Just as I always find myself scrambling madly in the final days before a writing deadline arrives, so the final days of the working year also tend to find me trying frantically to deliver on a number of projects, all at the same time. Every year, for the last four years, I have delivered a first draft screenplay in the week before Christmas. This year is no exception. Recently, I have been polishing the first draft of a script that I drafted earlier in the month, and which I sent off earlier today*. I’ve also been taking a couple of meetings on what will hopefully be my next project, and signing a deal on a script that has already been written, not to mention concentrating on what I should call my main project (in case they’re reading this), the writing assignment that I’m tracking here.
Here is the updated chart, for those of you following with bated breath:
First Draft Treatment
Initial Step Outline
Initial Step Outline client comments
First Draft Treatment
First Draft Treatment client comments
Conference call to discuss
Second Draft Treatment
Second Draft Treatment client comments
First Draft client comments
Revised First Draft
Revised First Draft client comments
Second Draft First Set
Second Draft Second Set
What can we see here? Well, the client generally turns around their work on time, while I’m usually late, that’s the main thing so far.
The client in fact did a great job of collating all their disparate notes into one comments document (a six page, bullet-point document broken down into headlines / characters / page notes). They spoke with one voice, with a largely clear sense of what they liked and what they disliked about my 25-page treatment. They then did me the courtesy of talking through all of it on a conference call, allowing me an opportunity to push back, or seek clarification.
And it was good news and bad news. A lot of positive responses to scenes, characters, the main love story etc. But a sense that we’re not there yet on the heroine, or even on the overall script structure. So it’s two forwards, one back. As a writer you always think, sigh, here we go again, but to be honest all their notes make sense. And I’d rather find this out after the first draft treatment than after the first draft script. That’s what it’s there for.
But then it was up to me again, to interpret the interpretation, to analyse the analysis. So I spent the last couple of weeks conducting an MOT on the project – opening her up, fiddling on her carburettor and so on. I re-read the book on which the script is based. I worked my way back through the analytical process by which we arrived at our initial creative direction. I’m a holistic sort of writer. I can’t just take a load of notes and change this, this, and this, and leave the stuff that we like where it is. I need to step back. I need to see the bigger picture. I need to think about ‘what kind’ of movie I’m writing, and try to make sure that this is the right / best / most perfect expression of that. It’s why I always rewrite from page 1. Everything in its right place. I sometimes wonder if I’m over-thinking things, or over-complicating things, or denying myself the expressionistic licence to just see where the story goes. But I is what I is.
So I’ve fudged my response. Instead of delivering a second draft treatment in ten days, I’ve taken two weeks to write a ‘response’. This is partly because of the aforementioned pre-Christmas gridlock – I’ve been caught out on time, I’ll admit – but also because an intermediate step felt appropriate. It’s a ‘This is what I think you were saying. This is what I think the implications are. These are my recommended solutions / changes, and these are the implications of those. What do you think? And are we all still on the same page here? Is this still the movie we all want to be making?’ sort of document. Charging onto another 25 pager without cross-checking my reading of their reading seemed premature. That’s my justification, at least.
(Incidentally, why did the original project plan give me 10 days for the second draft of the treatment, but give them another 4 weeks for responding to that? I would have thought those timings should have been flipped. But, there you go, nobody has a crystal ball.)
So I’m behind schedule. And now it’s Christmas, and New Year, and I imagine it will be the middle of January before I get the official ‘Second Draft Treatment’ out – a whole month behind. But I haven’t received any angry letters from the client’s lawyers, yet. People are sympathetic to the process and, of course, to the time of year. And I’ll make up for lost time on the first draft.
On which subject, I still have to say that I’m finding the project schedule – and, by the same token, the payments schedule – lopsided in favour of the first and second drafts. It has always been the way – you do the work on the treatment, but you get paid for the draft. I’m not going into figures here, but I’m getting approximately 7% of my fee for the two treatments, but about 35% for the first draft. And I can almost guarantee you that the treatment work will take longer, will be harder work, and will be more critical to the successful outcome of the project. But people pay for scripts, with characters and dialogue and stuff. At least, that’s what they think they’re paying for.
A new model, a simpler and fairer model would – I humbly submit – be 33% treatment (and revisions), 33% first draft, 33% all subsequent revisions, limited by time of contract. None of this attempted delineation between drafts and revisions and polishes – I’m a page one rewriter, there is no delineation. Just: outline, draft, revisions. Third, third, third. All in favour?
Anyway, onwards and onwards, and I’m enjoying the journey. And at least I’m being paid something, so what the hell am I complaining about when and how and why it gets paid? Idiot boy.
Happy Christmas to you all. Here’s to a productive – and on schedule – 2013.
* Just got an email from the client on that script I sent out earlier today. ‘On page 30 – so far amazing!!!’ Loving the real-time script feedback. Though now I’ll be worried if I haven’t heard from him in another half an hour...