Wednesday, November 15, 2006


I recently did a rewrite of a script I thought I'd finished months ago. It's based on a terrific YA book called Mara, Daughter of the Nile, which I read and loved many years ago, when I qualified as a young adult.

The book is fantastic, featuring a clever heroine, sexy hero, and a plot full of believable twists and turns. I wrote what I must say is a terrific script. A friend of mine has the option on the book, and we've been pitching it around town.

But the cool and horrible thing about being a writer is that your work is never done. With another meeting looming to pitch the script, my friend and I decided to polish the script up a bit and make it even better.

Here's the weird thing - it was easy.

Normally, writing is fun and rewarding for me, but it's hard. Scriptwriting is a strict medium - you must know how to tell a story visually, using only action and dialogue. A feature script should run between 90 and 130 pages. You must capture your audience within a few pages, spilling out action, exposition (cleverly disguised), character, setting. Every single scene must advance the plot. Every single line of dialogue must serve at least two puposes, often more. (What purposes? Well, it must advance the plot, show character, and contain subtext -- just for starters.) You can't just maunder on aimlessly, like I'm doing now. Tighten, cut, sharpen.

So I was amazed at how easily this rewrite went. My fingers tripped happily over the keyboard. I made major changes that flowed seamlessly.

The reason? The rewrite makes sense.

This is key and not as obvious as you'd think. In Hollywood, you get notes from producers/actors/development people like: Why don't you give the hero a brother on the front lines of the war, so we can see the action there? This, when the story never involved anyone's brother or the front lines of any war. That's an exact note we got on this script. We were also told to change the female protagonist to a male and to make it more occult. This about a script about a clever young woman who saves an empire thanks to her wits - not due to some supernatural causes.

We didn't incorporate any of those notes. What we did do was (writers take note) ADD MORE CONFLICT. Drama equals conflict. By simply adding conflict to the setting, we upped the ante, sharpened the characters' dilemmas, and added color. That, and I blended two of the villains into one. Never underestimate the power of a fascinating antogonist. The book had several, and I boiled two of them down to one, and he became the main bad guy -- and a much more interesting character.

My friend went to a screening of a movie full of great black actors, and the film's director told a story of how he pitched the movie around town and was asked if he could turn an educated black character in the script into a downtrodden white man. This naked sort of racism, talking down the audience, and just plain stupidity is what you must constantly face in Hollywood.

So when the notes make sense - the rewrite flows. When the notes don't make sense - throw 'em out.

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