Monday, May 09, 2011

Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck

I have a dilemma.

I finished Nice Girls Don't Kill and started the whole sending it around town and querying process, but something keeps getting to me. Three of the people who've read the script I considered finished have come back with notes. Moreover, it's been the same note.

Early in the script my protagonist makes an unusual choice. I completely understand her choice, and it's important to me that it is, in fact, a choice and not a necessity. But three people have all said they don't understand why she makes that choice, and suggest she instead end up on the run from people chasing her, so she HAS to do what she does.

Two things. That would involve ANOTHER page one rewrite (#4 if you're counting) of the script. And it would fundamentally change the story itself into something I don't want it to be. I feel like it would make my script into a generic action film, because I feel like the fact that my protagonist makes this choice is one of the things that separates it from other stories.

I even have dialogue that specifically says why my character makes her choice, but obviously the dialogue is not enough.

If three people give you the same note, you have to acknowledge that it's not something you can ignore.

I have a choice. Do nothing and hope the right person reads it - seems unlikely.  I could do another page one rewrite and turn it into the script everyone else wants to see. I could try to find the note behind the note and make her motivations clearer.

I have a feeling that no matter what I do I'll still get the same note, because I already thought I addressed it with each other previous rewrites to no avail.

It may be that I have a fundamentally flawed concept.

It's frustrating as hell. I worked my ass off on this script and I am completely happy with how it turned out, but even though everybody loves my voice and my pacing and the fun action scenes - they all say the same thing about my character's motivations. And it's something I do not want to change.

For now I've taken the note-behind-the-note approach and added a few bits here and there to make her decision a little clearer, and I'm still thinking of possible tweaks her actions that will give her more tangible reasoning, but I'm still afraid it won't work any better than what I've already done.



  1. If you believe in it, then I'd say stick to your guns. This happens to me quite frequently because I like to fuck around with genre conventions. Therefore when people get one of my scripts to read and they know the genre, they already have preconceived notions of "what is supposed to happen next." It's an unfortunate byproduct of our overly wired culture, I fear. Everyone goes to movies to "outsmart" the film they're seeing and love patting themselves on the back when they "get it right." It's weird, no less weird than the grotesque reportage of box office dollars but I digress...

    For me, it's a crapshoot. If it's something I believe in, I will buck popular opinion. If my draft sucks, at least it sucks on my terms, right? If I think it IS something worth exploring, I will noodle for a bit to see if there is any credence to a collective reader criticism.

    Screenwriting. Not for the faint-hearted, to be sure.

  2. it's hard to say without reading it, but i'd agree with you about the note behind the note. but from what you've said, you've worked hard on this. if I were you I'd let it age for a while longer. i never find that I can tinker my way to a solution. i need to really see the problem with clarity, and if I can't see the problem or bring myself to agree that there is a problem, i'm not going to believe there is one, just let it ride.

    (that's only on my own specs - if you're paying me I'll be fixing)

  3. Nobody liked a painting Picasso once did. Nobody - not even those close to him. The painting was called "Les Demoiselles d'Avignon" and it ended up ushering in the dawn of cubism.

    "To thine own self be true."

  4. cshel9:45 PM

    I'm really not meaning for this to sound too "feminist", but just out of curiosity, did all three notes that had a problem with your female protagonist's choice come from men? Do you think the choice bothered the note givers (of any gender) because your protagonist is a female? Do you think if your protagonist was a male that you would still have gotten the notes about the choice?

  5. Thanks Jeffrey and Brad and Sean. That's good perspective.

    Cshel, no women have read my script yet, although I did just send it to a female friend, so I'm curious as to what she'll say. I kind of thought about that gender thing, but I don't want to be blind to problems and blame it all on that, and these are guys who know the business, so....

    Then again, the protag in Wanted made a very similar decision and I never questioned it, nor did anybody else I know who saw it. So I'm a bit flummoxed.

  6. How serious a problem is it for the readers? More to the point, do they see this problem as the difference between PASS and CONSIDER? If the rest of it is awesome, you might be lucky enough to squeak by on a CONSIDER or CONSIDER WITH RESERVATIONS and then you can fight the note in a conversation with someone who's got the power to actually make or sell the script.

    Yeah, it might be valuable to see if female readers are more forgiving... of course, the problem is that you can't count on getting a female reader as you send it around.

