Script Reader Pro has hella great taste. Tell your friends!
Would you like to know a stupid expression with no use in the English language? Of course!
“At this time.”
It’s meaningless. “The voicemail box is full and is not accepting messages at this time.” Why the hell say, “At this time” when you can say, “…not accepting messages”?
“I’m not interested in having sex with you. At this time.” You can always change your mind later and say “I am interested in having sex with you.” The “at this time” would be damn well understood. At this time, no one has time to read the phrase, “At this time.” Leave it out 99.44/100% of the time.
While I’m on a grumpy tear, what about “do” Who added that to the helpdesk script? “I do apologize at this time.” What about, “I apologize.” Get the job done, move on. That’s what excellent writing is: say it and leave.
As Mary Poppins would tell you, “Don’t dawdle.”
Once Upon A Time, did someone break up with you? Hurt like hell, didn’t it? Everything was terrible. Nothing worked. Life would never be the same. As Jon Stewart says, “Food no longer tastes good.”
When writing is not going well, you get more or less that same wretched feeling. It’s all your fault! You’ll never be any good at this! You’re wasting your time! The page will never love you! Everything you’ve ever done or ever will do is wrong! Why did you, for one second, think you could do this?! You’re a bad, bad person!!!
The good news… everybody feels like that!
To some degree, writers are masochists and when it’s not going well, they mangle themselves. Totally normal! Writing is interior stuff, part of your soul, and when your soul is victim of an acid throwing, you feel supremely ghastly. To return to the “Miserable in the Romance Dept.” metaphor, when writing goes on the rocks, it’s heartbreaking.
But… after your ex shreds your heart, someday the painful feeling will fade. It may take a year. It may take five. But, finally, you get back to normal. More experienced. Sadder but wiser. But, able to function and open your heart. Life improves. You feel good again.
I ask my students, “Those of you who’ve been dumped in love, have you ever been dumped more than once?” A few raise their hands. I say, “The second time felt just as horrible didn’t it?” It’s pretty much the same ripped-to-pieces feeling. Every time. When you’re six, when it first happened to me, or when you’re forty. Just like when a piece of writing goes south, it always feels awful.
The second time your heart is broken, it feels as miserable as the first… except… you survived the first one and now, in the middle of the second go-round, you can look back and think, “My life didn’t stay bleak and dark.” You have the wisdom and experience to understand that, while you’re in the middle of the second heartbreak and it’s impossible to breathe… at least you know that one of these days the pain will go away.
Just like writing.
The first time you write yourself into a hole, it’s like you’re thrown in a deep, deep well by the evil witch in SNOW WHITE. When you’re far underground and look up, above you there’s no light. But, if you go back to your desk, dig in, and keep writing, in the end you will figure out a solution. It takes time, but you will get there. Life improves. You feel good again.
It’s like the end of WHO FRAMED ROGER RABBIT?. Toontown, all gorgeous, happy, and beautifully lit, is right on the other side of a giant factory brick wall. Frustratingly, try as they might, the heroes cannot find Toontown. Struggle. Struggle. Struggle! Eventually, a gigantic clanking, self-propelled vat of Dip smashes through the wall… And lo and behold: The entire time, in all its colorful glory, Toontown was right there!
That’s like solving a writing problem. When you at long, long last think of the solution, it may seem amazingly simple. “Why didn’t I think of this a week ago?!” You fume. “Why didn’t I think of this yesterday?!” The answer is, “Because you didn’t.” Don’t beat yourself up. Just like Bob Hoskins and Roger Rabbit, you had to go through the steps before you could arrive at your oh-so-elegant solution. As you rewrite, know that the answer is… there… tantalizingly close… and all you have to do is hit the wall over and over and it will come crashing down.
Grokking that it takes time to mend a broken heart allows you to survive Heartbreaks 2 – 12. Hopefully not that many… but after you’ve repeatedly written yourself out of dark and stormy holes, it seeps into your DNA that you can solve every writing problem — no matter how hideously thorny.
Here’s a dangerous double-edged sword. Welcome to writing! Research as eeeevil vs. research as crucial. Just because you learned something existed in 1921, don’t tell us to prove your research skills are Ph.D.-worthy. As few people living today can use “Gretna Green” in a sentence, this article from a 1921 New York Times is, for a while at least, incomprehensible.
WINONA LAKE, Ind., May 23.—Whether a Presbyterian pastor can conduct a Gretna Green centre and continue to be in good and regular standing, will be decided by the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which is holding its 133rd session here. The case is before its Judicial Commission, and that body will report tomorrow or Wednesday.
