First Writing Assignment Tracker update of 2013. And it’s a belter. In fact, it’s a tiddler, because I’m hard at it. But here’s the chart.
First Draft Treatment
Initial Step Outline
Initial Step Outline client comments
First Draft Treatment
First Draft Treatment client comments
Second Draft Treatment
Writer response (not treatment)
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
Just to briefly unpick this. You’ll recall (those of you paying attention) that just before Christmas I delivered a ‘response’ rather than a second draft treatment, following client comments on the first draft treatment. One part of my response was to push back at quite a major note, and a rationale for that, while the other part was a ‘how about this?’ shifting of the balance / direction / heart of the whole script. The client – as previously mentioned, a transatlantic consortium of producers, financiers and other interested parties – got their heads together over the break and responded in good time in the New Year. They largely accepted the first point, while largely rejecting the second. My instinct had been to move a bit further away from the source material, theirs was to gravitate back towards it, which has been the subject of some healthy creative tension throughout this process. They also brought me back in line on tone – I wanted to push it higher concept, but they want to keep it real-world, character comedy. And, since my job is to deliver them the best script according to their brief, I accepted their comments – that’s what they’re there for – and went back to the treatment.
My first draft treatment was 25+ pages, a really detailed beat sheet. This time I wanted to keep it to under ten pages, to double-check that the ‘birds-eye view’ of the story structure was functioning as it should: Act One, Act Two, Act Three; the ten-page mini-acts; the big sequences; the mechanics of the hero’s journey. So this wasn’t rewriting the first document, it was writing a new synopsis of the new movie from scratch. Along the way I had a moment where I was convinced that we were heading in the wrong direction, but a panicked skype call with the script editor settled my nerves. It’s a funny old thing, how a couple of well-placed comments from her could help me make sense of it all in my head again, without many of the component parts fundamentally changing. That’s good script editing – helping the writer see what is already there in front of them.
So I delivered this shorter, second draft treatment, a month behind the project schedule. The story is basically the same as in the first draft, but with probably 30% less narrative material, allowing room for the more interesting scenes, characters and moments to breathe. That old ‘excavation’ metaphor again, gradually digging deeper to reveal what the story is really telling us. I also sent some updated character biographies, which could be read separately but alongside this document, along with some casting ideas (a writer’s favourite game!).
The clients then turned around their comments in a matter of days, rather than the four weeks the contract (strangely) allowed them. And they were teeny tiny comments. Somehow, it had all fitted into place in the right way, with the right balance. The casting ideas gave us a chance to discuss the types of personalities that we saw in the various roles, their tones of voices, etc. Voice-over was considered, and discarded. All good constructive stuff.
The question then was, what next? Do I stick with the treatment format, and expand my ten pages back up to twenty five, as I had done before? Or were we ready to go to draft? I delivered a fairly impassioned plea for the latter course of action. Treatments are functional documents, useful for setting shape and for moving elements around at the planning stage. But it should never be seen as an end in itself. While a lot of the storytelling groundwork goes on at this stage, the ‘screenwriting’ doesn’t begin until you bring those moments and characters alive through dialogue, internal scene structure, relationships and dramatic juxtaposition. That’s when you see what you’ve really got here, and whether the structure you think you’ve cracked over ten pages actually works over a hundred and ten.
They seemed to agree. Green light to move to script. Good. We have an overview structure that we agree on, some character sketches that feel right. Now my job is to surprise the client for all the right reasons – delivering them a script that they recognise in outline but feels new and fresh and engaging in detail.
The contract tells me I’ve got twelve weeks, but I’m going on holiday at the end of March, so I’m going to try and do it in eight. And what I’m actually going to do is to write the first draft over the next three to four weeks, then put it in a shoe box for two weeks, then give it a proper rewrite or two before submitting. None of this completing-the-first-draft-the-night-before-the-deadline business. Not this time. Nosiree.
Well, let’s just see how that goes, shall we?
I feel like the man in his rowing boat, setting out from the Canaries, pointed at the West Indies. See you on the other side!