  7. I know your script is very different than mine, but the reason I asked is because I wrote a comedy script with a female protagonist that makes some questionable moral choices, and kicks some butt, and I knew the audience for it would probably be more female. But I purposely sent it out for both male and female professional reads. The female readers were totally on board with it, but the male readers were definitely more varied in their feelings about the protag's choices and actions. I was really surprised, and worried, about the difference because I know that when I query or send the script out, the overwhelming odds are that it's going to be a male reader.

  8. Since you understand her reason, it can seem to you like you're being explicit enough... but perhaps, to someone who doesn't already know this character, it's not as clear.

    Taking a cue from advertising - add repetition.

    Her reason for making the choice is like your core brand message. If it's stated once, it's easy to gloss over, or to dismiss. If it's stated three times, it's going to have a stronger hold and readers will come away remembering it.

    The trick is to work in two more ways in which her reason for the choice is explicitly shown or explained. (But only after putting it aside for a little while to gain clarity.)

  9. That really stinks....I really hope you can find a way to make it work...I don't recommend another page one rewrite if you're happy with the rest of it. I understand exactly how you feel. We've all been there and it sucks. Good luck and don't give up on what your passionate about. At the end of the day, if a change doesn't make yourself and don't do it.

  10. Thanks, guys.

    Bitter, that is primarily the reason I think. There have been a few other minor questions, but that's the main reason these guys don't feel comfortable passing the script on to their contacts.

    Cshel that's pretty damn interesting. It kind of sucks, but it's the world in which we live, I suppose.

    Laura, that's kind of what I tried to do with my new changes. I just added a few lines of dialogue here and there, a few little snippets. The most recent reader actually suggested a scene I added already. I'm going to make one more change this morning. I'm hoping that's all it is - they just need to be beaten over the head a little more. But I don't know.

    Thanks, Linda. I'll try to remember that.

  11. Anonymous8:19 AM

    Three people is relative. If three people give you same note, than that's three people. If three people is 80% of the people who read it, that's a different story.

    Keep in mind that the people who agree with - or even flat out love - how you handled your character's decision making aren't necessarily going to praise your for it.

    Make a page one rewrite for these three, changing the story from what you want it to be won't bring you any joy and for all you know, the contacts they would send it to might vastly prefer what you have now. Or might have other problems.

    Whether it's a protagonist, villain, a plot point, or a character decision, what we do is very subjective to those reading/watching.

    My latest has a protagonist that most readers have loved while two others really, really did now. There were a lot of arguments about how much backstory we needed to fill in, but she's also a reluctant anti-hero who never fully embraces her "call to action". What works for some people doesn't for others. In the end I added a short scene and changed another that help get into her head even more but I never even considered a page one rewrite to change the character altogether. The story, to have any weight at all needs her to be who she us. It's her story.

    Repeating or restating to reinforce things later on in different ways is usually fair but I wouldn't give script notes on a script I've never seen. You're giving the note the thought it deserves so a solution will probably come to you.

    In the end it has to stay the story you set out to tell. Don't do a page one rewrite you don't believe in -- unless you're being paid.

  12. You know what? People say a lot of stuff after OTHER PEOPLE HAVE DONE ALL THE WORK (no offense to them, God bless them for reading it and their input is valuable). The fact is that the real judge will be when someone offers you money for 120+ pieces of paper. Unfortunately or not, they will be the judge of your work's value. It was your ideas that got you here. Stick to your guns.

  13. Anonymous12:19 PM

    If I were in your shoes, here's how I'd be looking at the note:

    I need to somehow show the likely outcome if my protag made the opposite choice, and thereby show the audience the protag's reasoning in making the choice.

    Or I need to lead the audience to believe the protag will definitely make the opposite choice, and then when the protag makes the surprising choice it will stand out as a real MOMENT.

    Or I need another character to challenge, perhaps repeatedly, the protag's decision, resulting in a final response from the protag that removes any doubt about the choice.

    Or I need to put the protag making the choice in the very first scene, even if it's a flash-forward, thereby making the story ABOUT the choice.

    Or I need more foreshadowing of the choice.

    Or I need the protag to pay a really steep price for making the choice, but show how making the choice was ultimately wise.

    Characters making out-of-the-box choices ought to work FOR you, not against you. Keep that choice - it sounds like it's a defining one for the character - but make us believe she would choose that, or make us believe that she will always struggle with the decision, never knowing if she did the right thing.

    Hope this helps get the juices flowing.


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