Today I finished another draft of my script!!!
I’ve been working as hard as I can on writing my feature screenplay, but it’s slow work. It’s taking a long time because I’m learning everything about writing feature screenplays from scratch. I’m improving heaps through each draft but I still have a lot to learn. It’s also the one stage of the film-making process I don’t want to rush. The screenplay is the kernel of the film. If your screenplay or story is rubbish, your film probably won’t be worth watching (I can think of numerous exceptions though). Other stages of film-making are very important too, but probably none more so than the screenplay.
I’m very conscious of the fact that people can fall into the trap of using perfectionism as a way of procrastinating and not actually getting anything done. So I’m constantly checking myself to make sure that’s not what I’m doing and I’m actually making tangible steps to finish the script. Fear can make you behave in strange ways if you’re not careful.
I’ve also changed the format I’m using to write the script. The first 5 drafts were done the way you’re MEANT to write a script but I’ve changed to writing it in paragraphs like prose. I found the regular script format harder to keep track of dialogue, descriptions and actions as it’s spread over many pages and not in condensed and easy to follow paragraphs. Once I’ve finished it I’ll convert it back into a regular script format.
One thing I don’t have to worry about that other screenwriters do, Is that I never have to be afraid of over explaining or over describing things. Most screenwriters write to sell their scripts or write it for other directors and production staff, but I’m the sole writer/director/animator and the only one who has to know how to create visually what the script is saying. In saying that though I still have to make sure I write in mostly visual terms and not describe inner emotions without directions on how to portray it on screen. For example if I wrote ‘Several dozen ants crawl up the man’s legs and begin biting him. The man feels terror and wishes he hadn’t smeared his legs in honey.’ it’d be no good because you can’t show inside his head where he’s thinking these things… unless you did a shitty voice-over or something similar. Instead it’d be better to write ‘Several dozen ants crawl up the man’s legs and began biting him. On the man’s face is an expression of terror. “Agh! Why did I smear my legs with honey!?” he yells.’ because you can actually visually or sonically depict that. In a sense it’s much harder than writing prose fiction because of this.
I’ve gone old school and started using system cards to map out the story structure on my wall. I’m hoping it’ll make it easier to see and analyze what’s going on in my story and what to improve/change. 300 of the cards set me back about $10 from a local office supplies store and they should last me ages as I’ll only have 50 to 80 scenes in my film.
I’m also constantly reading books on screenwriting, narrative and story to improve my skillz. I’m currently about halfway through ‘Story’ by Robert McKee which I’ve been told is one of the better screenwriting books out there. It’s pretty good but not perfect. In my opinion it’s about 1/3 really informative, 1/3 common knowledge and 1/3 bullshit (or at least very questionable). I’ve come to realise that there’s no real shortcut or formula for writing good screenplays and stories. All you can do is study, practice and find out what works for you and what doesn’t. Learn and know the ‘rules’ of classic narrative film-making and their function so you can use them, bend them or disregard them completely.
It’ll take many years with trials and errors but I’m confident I’ll attain a mastery of story some day. Perhaps I won’t master it with THIS film but I’m aiming to make the best film I can.