a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Curse of the Flexible Storyline

So my full read the other night went... okay.

The actors were great, particularly my two leads. Despite a lot of writers being out with the flu (and I'm still battling what has been diagnosed as a bronchial infection), enough people showed up to make the comments afterward (when the writers take turns tearing my script apart) valuable.

The problem with this script is that, though I never intended it to be more than something that could be shot very cheap, there are ideas in there that capture people's imaginations, so much that they want these ideas executed differently.

Without getting into specifics, let me talk about the script in this way: There's a supernatural premise involving the main character, there's a plot twist on this premise along the way, and then there's the big late reveal.

But there are a multitude of ways to execute this script, different takes on the material, and it seemed like there were writers advocating for all of them.

There was the core group who didn't like the big reveal; they'd rather have me stick with the supernatural premise and develop the plot twist in a different direction.

Others like the big reveal, but wish I'd gotten there in different fashion, despite the demands that the big reveal places on the story.

Some wanted me to jump into the story faster, to start off with the big basement scene that in this draft starts off on page 11. Others want me to take more time early on, and develop my main character, and make sure the script was focused on her.

And all the notes are valid, to a certain extent. And ultimately it's all about how I want to tell the story, and the best way to serve the story and characters with the elements I have.

It's also about how many versions I want to do of this script. Because the current version, though it can use some tweaking, works fairly well for what it is.

But now I'm considering doing an alternate version, taking out the big reveal and indeed just playing with the story twist, and how a different ending would really mean a different script, in ways that are probably good but also potentially problematic as well.

So that's what I'm wrestling with now. And I get the irony that this is what I do for a living, giving other people notes that they can chew over like this.

Maybe I'll just make all the characters penguins.


At 9:19 AM, Blogger Lucy said...

As a reader, you know that sometimes notes conflict - and both ideas are still good. I've lost count of the number of times this has happened to me: it's hard to ignore the pull of BOTH angles, then you end up with a mad hotpotch mess of story.

So when this happens to me, I try and remember WHY I wrote this story in the first place: how it came to me, what I wanted to say with it. That usually enables me to match up the best set of comments for that intention.

And sometimes I still want to boil my own head.

At 11:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"works fairly well for what it is" is not exactly a lot of confidence in what you've got.

Here's what I think is working for me at the moment in a novel I'm working on: find the line and stick to that line.

The narrative line, the one that tells the story the best.

At 12:57 PM, Blogger SableFreelancer said...

What's more important to the story (or to YOU the writer): the supernatural premise or the character? If it's the character, like Drew Barrymore in Firestarter, then start with the character development and get to the basement on page 11. If it's the supernatural premise like every Korean horror movie retread in the US, then start with the basement scene.

Here ends today's sermon.

At 1:45 PM, Blogger marcoguarda said...

What is that makes a story memorable? What is that makes a story a cult? A myth? In "Big Wednesday" -- DVD version -- there is a special in which John Milius talks about this movie. His comment is also available as an alternate superimposed audio track. Big Wednesday is Milius' story. Milius was a surfer himself, and knew very well what swells were, and what it takes to ride the moving, liquid dune that a twelve-foot-high (and more) wave is. I've never realized what Milius himself makes clear both in his movie comment and in his interview: the takes. The majority of the scenes were filmed inside the water. The cameras were waterproof cameras. The crew was in the water, or aboard boats or rafts, and many times they were submerged. In the movie there are many dangerous scenes (like those at the end of the movie), and some of those scene could be filmed just once, because of the incredible danger. There is a scene in which the surfer lets the audience know what it feels to ride inside a "tube", that tunnel waves naturally create before breaking onto itself. Being the waves very high, the mass of water amounted to many tons, so when the "tube" collapses, the actor/stunt, who is caught underneath an incredible pressure, has for real hard times to get out. Those people were just mad at filming that and many other scenes. But I've never -- I repeat -- never felt anything else other than an ease, an incredibly fluidity in the story and in the movie. I've never thought for once that maybe people were in danger filming the movie. Everything flows in Big Wednesday [my opinion, obviously]. Like water. Endlessly. Easily. A wonderful continuum.

