Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Humbling Notes

I love rewrite time. Yesterday I got some notes that were all "Hey your script sucks balls and you should shoot yourself."

Not really, but, you know, sometimes it feels like that.

At first I was despondent. What do you do with that? Someone hates your material straight up, no hope for your script, nothing to do but write a new one. I couldn't sleep.

Then The Beefcake said something cool. "You hated Annie Hall, right?"

Why yes. Yes I did.

"And that's considered by many people to be the best movie ever made. Think about that."

I did. And that helped.

And I started thinking about my opening scene. The note giver did not say he hated my opening scene, but I know. It sucks. It's two people talking for three pages and nobody wants to watch that. Sure, I made all kinds of excuses while I was writing about why it had to be this way. Salt doesn't open with an action scene, you know. My inciting incident is on page 7, so that's good, right?

Bullshit. I knew it sucked, and when that note giver said my script was hooey, it became obvious that the problem was those first ten pages.

Usually when I start a script I have that first scene nailed down in my head, and no amount of convincing can get me to change it, but normally that scene is a big fight with lots of energy, not two people in a janitor's closet dumping dialogue all over the place.

So last night I thought about those notes. I rolled around and pondered, and at just past midnight I got back up and cranked up the old laptop and got to typing.

Just because I saw it in my head does not mean it's the best opening of my story. I can easily see something else in my head, and I did. Let's face it - nobody wants to spend the first three minutes of an action film watching two people talk in a janitor's closet. I don't want to watch that, but for some reason I was attached to it until I told myself to knock it off and consider other possibilities.

I don't know if the note giver would like what I've come up with, but it doesn't matter. I like to give my script to a different person each time so I get a different perspective, so he'll never see it again. What I got from that guy is that I needed to change something. I knew what was wrong, I just needed someone to tell me that I am not the damn golden child so I could put my ego in check long enough to make the necessary change.


  1. Anonymous3:46 AM

    Yeah, slap an action scene up front and see how that puppy barks (wink)

  2. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Hey Emily,

    Notes are always a slippery slope.

    A few years back, I had a script place in a contest in which they emailed me the final two judges' comments. And I swear to God -- from plot to dialogue to format and everything in between these two judges were polar opposites. As expected, I didn't provide much useful feedback for my script.

    Ever since that experience I take notes with a grain of salt and try to incorporate the worthwhile suggestions with my original intentions regarding the project.

    -- Mr. Penn State

  3. Very true, Mr. Penn State, very true.

    And Moviequill, I just didn't want to pull an Alias and do that whole flashback action scene thing. Feels like such a cheat. Eh. I'll figure it out.

  4. I dunno. Action flicks don't have to start with action. Intrigue and questions, yes, something clearly at stake, yes, but not action. I'd say for your opening it depends on what's going on in the closet. A few examples of top notch action films that spend a couple of minutes (or more) before there's any real action going on:

    The Bourne Identity. Starts with a card game on a fishing boat and Bourne floating in the water. Then they fish him out, he's unconscious, and their medic pulls bullets out his back. No fight scene, car chase or anything.

    The Matrix. The first minute (just about) is a v.o. phone conversation with a green cursor on a computer screen, then some numbers. Even the cops breaking in the door on Trinity isn't high action, and then it cuts to the agents showing up.

    I Am Legend. The first 1.5 minutes is an interview with the doctor talking about a cure for cancer. Then shots of a deserted NYC, then a car driving through the abandoned city.

    Not a lot of action going on. But each of the examples is compelling writing and filmmaking. Activity doesn't equate with being dynamic. And a scene can be extremely dynamic even if there is no activity at all -- a variety of scenes from Silence of the Lamb comes to mind.


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