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Week 2 of the rewrite!
Assuming you haven’t ditched your script in favor of catching Pokemon, you’re knee-deep in a rewrite that’s probably causing you a lot of consternation. One of the shittiest things about rewriting is that, a lot of the time, the solutions you came up with in your outline won’t work. And because of this, instead of rewriting, you’re back to problem-solving. And when you’re problem solving, you’re not writing. Which means your script isn’t progressing.
What a lot of writers will do is let these difficulties linger. A day goes by, then two, then a week, then a couple of weeks. All of a sudden, you’re in the middle of full-blown writer’s block. The script becomes the enemy, and the only way to defeat it is to avoid it.
I read an article once by a professional screenwriter who said that with every script, you’ll have 3 to 4 moments where you encounter an INSURMOUNTABLE problem. You become convinced that your script is flawed and that it cannot survive. So before you freak out, know that this is something LOTS OF WRITERS endure.
Here’s the great thing about these moments. Solving them almost always raises your script to the next level. Something about solving this problem helps you see the script in a whole new way, and all of a sudden you’re reinvigorated, because you know your script is THAT much better. So don’t go jumping off a cliff when these moments arrive. Engage in the challenge, knowing that on the other side is a pot of gold.
What I DON’T want you to do is take time off. Or fiddle around on the internet. We don’t have time for that. We’re on a deadline. And remember, part of this experiment is preparing you guys for when you have real deadlines in the professional world. You need to be fighters. So here are five things you can do to overcome your script problems.
Book It – Read a book in a similar genre – Reading other peoples’ work, especially really good work, inspires people. And that inspiration can lead to ideas. And it’s only a matter of time before one of those ideas leads to a solution. There are a couple of things to keep in mind here. Do not read a book that’s in the exact same genre as your movie. The reason for this is that the solution you find may be the exact same solution they used, and now your script comes off as a copycat. Read something slightly different. So if you’re writing Star Wars, read something like Cloud Atlas.
Now if you’re really struggling to find the solution this way, here’s a trick. With every single unique element that pops up in the book, stop and ask yourself, “Could this work as my solution?” Let’s say, for example, that your problem is you want a unique murder scene in your movie, something unlike any murder scene ever made. You’re reading your book and you come across the sentence, “Joe moves the shower curtain to the side.” Think to yourself, “Shower curtain. Is there anything I can do with shower curtains? Hmmm. Maybe the murder takes place in a shower. Maybe we put the murderer, who’s really a man, in woman’s clothes to add to the confusion.” And just like that, you’ve created the shower scene from Psycho! That’s a bit of a stretch but the point is, YOU NEVER KNOW where solutions will come from. So consider every angle, even something as mundane as a shower curtain.
List it – One of the problems a lot of writers have is they think too logically. And to a certain extent, that’s a required mindset for screenwriting. Your movie has to make sense and characters have to act in a logical manner. But to come up with solutions, you may have to think illogically to spark the unconscious side of your brain, the side that’s truly creative. Lists are a great way to do that. What you do is open a new document and write down TEN or TWENTY solutions to your problem. The catch? You can’t judge your answers. The second you start judging, your logical mind takes over. We don’t want him around.
Now the reality is, a lot of your solutions will be cliche, because cliches are always the first things that come to mind. That’s why I prefer 20 solutions to 10. Once you get past 10, you’ll find yourself being more creative. Again, don’t filter yourself. Anything goes. Solutions often come from the most unexpected places. If we’re the writers of Zootopia, the best movie ever, and our problem is that we have no idea where our climax should take place, here’s what our solution-list might look like…
1) The forest.
2) Inside of an apartment.
3) The zoo.
4) Out on the farm where she grew up.
5) In the human world.
7) In a supermarket.
8) We reveal that their amazing zoo world has actually been a simple zoo in the Bronx all this time. They just imagined it to be this way.
9) In a museum.
10) In a giant human office building where they have to steal something from the humans. Maybe the humans who own the zoo?
Are these great ideas? Uh, not really. But that’s okay! You’re not being judged on how great the idea is. You’re trying to spark your mind and think of the problem and its solution in a slightly different way. By not filtering yourself and writing down whatever the hell comes to mind, you just might find the answer you’re looking for.
Walk it – No, this doesn’t mean go for a walk and look for Pokemon. It means go out and THINK about your script. The reason walks work better than staying in your apartment is that you already know everything in your apartment. You know that TV over there, that chair over there, that plant over there. Your mind isn’t being challenged with any new information. Walk around and really TAKE IN your environment. Look at things you don’t normally look at. For example, look up. We stopped looking up when we were kids. Look fucking up! Look anywhere but the places you usually look. And during your walk, keep your problem front and center. Whatever you see, apply it to your problem. If you see a pink cadillac, ask yourself if a pink cadillac is part of the solution. If the driver has a handlebar mustache, ask yourself if disguising your main character in a handlebar mustache is the solution. Really let your mind wander and be creative. And try to take different routes each time out. Don’t always go on the same walk. Just like your apartment, the information will cease to be new.
Sleep it – This should be something you’re doing regardless of your rewrite. Every time you go to sleep, you should be thinking about the biggest problem in your script and trying to come up with a solution. This is the most peaceful time of the day, when your mind is at its clearest. Take advantage of that. But there’s a trick to this. Write the problem out in the form of a question AS SPECIFICALLY AS POSSIBLE ahead of time. One of the reasons writers struggle to solve a problem is they never clearly define the problem in the first place. The more specific the question, the easier it will be to solve. So let’s say we’re writing Ant-Man and the heist sequence isn’t working. You don’t want your question to be, “How do we make the heist sequence better?” Take a deeper look into WHY the scene isn’t working so your question can be more specific. Maybe it seems too mechanical, and you feel like it needs more emotion. Then the question can be, “How do we add more emotion to the heist scene so that the audience actually feels something?” And you can be even more specific than that. In fact, the more specific the question, the closer you are to the answer.
Write it – This may seem like the most obvious solution. Write your way out of the problem! But this is a complicated solution. If you don’t have a plan and you just start writing, you may write something so shitty that you never want to look at your script again. You may write something so shitty that you convince yourself the problem is unsolvable. You might dirty up the screenplay with some weird random glub of junk that, if complex enough, would require a lot of careful seeking and deleting to return your script back to the place it was before that horrible tangent. So here’s a compromise solution. Open a new document separate from your script and write the scene or sequence or changes in there. With it being an entirely new document, you don’t have to worry about it affecting your script if it sucks. You’re just experimenting, playing around, and seeing what works. This can be quite liberating as there’s literally NO PRESSURE. And I actually encourage writers to write several variations of the scene in the same document. Just see where your mind takes you. If you happen to come up with something that works? Simply cut and paste it into your official script!
These are just a few ways to help solve problems in your script so you don’t go into Writer’s Block World. Feel free to offer some of your own ways of solving script problems in the comments section.
Rewrite Goal (Week 11): End of first half of the script! (somewhere between pages 50-60, depending on overall script length).
Seeya next week!