The Rev. John H. McElmoyle, Pastor at Elkton, Md., is accused of conducting the Gretna Green. Among the members of the Judicial Commission is ex-Governor James P. Goodrich of Indiana. A book of 200 pages of evidence is in the hands of each member.
Elders of his church wanted Mr. McElmoyle dismissed from the pastorate. The case was taken to the Presbytery of Baltimore. From that body it was taken up to the Synod of Baltimore, and from there it was sent to the General Assembly, the highest court of the Presbyterian Church.
Mr. McElmoyle, according to the printed evidence, married 1,445 couples in one year. Sometimes he had as many as fifteen weddings in one day. The evidence says he had hack drivers to bring couples—many of whom were not of age—to his house. There is a story that a funeral at which he was to officiate had begun, when a hack was seen to drive up in front of his door. He left the funeral, skipped over to the house, performed the ceremony, and then went back and continued the funeral.
The evidence states that his wedding fees averaged one year $4 a ceremony, raising his income several thousand dollars.
In case you were wondering, and I know you were…
Gretna Greene, n. 1. A Scottish parish famous as a home for quickie marriages performed by blacksmiths over an anvil. 2. Any location where marriages can be arranged with a minimum of fuss.
Don’t confuse your reader, but do keep in mind what your characters know. If you’re writing a 1921 period piece, everyone would know what a Greta Greene is. You would never, ever do this (explaining just for the reader) which, tragically, I see a lot of in first draft dialogue.
That awful Reverend Mr. McElmoyle! Using all his wretched Gretna Greene money to buy an Erector Set for every youngster in Elkton.
A Gretna Green, Sally? That’s a location where marriages can be arranged with a minimum of fuss, right?
Well, Geoff, it sure is. That awful John H. McElmoyle certainly was a busy man!
This writing lesson comes courtesy of my son’s most excellent newsletter, Strange Times. I highly recommend signing up for it. Every little while, the oddest articles from one day’s 1921 New York Times…
While, you’re at it, pre-order the final book in his Westside trilogy: Westside Lights. I’ve read it. It’s marvelous!
I was 100% dead certain this superduper learning experience was in my book. It’s not!
Beginning writers constantly (and irritatingly) give characters numbers instead of “names”. You know, COP 1, COP 2, COP 3, or TEACHER #1, TEACHER #2. It’s soooooo boring. A name with a number tells us nothing but “Lookit, three cops!”
Even a tiny addition will boost the read. How’s about GENTLE COP, TWITCHY COP, SAD COP?
AWESOME TEACHER, PSYCHO TEACHER
SO SO BOWLER, WRETCHED BOWLER
SCARRED THUG, MUSTACHIOED THUG, OPERA-LOVING THUG
Give us something and create an image in our mind other than people bopping in who are identical except for numbers on their chests.
I refer you to my all-time-favorite Functional Character Names (which are in Your Screenplay Sucks!)… the guys in ANIMAL HOUSE who say, “Do you mind if we dance with your dates?”
BIG DUDE… BIGGER DUDE… GIGANTIC DUDE
THING 1 and THING 2 worked fine for Dr. Seuss, but 1.) they were supposed to be exactly alike and, 2.) you’re not him.
Learn about writing from famous people!
Deep in this website is The Keith Richards Writing Method (dictate while falling asleep), an amazingly useful tool. It may have brought him an entire career, because, in 1965, during his sleepy activity he wrote “Satisfaction,” the Rolling Stones first #1 in the U.S., and without Richards’ in-his-sleep opening riff, would the Stones be where they are today?
You never know.
My latest famous person writing method is named for Hunter S. Thompson. Hard to believe that one of the great writers of my generation was at one point a beginner.
Just like all of us.
He asked himself, “How can I learn to write well? What writers do I admire?” He answered his question, “F. Scott Fitzgerald! He’s good! Hey, so’s Ernest Hemingway!” Two gifted writers with wildly different writing styles.
Because Hunter S. Thompson was Hunter S. Thompson and not us, after choosing Fitzgerald and Hemingway to admire, he did not do what we’d do. He didn’t just read The Great Gatsby and A Farewell To Arms, and think, “What wonderful prose. These guys certainly can write a ripping great sentence, can’t they? What talented writers! I’ll read more…”
He didn’t do that.
