fine, but it’s not great. Let’s put it this way. I have a University degree, and the first time I went to Europe I didn’t know if Spain was north or south of Sweden. I learned where everything was by going there. That’s on the job training!