I think if you can provide such fluidity in the movie, such ease in story flow, and you are also able to stupefy your audience, you are a great teller. Many times that ease, and that fluidity come at incredibly high costs, human-resource like, and moneywise like.

If you ever happen to listen to Mr. Lucas' interview or special in "Star Wars Trilogy", black case, the one attached to the fourth DVD, you will learn that many times that project has been on the verge of collapse, for many reasons, from natural forces, to productions' problems. But they did it. Star Wars (original first version) belongs now to myth. And so for many other movies.

I think there is a limit, an incredibly rock-hard limit to every story. It can be everything, from cliched characters to stupid dialog, to story holes. But if you are able to crush it, and you are able to see your story as a super-natural unit, a crystal, a union, a core, a whole, your story can stay within the audience.

I think it is that step, that incredible effort toward a superior acknowledgment that makes a great story a myth.

It's just my opinion, obviously.

Still, I cannot figure how to lay out flat my stories. But I think this belong to the single story. If you've lived it, you can tell it. But if you haven't experienced it, and you are writing fiction, then what you write is what you think it could have happened. Still, your own self has to experience that story, and it often does this through not completely known tools, through not completely rational tools. You have to go back to the Rome of the Empire age, and become a gladiator yourself, grab your dagger, and feel your enemy's dagger cut through your own flesh.

And that's beyond any understanding.

[forgive me for typos and bad sentence construction]



At 4:51 PM, Blogger Christian M. Howell said...

After having a fiar amount of feedback, I have found that the best thing is to make yourself happy.

Mystery Man posted a quote the other day that went:

"It's better to write for yourself and have no public than to write for the public and have no self."

I firmly believe that. I mean, screenwriters have to be confident that they did the research and structuring to come out with their vision.

I'm in a similar position where people like a lot but have their opinions about what "should be fixed."

Most people have the Box Office bonanza mentality rather than following Hitchcock's tenet of "technique before content."

When I read Juno, I was empowered that pleasing the demographic is key. You always hear about reviewers who enjoy a story because they are being introduced to a world they don't "know." That's the appeal of Juno. It makes older people want to see into that world and younger want to be "cooler."

I mean, it had no twists, no really exciting scenes and very few characters. Yet it has made $130M by appealing to the demographic.

At 4:54 PM, Blogger RenĂ© said...

Why not do an alternate outline or beat sheet before committing to an entire alternate draft?

Much more efficient way to get a sense of what's working.

At 6:42 PM, Blogger E.C. Henry said...

Scott, love the honesty. Just write the story YOU want to tell. If not being paid for your work, why write by committe?

Really like what Christian M. Howell had to say. Overall nice advice by all. Scott, you've got the coolest friends.

- E.C. Henry from Bonney Lake, WA

At 10:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I suppose some people reading Sixth Sense thought the ending could have been better, or that the movie was slow, or that it was not scary enough. If you're happy with your plot points, just stick with them. You might be able to sharpen them a bit more with more characterization, for example.

On the other hand, if there's distracting stuff, either kill those babies or bury them up to their noses in subtext.


At 9:19 PM, Anonymous Matt Bird said...

It sounds to me like what everybody is really saying is: make it tighter. Do more foreshadowing. Do more plant and payoff.

A late twist has to do two things: be totally unexpected and, once it's happened, feel like, in retrospect, it was totally inevitable. It sounds like you've got the former down but not the latter. If your twist is the payoff to lot of (previously inscrutable yet compelling) foreshadowing, no one will feel you can do without it.

Rewatch great movies with late twists like Vertigo or Charade. It's hard, but try to keep the late twist in mind the whole time. They still work. In fact, in retrospect, they ONLY work in the context of the twist.

Keep asking "if this is true, what else is true?" If there's one character who knows the truth, how would they react differently than others to each situation, in such a way that, when the twist is revealed, their behavior suddenly makes more sense to us.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Yeah. I'm just going to keep the plotline how it is now, but just make it stronger.

The great thing about the reading the other night was how much the good scenes popped -- and how much other sequences dragged. It really makes it clear where the work needs to be done.


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