Instead of simply reading The Great Gatsby and A Farewell To Arms and trying to absorb how Fitzgerald and Hemingway wrote a sentence, a page, a scene, novel… Thompson sat at his typewriter with an open copy of The Great Gatsby and A Farewell To Arms and typed ’em up! Both books. Every word. He did it at work, so to his boss, he sounded like the world’s most dedicated employee.
When he finished, he knew down in his bones exactly how his favorite writers wrote.
Recently, I was critiquing students’ homework… which entails a lot of red ink on their pages, telling how to rewrite them… not necessarily for story, but mostly for flow, clarity, and overall tightness of the prose. Like a bolt from the sky, I realized, that if they only read my red ink notes, they wouldn’t learn as much as they could. To actually learn from my notes, they must employ the Hunter Thompson Writing Method.
They needed to retype their homework and load in the changes. Keep in mind, what I’m talking about is not character and story but sentences: basic writing machinery, rhythm and style, the “be clear” “less is more” rulebook.
Not being stupid, I knew that “get better at writing” is rarely sufficient incentive so I told them, “If you do this, I’ll raise your grade.” That worked! Afterward, they told me Hunter Thompson Writing Method gave their prose an amazing boost.
The second (and way more fun) iteration of the Hunter Thompson Writing Method involves, exactly as Thompson did, learning from someone you admire. Type up six scenes written by Greta Gerwig. Or a complete play by Suzan Lori-Parks. Work by Rebecca Gilman, Aaron Sorkin, William Goldman, Diablo Cody. Who’s killer good? To learn how they do it, type up chunks by your favorite comedians – old and new. You wanna be a composer? Learn orchestration by hand copying The Rite of Spring by Igor Stravinsky. “How did he do that?” Like this!
Do it enough, it’ll stick.
Long ago, my children’s second grade teacher, Robin Smith, their favorite teacher of all time, taught every child in her classes how to knit. Every year. It was an unforgettable sight to see six little boys at recess, sitting in a row under the basketball goal, knitting. For my second son, knitting latched on like phosphorous fire. He adored it and knitted all the time. I nearly went bankrupt buying yarn. He got exceedingly good at it. He could knit with his hands behind his back.
Time moved on. He went to high school. When he was 16, he decided that for Halloween he wanted to be Waldo of Where’s Waldo fame. He couldn’t find a Waldo hat anywhere and had forgotten how to knit, so he called Robin Smith. Delighted to hear from him, she told him what size needles and how much yarn to buy and to come to her house Sunday afternoon.
She helped him get set up, showed him what to do, and within five minutes, he was knitting equally as fluently as when he was in second grade.
Writing this has brought tears to my eyes because Robin is no longer with us, except as she flows through the souls of my children, and one of these days, through their children too.
When I called her later, to first of all thank her for helping my child, but also to express my amazement at, after a decade, how quickly he picked up knitting. I could hear the smile in her voice when she said, “Once it’s in the muscle memory, it never goes away.”
Which is where the Hunter Thompson Writing Method comes in handy.
If you type someone else’s words, over and over and over again, gradually the knowledge will enter your DNA. If, instead of just reading it, you retype the homework that has been restructured and trimmed by your teacher, that skill too will slowly seep into your muscle memory.
You’ll be surprised what you’ll learn.
The only way to really understand how someone else writes sentences, or writes dialogue, or anything else, is to type it up. It’s a pain in the ass, but so is writing.
If you give Hunter Thompson Writing Method a try, please let me know what effect it had. I’m excited by this idea and hope someone out there will let me know how it worked for them.
Does this get your attention? Why?
“Where is Papa going with that ax?” said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast.
“Out to the hoghouse,” replied Mrs. Arable. “Some pigs were born last night.”
“I don’t see why he needs an ax,” continued Fern, who was only eight.
“Well,” said her mother, “One of the pigs is a runt.” It’s very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it.”
“Do away with it?” shrieked Fern. “You mean kill it? Just because it’s smaller than the others?”
Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. “Don’t yell, Fern!” she said. “Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway.”
Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors
That’s the opening of Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White, a 184 page novel and one of the best books in the English language.
Guess what? That very, very, very long piece of writing doesn’t start with backstory! There is no set up. We don’t learn anything about Fern’s hopes and dreams or friends or her love for sparkly notebooks or her homework or her painful history with her dopey brother Avery. We find out she lives on a farm, but who cares if it’s near a town in a state in some country somewhere? White starts his story with action, terror, yelling, running, and sympathy for someone smaller. Plus an ax in the first sentence!
