Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Rewrites

Part of the reason the blog's been a tad moribund of late is because I've been reworking my same three projects for the last six months, which isn't very exciting to write about and leads to me using phrases like 'a tad moribund of late', fuck's sake, kill me now.

However I am starting to get some very early 'so sketchy as to be almost not there at all' offers of film rewrites off the back of Hero Trip, while people decide whether or not to, you know, actually buy it, which is potentially quite exciting, but not quite as exciting as it sounds. In fact, film rewrites are a bit like having a proper job, which obviously gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Comedy writers are often in demand to 'punch up', or 'polish' comedy screenplays that aren't quite working. Some producers have a touching faith that if enough comedy writers pass their script through their grubby little laptops, comedy will thus accrue, like lichen on a spanish castle wall. In fact, I have it on good authority that some producers have been known to slide a particularly weak screenplay across a desk to a bigger producer with more money and say 'yeah, we're going to get a couple of Green Wing writers on this bitch, funny it right up, make it all surreal and shit'. Which is sweet.

Bear in mind I'm talking about the UK film industry at this point, I don't think Tom Stoppard (who has done polishes for the Star Wars prequels, The Bourne Ultimatum, and, I dunno, bloody Transformers probably)* has much to worry about me entering the field.

Also, there are different degrees of rewrites: from a quick punchup, to a more thorough polish, to a comprehensive rewrite. The lines between these different level of 'mucking about with someone else's script'ness are fuzzy, and demarked only by tens of thousands of pounds. Actually talking about the exact level of rewritiness and money involved is considered bad form, and is what agents are for. They have 'Bad Form' stamped through them like a stick of rock, and their loyal thuggery will reward you well.

Some screenplays totter from desk to desk, reeling like an bullet-riddled extra in a Napoleonic epic, determined to make the most of their one big chance and heading inexorably for a fall off the nearest Spanish castle wall (I'm currently in a spanish castle, although I don't want to go on about it). The problem is, some jokes aren't going to save them. Probably, three expensive doctors and an oxygen tent wouldn't save them. The only honourable thing to do in such a situation is to turn it down, then murder everyone involved with the the project quietly, with pillows. Unless you're a writer, in which case you bung some jokes in and try and keep your name off it. If you're the fourth writer along, this probably won't be a problem anyway. In fact they may even apologise profusely and hand you some extra cash to make up for not having your name on it, in which case you can giggle quietly all the way to the bank.

This is because a worryingly large proportion of british screenplays come about thusly:

1. I am a man with too much money.
2. I have an idea for a film!
3. My brother in law once wrote an amusing article for the Chiswick Rotary Club christmas newsletter, therefore I will let him write the script.
4. Away we go.

In fact, the problem with most scripts isn't a lack of well-crafted one-liners. Well, it's not the main problem, the main problem is with structure. If the third act lacks something, it's probably because there's a huge gaping flaw in the first act. And if supposedly funny scenes aren't, it's probably because the script is just plain wonky to begin with, and plastering over the gaps with nob gags will only get you so far. You're out of the realms of the punch-up, past the polish and into a proper rewrite - you need to wrestle the script to the ground, beat it with a wrench, pull out all the wires (is it a robot now? what's going on?) and stick it all back together again in a whole new way. Which isn't necessarily what you've been paid to do.

And comedy's a strange thing anyway. The biggest script I've given to polish thus far (and by 'biggest' I mean 'only') turned out to be... unpolisheable. Not because it was a turd. It definitely wasn't - it was tightly-plotted, with great characters and some funny lines. But I'd seen the writer's previous films (although the name wasn't familar, I guessed his previous work about three pages in, instantly confirmed by imdb.com) and every one had been great - and had come into life through that weird synergy between actor and material that you simply can't from just reading off the page. What the script needed was great directors, and great actors. Maybe a more experienced writer than myself could have looked at it and said 'aha, let's put in some amusing business with a waiter and a ball of string just here and the whole thing will be a sure-fire, cast-iron, no investor in the world will turn this down, solid gold hit. But I think Tom Stoppard probably cost too much.

Actually, I never did ask how much the job would have paid.

Arse. Maybe I'll call them back.



* Actually Transformers is a gold-mine for proper geeky rewrite spotters such as myself, undulating (obscure Gossip Girl joke there) wildly between tone and mood every three and half minutes. I blimmin' loved it, don't get me wrong, but yee-haw does it undulate. Ten points for anyone who spotted the Lou Reed joke.

13 comments:

wyndham said...

Against all my better judgement, I enjoyed Transformers a lot. Giant robots pretending to hide in a garden? You can't argue against that kind of stuff. Although it occurs to me now that they could have turned into cars and vehicles and stuff and parked on the street. Stoppard would have figured that one out, and popped in a Lech Walesa joke.

Boz said...

At least Pinter never got his hands on a draft.

Or Chekov, say.

Tim Footman said...

"Or Chekov, say."

Hah! You should have seen Showgirls *before* Anton sorted it out...

Jayne said...

I've gota 5 year business plan that need rewriting. It could do with a few laughs...

Steve Dix said...

Tom Stoppard did polishes on the Star Wars prequels?

Bit stingy with the brasso, was he?

Hamilton's Brain said...

Ah Chekov! I would have loved to have gone to his book signing in Union Square.

llewtrah said...

Rewriting anyhthing can be soul-destroying - university thesis, articles for publication etc etc.

Imo said...

I am now visualising a script, having sprouted cartoon legs, quivering on a desk being manically scribbled on before being booted onto the next writer.

Anonymous said...

Not for the first time I find myself thinking you should be on the other side of the big scary desk...

Emma said...

So a script is like a robot that needs to be encrusted with comedy lichen, until no more will stick and you have to pull the wires out. Now I understand...

james henry said...

Also, it has to fall off a spanish castle wall, don't forget that bit.

Emma said...

Oh yes... If someone had explained this to me from the beginning, I could have got on with this screenwriting lark much quicker.

Ady Hall said...

Ha ha - you said nob!