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Sunday, May 31, 2009

When is Enough Enough?

I was reading a script the other day as a favor to a friend. He asked how I liked it. Great, but I have some notes for you. Just little things to help make some moments pop. I could practically hear him deflate on the other end of the line. Oh - I don't really need more notes. I've had so many notes that at this point, I just need to be done with the script. Which is when I understood that my friend didn't really want or need notes, he just needed me to say the script was good and let him enjoy that feeling. I mean, I get it. I've definitely written and rewritten scripts to the point where when someone tells me a brilliant way to make x, y or z moment even better, I just smile and nod. No more. Enough.

So - how do you know when your script is done done? Is it that sick feeling that you cannot bear to hear one more thought about it? Or is it that wonderful feeling that it is 100% as good as it can be? Well - few of us ever enjoy that feeling, right? So how can you know? Being sick of your script is an indicator, for sure, but an indicator of what? That it's as done as done can be or that it's as done as you personally can get it?

One thing I do know for sure is that a script really can be tweaked into perpetuity and yes, improvement is always possible but if the changes are relatively micro, it's probably time to move on. It's about thinking over the best way for you to be spending your time, right? Is it worth tweaking endlessly when you could be working on a first draft of a fresh idea?

How do you know when to fold 'em, kiss that little darlin' goodbye and either put it in a drawer, enter it into a competition or send it to an agent or manager?

Well, if you've had more than four consecutive sets of notes, each of which resulted in a new draft, it's probably time to push the baby out of the nest, for better or for worse.

Or, alternatively, if you are now bored stupid at the thought of rewriting or tweaking your script - it's time to let the little fella fend for itself...and probably in a drawer if you seriously no longer get excited in any way, shape or form about it. If you can't get excited about your script, who else can?

Only you can know, Wavers, when enough is enough. But believe me, at a certain point in time, enough is enough. Your script is gonna have to stand on its own two legs ultimately, and it's the concept that's gonna knock someone dead, not whether the fairy godmother on page 10 gives her speech at the top of the stairs or the bottom.

Write, write, write. Keep moving, like a shark. Several pretty good scripts ultimately serves you better than one really good one that you've been working on for 10 years and oh wait, I need to rethink the scene on page 72...

Know when enough is enough. Trust yourself. Use your time well. Let go and move on to another script.

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Deaf Indian Muslim Anarchist! said...

It's just the gut feeling you have that you KNOW when your script is DONE and over with. But unfortunately, I don't know what a "gut feeling" feels like :-/

Anonymous said...

I've always used Truman Capote's method of putting it in a drawer for a very long time (letting it go cold). If, when you take it out, you like it and feel that it's done, it's done. On the other hand, if you see a whole bunch of stuff that needs to be fixed, then guess what.

As far as the definition of 'a very long time' I push it as far as humanly possible. Capote used a year. I have--unfortunately--found this to be pretty sensible.

Victoria Mixon
author & editor

Anonymous said...

I often find that the longer something takes to write, the more it needs tweeking and tweaking until your fingers go grey and your brain turns to porridge. My uncle, who worked in tv for many years, and made a couple of films as writer/director gave me some good advice, and that is that as you get older, your tastes and interests change, even in your own work. If ittakes too long to write something, then you may grow out of it, and this will result in unnecessary tweaking. So the best thing to do is give yourself deadlines, and to move on if you haven't got it right by the end. This way you don't get stuck, and you end up with more of a catalogue.

I studied fiction writing at uni, and my tutor always talked in the macro and the micro. The micro was not a big sin to be having trouble with, and fixing this up involved going through and taking out cliches, fixing spelling and phrasing; this wouldn't lose us too many marks as every line in the story could have been tweaked and it still might have been improveable. But as young writer, she wanted to make sure the bigger picture was in tune, the micro stuff comes with experience, and people won't chuck your whole manuscript away if you have a couple of tortologies, as long as the big picture is good; as long as the characters are interesting, the ideas are original then you are on the right track. But if you are not happy with the big picture stuff, then it is rewrite time. And who was it that said writing is rewriting? Was that a line from arnie in terminator 2?

The force guides me a lot of the time, and that gut feeling (possibly from the midicholrians) is often the only thing I can rely on when writing.

Anyway, it's off to writing time for me. Keep well everyone.

Christian M. Howell said...

That's a really tough thing to determine. I try to know exactly what I want in the script and I want to be able to read it as a shooting script.

When I can do that, any notes may touch things up but every note has to be taken with a grain of salt. First and foremost, you have to be true to your vision. After that I think comes dialog - hey if the characters are cool it could be a story about an unplanned "shenanigan." Then comes scene progression - which I take to include plot points, story lines and continuity.

It's all made up so there is no right answer - only one that works on film for the particular characters - not story as I don't think people go the movies for the "story" as they're really all the same in terms of the archetypal view.

Anthony Peterson said...

I've put my first screenplay out to pasture - entered it into a handful of competitions that I'm still waiting to hear back from. But I'm moving on. I know in my heart of hearts that I will revisit this one when my skill set is more mature - because the sstory is too good to stay in a drawer.

Trina0623 said...

I think it is a gut feeling and excitement for the material, like you said.

I like to get it to a point where I'm at least satisfied with it, then go out for feedback. If 3 or more people take issue with the same particular thing(s), then I know I should change it. Then repeat the process until you don't get 3 or more giving the same note. At that point it's just opinions and you can't keep chasing that forever because you will never please everyone.

Benjamin Ray said...


I can't answer that question!

I will never answer that question!

But hard working and risk taking
INDY film directors/producers are good at answering that question for me.

Benjamin Ray