We meet Fern when she’s under stress. She has a problem and it’s gigantic. The writer starts with story, not a shred of anything else. If Mr. White doesn’t start his story with a lot of useless backstory and set up and character description and more and more and more set up, then you should consider not doing it either!
Does the writer tell us what Fern looks like? Does she describe Fern’s mother’s hair and where she went to college or her apron?
The number one problem storytellers have is an insatiable desire to tell us stuff we don’t need to know just yet. Get us rolling. Get us very, very, very interested and tell us that world building stuff later.
I teach a class where students stand up and tell stories. Some are only one minute long! Beginning, middle, and end in sixty seconds. Try it sometime. It’s a lot harder than you might suspect. Some students dither and give us useless introduction before the story starts. Sometimes fifteen or twenty seconds of set up and explanation and Godknowswhatall before the story (that they now have to cram into forty seconds) begins.
Don’t do that.
Start your one minute story or screenplay or novel with story. Not necessarily with an ax. But drama and conflict and interesting things happening.
Like, for instance, what some regard as the best first line in all of literature, from One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez. “Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice.”
No ax, but a firing squad. Makes me want to read the second sentence.
If you haven’t read Charlotte’s Web, you’re in for an amazing experience. Like all good stories, including stories that last only one minute, it’s “about” something. Something more than just the plot. Here’s a bit of its New York Times Book Review review by Eudora Welty.
“What the book is about is friendship on earth, affection and protection, adventure and miracle, life and death, trust and treachery, pleasure and pain, and the passing of time. As a piece of work it is just about perfect, and just about magical in the way it is done.”
That’s enough “abouts” to fill a 184 page story. If you have a one page or a five page or fifteen page story, you better slim your “abouts” down to one and only one. Not two. One.
Then, start with that thing. Not backstory or set up.
My children think this is mindblowingly helpful. I’ve never managed to convince anyone else to give it a try, but, as you’re serious about writing, consider it.
Like most all of us, my friend Karl writes the first pass of his screenplay in Final Draft. To rewrite, he prints it and marks it up with a red pen. What is unique about his method is what he does next.
Most people open up Final Draft and enter the changes from the scribbled-on pages into the existing FD file. Not Karl. He sets the script next to his computer, opens a brand new Final Draft file and re-types the entire screenplay. Because we’re all inherently lazy, we will leave out any word we do not have to type. Karl’s method automatically tightens up the writing.
Karl has been the executive producer on 11 television series, writer on 12. His method works for him. You might want to try it.
I recently read Watterson’s The Complete Calvin and Hobbes. It is wonderful and you should buy it today. Available at Amazon or a bookstore near you.
Imagine it’s a television series and pay attention to how fast he establishes uniquely unique characters and a perfectly described world unlike any we’ve ever seen…
If you’re too young to have lived and breathed Calvin and Hobbes, get this book. You’re in for a monumental treat.
From time to time I wonder if this is how some beginning writers feel…
“I spent a lot of time drawing, but I don’t recall that I ever attempted much realism. Like most kids, I wanted instant results, not a learning process.”
This applies to writing pretty much any kind of story…
“Unemployed with no prospects, I drew up a comic strip about a loudmouth spaceman and his dim witted assistant, based on characters I’d drawn for a German class in high school. I sent the strip off to the newspaper syndicates, and about six weeks later, as my savings continued to dwindle, I opened the form letter rejections of my work. By the fall of 1981, I was living with my parents again, trying to come up with a different comic strip. At this point, I had four years to go before drawing Calvin and Hobbes.
“Four years is a pretty long time, especially when there’s no indication that the story will end well. On weekdays, I designed car and grocery ad layouts in the windowless basement office of a free weekly shopper for minimum wage. I learned a bit about design doing this job, but one might charitably say the boss had rage issues, so the office environment was dreary and oppressive, except when enlivened with episodes of fire-breathing insanity. For relief on my half-hour lunch break, I read books in a cemetery. On weekends, I drew editorial cartoons ($25 each) for the local suburban newspaper, where my specialty was weather commentary. My used car frequently needed repairs of the engine-removal type, and so on. Such were the prime years of my youth. After a certain amount of this sort of life, a reasonable person cuts his losses and opts for a different career, but I don’t recall that this ever seriously crossed my mind. In the free time I had, I drew up more comic strips
“In hindsight, all this failure was my good fortune. I’m honestly grateful that all my early strip submissions were flatly rejected. This was not a case of syndicate editors failing to recognize latent genius. My strips had serious flaws, so I’m very lucky I didn’t get stuck trying to make one of them fly. The hard part of coming up with a comic strip is finding strong characters that come alive and “write themselves,” suggesting new material as you go. Newspaper cartooning is an endurance sport, and you need characters and situations that won’t run dry in a few months. My early strip proposals were unevenly written – an occasional good character surrounded by flat ones, put into limited or clichéd worlds beyond my experience. These are common mistakes, but the only way to learn how to write and draw is by writing and drawing. The good thing about working with almost no audience was that I felt free to experiment. Nobody cared what I did, so I tried pretty much anything that came into my head, acquired some new skills along the way, and gradually learned a bit about what worked and what didn’t.
