Sunday, September 14, 2008

Let it go

I was on a screenwriting board recently where a new writer was asking about motivation and I gave my two cents. And every single other person disagreed with my two cents. I didn't make a big deal out of it but I thought I'd go into it here where I can explain my opinion in detail.

The basic question was, Is it okay to abandon a script to work on something else?

And I said yes. And everybody else said no.

Allow me to explain.

I finished my first script. It was okay - not something I'd shop around, but not too bad compared to other first screenplays. I got one hit off my logline, but of course the script wasn't good enough so I never heard from that agent again, and to be honest I think she asked for my script less because of my logline and more because I raved about how much I liked the pictures of cats she had on her website. Which, by the way, was a good lesson to learn about the importance of personality in selling yourself.

Anyway, I finished a TV episode and another script and a pilot and another TV episode and that's when things started to go wrong.

The TV episodes were okay but the longer scripts were bad. Real bad. They were both about professional assassins - not the same story, but they both had connections to Mafia dealings and the like, which is something I know absolutely nothing about. So the scripts were terrible.

Then I started a script about three brothers who are professional thieves.

I a) do not have a brother and b) know nothing about professional thieving.

So halfway through the script I realized it wasn't working. I looked back at my previous work and noticed that the reason I was having such a difficult time was because I kept trying to write about things that were completely out of my range of experience. So I scrapped the script completely, 60 pages in.

I decided to try writing a Supernatural. I wrote one draft and it was clearly very bad so I started a rewrite with a new storyline and it was clearly bad and I started a third rewrite with an even newer storyline and it was clearly bad so I decided to give up on Supernatural. That show is surprisingly difficult to write for.

I started a My Name is Earl and realized five pages in that I only had one joke. My plot was about Catalina being threatened with deportation so Earl has to marry her but Randy gets pissed because HE wants to marry Catalina.

Anybody remember that season where that happened? Yeah I was pretty happy that I hadn't written that episode after all, and even happier that's I clearly have the right idea even if I don't really do "jokes".

My point here is, if a script is obviously not working then why not switch to something that does? I learned things from each of those abandoned scripts, but I really don't think my wasting any more time struggling through them, passionless and knowing they wouldn't work, would help me be a better writer. In each case I swapped that script out for something that DID work.

I'm not suggesting to abandon the script when things get tough. When I was working on Not Dead Yet I came to a moment where I wasn't sure I could keep going, but then I realized that I liked this script too much and it had too much potential for me to let it die, so I pushed through and got some help and finished it, and now I'm proud of the result.

If every script you start ends up half finished, you have a problem. But if you are dying to work on that fairy tale drama but feel like you have to wait until you finish this piece of crap torture porn thing you started five months ago and have dragged ass through because you have nowhere to go from here - I say put it down. Go work on something you want to work on. There's no reason to force yourself to finish something just to say you finished it if it's obviously not going to work.

That's just the way I see it because I'm not a big fan of wasting time.


  1. Anonymous5:44 PM

    wow,nobody agreed with you? I have read and heard in some of The Dialogue dvd interviews that some of the pros even do this. to me, the sign a writer is getting to the next level is his ability to give up a project when he realizes he is just spinning his wheels in the mud

  2. Good God, what were you on IMDB? Those fuckers don't know their elbows from their assholes.

    Why in God's name would you slave away on a script that isn't working, when you have a script on the backburner that you feel real passion for?

    Care to provide a link to this debate? I'd back you up. Sometimes the so called professional writers that hang out on message boards have their own hidden motives for doing so.

  3. It's a private board, so no I can't link to it, but their primary argument is that you should always push through to finish your script and not get so discouraged by a first draft that you give up.

  4. I do see their point. If your hard drive is littered with a dozen half finished first drafts and zero finished drafts, then obviously you've got a problem, probably in the outlining stage.

    But, just because you possibly did overestimate the greatness of your idea, and now on page 60 you're struggling to finish it, there is no problem with admitting defeat (at least for now) and moving on to something you feel passionate about.

