Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Writing Week (Vol. 5) part 251 - A Four and a Half Hour Notes Session

Yesterday was a first for me. My writing partner, W.A., and I sat down to meet about the first draft of our sci-fi spec. Before the Thanksgiving holiday, I turned in a 130 page draft to him, and yesterday was our first chance to really go into it in real detail together. What resulted was a four and a half hour meeting in which we talked mostly about character detail, goals, and tone. That is the longest script meeting I have ever had, probably by three or four times. 

Never before have I sat down for such a dedicated amount of time to talk about a script at both the macro and micro levels. It was one hell of a fruitful meeting. For one, W.A. and I identified the tonal inconsistencies that made the draft rocky. Actually, I should amend that a bit; we finally settled on a tone that we both felt was right for the script, and I will be able to make it consistent throughout the entire screenplay in my next draft. We'd fluctuated between adult action sci-fi (like CHILDREN OF MEN), and more family-oriented fare (JURASSIC PARK), but never wanted this to be a children's movie, despite having younger protagonists. In talking it out over the morning/afternoon, we nailed down the type of film we want it to be, which will inform all of the other notes that we have to address in round two.

Besides the tone, the nature of the protagonist's character is the meatiest element we needed to focus on. He's sort of a slacker, sort of a genius, sort of scared, sort of scarred, sort of way too many things. We came into the meeting with a question; who is he? What does he want and why is he the way he is? A lot of the solutions to that stem from the tonal decisions we made; after such a long sit-down, we both know this character a lot more than we did yesterday morning. Character can be one of the hardest things to get right. Your character has to be enjoyable to watch (even if he/she's not likable) and, ideally, has to have an arc that we can follow for 90 to 120 minutes. It can take multiple drafts to figure out what drives your protag - don't be alarmed or ashamed if that's the case. I did seven months of outlines before I wrote this draft, and it wasn't until our meeting that both W.A. and I were content that we had finally identified the person that is our story's hero. It takes time, patience, and sometimes seeing him or her on the page to get there. But it will happen. 

From that, followed the characters' goals - not just the protagonist's, but the antagonist's, as well. The antagonist's wants should be in direct conflict with the protagonist's, or should so mirror them that when one succeeds, the other inherently fails. By understanding our protagonist and his journey, we are better equipped to stack the deck (and the antagonist) against him.

W.A. has decades more industry experience than I do. In fact, though he probably would cringe at hearing it stated this way, he's been in the industry longer than I've been alive. This reason alone is why, despite some great script-work, the last half hour might have been one of the best parts of the meeting for me. As we were wrapping up, I asked him how he thought we'd proceed with the script when it was ready to be show around the industry. From there, we wound up talking about the business side of things, and he showed himself to be incredibly willing to share with and inform me about navigating Hollywood movie-making. He offered quips and insights and experiences; he foretold of things to come, should the movie get greenlit. And, maybe most valuable of all, he indicated his commitment to keeping me on board throughout the process. I am under no deception that the project is more mine than his; he's been working on it for years and brought me on to help. He wants to direct it. Granted, I've been a part of it for nine months now, almost ten, but in the end I know I defer to him. His comments, however, assured me that I will have a place in the future of this project, whatever happens with it, which is invaluable. Not that I expected him to drop me after it gets sold, mind you, but we all know that writers are all too often treated as expendable. W.A. is conscious of my time and effort on this project and doesn't want me to waste any of it. And at the end of the day, he expects me to remain a part of it. Let the learning process begin in earnest soon (with a sale after a couple more drafts, I hope).