“As I say, that’s what I think in retrospect. At the time, it all just seemed like banging my head against a wall. To persist in the face of continual rejection requires a deep love of the work itself, and learning that lesson kept me from ever taking Calvin and Hobbes for granted when the strip took off years later. But in the midst of repeated failure, some self-delusion about your abilities comes in handy.
“Eventually, one syndicate expressed some interest in my work. They didn’t like the strip I had done, but they liked one of the secondary characters – a boy with an imaginary stuffed tiger. The syndicate gave me a contract to develop them into a comic strip of their own. I knew these characters had more life than any of the others are done. The more I wrote… the better the boy seemed to be, and I had the sensation that the strip was “clicking.” The syndicate had mixed reactions to it however, and eventually rejected it. This was as close as I had ever gotten, so it was quite discouraging.
“Back to square one yet again, I sent my rejected strip about the boy and a tiger to two other syndicates. One of them rejected it, but Universal Press Syndicate asked to see more samples. Desperate to impress, I called Jake Morrissey, the editor who had written me, and asked what the syndicate was looking for, what I should try to do. His answer was a total surprise: just do more of what I liked. I drew up another month of strips, and after waiting on pins and needles, I was offered a contract.
“For the first couple of years, I submitted my rough ideas to my editors at the syndicate. Back in the 80s, this was done by mail of course, which meant it took a week or more to find out which strips were approved for inking up. And earliest days, many ideas would come back marked “No.” This was always sobering, at least because I then had to write replacement strips (and get those approved) just to get back to where I thought I was on the deadlines. Occasionally I disagreed with the editors’ vetoes, but I decided never to argue on behalf of one of my ideas. Any strip that needed a defense wasn’t something I wanted published. I basically trusted my editors’ judgments, and having them as a safety net, I often submitted ideas I wasn’t sure about, just to see what reaction they got.
“When I first came up with the characters, Calvin was a little more than a mischievous loudmouth and Hobbes was simply his somewhat more sensible friend. As the characters expanded, Calvin’s and Hobbes’ personalities became more like my own. Their words and actions are fictitious, sometimes the opposite of what I would say or do, but their emotional centers are very true to the way I think. Hobbes got all my better qualities (and a few quirks from our cats), and Calvin got my ranting, escapist side. Together, they’re pretty much a transcript of my mental diary. I didn’t set out to do this, but that’s what came out, and frankly it’s pretty startling to reread the strips and see my personality exposed so plainly right there on paper. I meant to disguise that better.
“In Calvin and Hobbes, I used my childhood – sometimes straight out of the can, sometimes wildly fictionalized and sometimes as a metaphor for my 20s and 30s – to talk about my life and the issues that interested me. Without exactly intending to I learned a lot about what I love –imagination, deep friendship, animals, family, the natural world, ideas, ideals… and silliness. These things make my life meaningful, and having the opportunity to consider it all at length through the medium of drawing was the most personally rewarding part of Calvin and Hobbes. Giving words and form to what had previously been jumbled, half-conscious thoughts, I occasionally felt like I hit some truth, and in doing so, got to know myself a bit better.”
The Complete Calvin and Hobbes
Kipling was one hell of a writer, not a filmmaker. As you so well know, writing is a solitary event. A novelist may deal with an editor or publisher, but, unless you need a new typewriter ribbon or more ink for your pen, you don’t rub up against many people.
Filmmaking is not like that. You’re in the soup with a lot of other people. Your agent, producer, director, sound person, DP, actors, caterer, editor, colorist, sales rep… are your collaborators. They have your best interest at heart. Listen to them even if, from time to time you must ignore Kipling and his legendary poem, “If.”
In the film department I run, I see this a bunch: despite the best and repeated advice of their crew and teacher, filmmakers at times insist on doing it “their way” and fly the entire operation into the ground.
This is a thin line to walk and I get the degree of difficulty in successfully negotiating the “But they just don’t understand what I’m trying to do!” aspect of filmmaking.