    I honestly can't believe none of these people can see that. Weirdos.

  5. Those are probably the same people who litter hollywood with the thousands of scripts that are either terribly crap to begin with or need a page one rewrite.

    For myself, it may be I hit a point that the story is not working, and I need to let my subconcious work it out. Sometimes a story requires a certain mood, and if I'm not in that mood, I will only write crap.

    Sometimes I only write scenes, that are without a movie, but I'll use in later scripts, much like stock foootage. So long as the creative juices keep flowing, that is important.

    On the other hand, you have to know when to go back, or if to go back. If it has deteriorated to a page one rewrite, you have to evaluate whether it will be worth the effort to do so versus beginning a new project with more potential.

  6. As a pro, here's my two cents: if you're any good at all as a writer you know crap is crap. Rearranging the crap in the toilet won't make it smell any better. Flush it and move on.

    It's tough enough writing something you feel passionate about let alone struggling with something you know isn't working. Move on to what works, then after you're rich and famous and are living life in a retirement home because your ex-wife took all your money and split with the pool guy, then and only then should you work on something you hate.

    Life is too short to be wasting time wasting time on crap.

  7. sometimes when I begin writing a script and then I suddenly find it boring and un-inspiring... then I just can't go on with it anymore, because my heart ain't in it.

    so yeah, I agree with you there!

  8. With all due respect, Emily...I STRONGLY disagree with your opinion.

    I'm writing a script, that has literally taken me through some...stuff. But I'm excited because it's becoming an awesome script.

    Here's something from Pros ROSSIO/ELLIOTT:

    "Consider this quote from M. Night Shyamalan, regarding THE SIXTH SENSE:

    "It wasn't until about the fifth draft that I really began to figure it out. It was then that I realized he's dead. It took me five more drafts to execute it right."

    What if M. Night had just...Let It Go?


  9. I never give up on a story. I just leave them for as long as it takes me to figure out how to make them work.

    I've been waiting for years with some.

    There have been cases where I have forced myself to keep writing. I don't think I've ever showed the results to anyone. I've also not been minded to rewrite them either because I know that there was something fundamentally wrong with the story as I told it that it would require a page one rewrite - in other words a completely different story. If I can figure that out beforehand, I'm not going to waste my time forcing myself to finish something that I know is going to be a complete mess.

    Where it does become an issue is when you can't finish anything. Of course if you're working on assignment, not only do you have to finish regardless of your feelings, but you also have to make it passable, if not good. But as long as you know you can do that again why waste your time?

  10. Emily,

    I think the most important aspect of what you said was that you have to know when a script is worth pressing on in the face of "not-working-itis". Clearly, Night wrestled with many drafts of "Sixth Sense" but even though he didn't initially understand it, he knew it was worth staying with.

    I am, at the moment, saddled with a first-time co-writer who can't be bothered to learn her craft, and the effort of defending the story from the onslought of her "we-should-do-this-es" has taken its toll on me; I'm gutting out the last ten or fifteen pages out of pure determination. It's HARD! If the story didn't demand telling, I'd be gone, gone, gone.


  11. Unlike the mooks on that board, I agree 100%. In fact, I did just that with the very first feature script I ever started. It was a satire and was time-related, and before I got to finishing it (also around page 60, if I remember correctly) I realized that its time had passed. The subject matter would no longer be interesting to the bulk of the marketplace. So I decided to shelve it, instead of continuing along. And I know that if the subject ever becomes relevant again, I can go back and restart it, and see what's salvageable!

  12. Anonymous10:15 AM

    Alright. Alright.

    I'm letting it go.

    At every turn I'm told I'm just spinning my wheels with my script.

    Here, I thought I was digging deep.

    Well hell I'm done. fuck it!

    Morgan is out...


Please leave a name, even if it's a fake name. And try not to be an asshole.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.