I have been doing a lot of writing lately, trying to get my next projects in full swing before I have finished my last one, which is either a good idea or foolish, I am not sure which. Regardless, I thought I would share some thoughts about the writing process, and how I go about working on a new script.
I recently saw an interview with Darren Aronofsky (whom I admire greatly) where he said that the first draft of a script should be written in a burst of energy, not taking time to rework anything, and not worrying about it being a piece of garbage. I tend to agree, however I find it difficult to do so. I take a little more time on my first draft because it is where I am crafting the story for the first time, although I would be being generous if I was to say that my first drafts are any good. On the contrary, they are always terrible.
What I have started doing though is giving first drafts to my trusted collaborator and writing partner before even going through it too much myself. I used to never do this – partially because I didn’t have someone I trusted enough with my raw ideas to give a script to – and mostly because showing someone a first draft can be embarrassing. It’s like being naked in front of a jury. A jury that is very critical, and doesn’t hold back about any shortcomings that you may have.
Finding a collaborator like that is like striking gold. Certainly you can pay for advice and script analysis, but knowing someone who knows you, and what you are probably trying to do, is so much better. And not to mention free. But you have to be open to the criticism, and you can’t take it personally.
I think the key to improving at anything is taking criticism well, and knowing where to look for it. I have gotten loads of criticism from sources I have ignored completely. And some that I have taken to heart more than was intended. Understanding who the person is that is giving the advice is as important as the advice itself, and it is why I treasure good writing partners.
It’s in the second, third, and subsequent drafts where I like to be in any case, it’s where the real shaping and storytelling happens. It’s where the idea becomes more than a flash in your mind, but a fleshed out fully thought-out story. It’s where the magic of writing happens: where the tone and pace start to take form.
The script I am writing right now is a feature drama called “Path of Light”. It’s a story that’s been in my mind for literally years, but once it came out written down on a page, the idea shifted. I didn’t imagine this story was the one I was going to tell at first, but over time I realized it is the story that I want to tell, and a much more interesting one than I thought of when I had my initial inspiration. Initial inspiration is beautiful, it’s kind of a full movie told in splendid moments in your mind, one that no one ever gets to see other than you. Tragic, but dreams are a personal thing, and as similar as it may feel, movie making is not dream making. That’s the illusion.
I say all of this knowing my professional experience is limited. I have made a couple of good professional short films, ones that I am proud of. This would be my leap into long form, and I hope I am ready for it. When I was much younger I made what amounts to a medium length fiction on video, and consider it a student film since I was just out of school, and had written it then. I learned quite a bit from the experience, but the main thing I learned was to not go into production if you are not ready. Not ready because your script is not working, not ready because your idea isn’t fully formed, not ready because your actors aren’t prepared, etc… Now, as I embark on a true professional fiction feature, I hope I have learned enough lessons to make a film I can be proud of.
And I know it all starts with the script.