Your crew is your first audience. There’s no way they can see inside your head to understand what you planned and hope for, but they can see the script, they can see the dailies, and they can see the rough cut. They can see your mistakes and if you absolutely won’t be swayed from the gleaming railroad tracks running oh-so-straight across the desert toward distant Paradise, there’s a chance those tracks will drop your train into a deep canyon.
Talking to someone who won’t listen is as rewarding as talking to a wall. At some point your crew may give up trying to give you advice.
When I was in film school, we were required to crew on a 480 (15 minute thesis film) before we were allowed to direct one. The semester before I directed, I was a cinematographer. Together, all the crews watched all the dailies for all the films. All the teachers were in the theater and gave notes as we watched each crew’s footage or cuts and the directors’ reasons for and defense of their choices.
One film was about a Sikh’s decision to cut his hair. The director had a scene where the man is in his bathroom and his girlfriend is waiting in the hall. He takes off his turban and his long hair comes down past his shoulders. He takes one hair between two fingers and pulls it down in front of his face. Holding nail scissors, he looks at the solitary hair and his face in the mirror and… cuts the hair. Nothing happens. Lightning does not strike him and, using the scissors, he hacks at all of his hair, chopping, chopping, chopping.
The scissors were too small to do the job right and the lame attempt to cut all that hair looked ridiculous. Everybody told the director that he had absolute gold if he went from the shot of the one hair being cut, to the hero’s tense wait for lighting to strike, to the girlfriend waiting in the hall, and to the man coming out of the bathroom with short hair. We all felt that, if he showed the character taking the scissors to the rest of his hair, it would be a disastrous mistake. He disagreed. He stuck to his artistic guns and did it precisely like he had always wanted. In the final film, the scene didn’t work. By then, of course, it was too late.
Next semester, when it was my turn to direct, I told my editor that if everyone told me I was doing something wrong, to make sure I listened.
If you’re making a film based on events that happened to them, you are constantly in danger of falling out of the life boat into heavy seas. Creating narrative based on personal history clouds the mind. It takes experience to understand how that, just because something was dramatic when it happened to you, it may not succeed dramatically when it gets to the screen. Be aware: real-life-into-drama can be quicksand.
My 480 was about a girlfriend I’d had in Paris. And a woman I’d dated in Los Angeles. And a French friend I yearned for but who had no romantic interest in me. Claude Lelouch was my favorite director and I wrapped these three stories around each other to tell my story like Lelouch.
It didn’t work. The only one who could follow the complex story structure was me… but I loved it. It was exactly what I’d written and shot. Everything I’d hoped for.
Late in the semester, when we were about to lock picture, my crew and editor said I needed to strongly consider cutting the thread about unrequited love. Nearly one third of the film.
The three part intercutting structure was vitally important. Losing the “friend in Paris” scenes would wreck what I’d been writing, planning and working on for a year. I really, really, really didn’t want to let go of my initial idea.
Luckily, I remembered the previous semester’s director and The Advice Not Taken. As wrenching as the decision was to go against my instincts, I decided that, because everyone was telling me I was wrong, I’d better listen. I told the editor to cut the character. Away she went.
Suddenly the film made perfect sense, worked nicely, and did well for me.
Decades later, I cannot remember anything about that missing story thread except the super cool modern house in the Hollywood Hills we shot in. It’s as if that character’s story never existed. I’d been wrong when everyone around me was right. My team helped me save my film.
If you’re making a film or writing something and everybody’s telling you you’re wrong, there’s a slim chance they could be wrong and holding on to your original plan might be the correct decision. Most likely though, they’re right and you’re not.
When that many people tell you you’ve made a mistake, listen very, very, very carefully.
When you’ve shown your film to an audience or given your writing to an agent, it’s out of your hands and there’s nothing you can do to bring it back. As Ken Robinson, my teacher at USC, told us, “You don’t get to stand next to the screen and explain it.”
I dedicated both my books to the man who gave me that piece of wisdom.
And now, I give it to you.
Up top, I added a new page. NOTES ON ROUGH CUT.
I’ve directed a dozen shorts and have been teaching filmmaking for a long time. A rough cut of a film is a lot like a screenplay… there’s story and character and pace and clarity and everything else. Filmmakers need help just like writers.
So, if you’re in need of someone from outside your editing room (or your own personal head) to give you notes, I’m throwing my hat in the ring.
Take a look at the notes I posted and, if you think I can help, let me know.