Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Day 173: “Come on with the rain, I’ve a smile on my face”

“What’s your favourite film?” I get asked this question all the time. If a friend is close by, they’ll often answer for me: "Chinatown". Often, the person who enquired will then say “never heard of it.”

Australian Film critic David Stratton’s favourite film is Singin’ In The Rain (1952), a glorious film that he watches twice a year; I have often wondered to myself why he does that? It’s a bizarre thought, given that I watch Chinatown a couple of times a year. One of my rituals, on completing the six-month journey of writing a screenplay, is to watch this favourite film of mine (which I will talk about before we’re done here on the Blog) as a treat, a reward, maybe even a reminder.....of what? To remind myself that great screenplays can be written.

It’s shocking to admit, but when I’ve completed the journey of six or seven months, or however long it takes to write a screenplay, and type those final words FADE TO BLACK, END, my first thought is always “well, that’s a piece of s**t”. Actually, that’s no longer true, it USED to be my first thought, I’ve progressed. Whilst I’m not yet at the “what a brilliant piece of work that is” stage, at least I’ve reigned in my self-deprecatory judgement and the harsh critic that wanders lonely as a thunder cloud around my head. My head’s a dangerous neighbourhood and I shouldn’t go in there alone, because there won’t be too much singing in the rain for me, let me tell you.

My head is now pretty neutral at journey’s end of a script. I’ve always had other people who are waiting to receive the draft, either a producer and/or director, and I whizz it off through cyberspace and let them decide what they want to decide, me, I stay out of things whilst the jury has retired to consider it’s verdict and here’s a newsflash: that considering can take a very long time.

By and large, I’m a pretty quick reader of scripts. On the other hand, if you pay me to give you feedback I’ll tell you honestly when I’ll get back to you, which is generally no longer than two weeks, during which, I’ll read the script three times: the first time I’ll read it through in one sitting, resisting the urge to make any notes whatsoever, I just want to read the piece in it’s totality and get a feel for the arc and trajectory of the story. I’ll leave it a couple of days before my second read, but this time I’m stopping and starting to make initial notes and jot down thoughts. At the back end of the two weeks, I’ll read it a third time, to try and write a synopsis of the story, so that then I’m really clear on what’s written and to make sure that I haven’t missed anything.

Handing out scripts to friends and colleagues (unpaid) is, in my general experience, an entirely different thing altogether. Days, weeks, months can go by and I might not hear a thing; sometimes it never gets read. On one particular occasion, I was badgered by someone to let them read a draft of one of my pieces and, I reluctantly caved in and handed over a hard copy in person (I should have listened to my intuition) only for them to say, six months later, “when are you going to let me read that script of yours?” Luckily for me, and that friend, I’m past the point where I hold that against them: I’ve become a little more judicious about who I give my scripts to, and, if I choose to do so, I hand it out with NO expectations.

Day #173 Tip: Thou shalt think long & hard about who you give your script to
Asking someone to read 90-110 pages of a screenplay is a big request. I’m used to the form of the film script and can knock one over in two to two and a half hours; good, bad, weird, crazy, brilliant or indifferent. I’m used to reading between the lines of what is and isn’t on the page and I love reading screenplays, for me they don’t sit like a leaden lump next to my bed, I devour them.

My advice, based on experience, is this: think long and hard about who you’re giving your script to, give a great deal of thought about what response you’re looking for and whether the person is capable of giving it to you. If it’s a professional and a they’re doing you a favour, then when you have handed it over, you lose all rights to expectations, so, again, think LONG and HARD. Alternatively, offer CASH. If you’re sending it out, unsolicited, to a producer, agent, director, actor or studio, think twice before you embark on this MADNESS. If you’re giving it to a friend who “likes films”, deeply consider and meditate on this action before you set sail on this voyage of INSANITY; it’s akin to sending your baby out, naked, into the world, to knock on the doors of strangers to ask “do you like me”, if and when the doors are opened.

But the paradox is this: you must get your screenplay out there, if you want to get it made. Between the devil and the deep blue sea we are, indeed, caught. When you’re finished your script, when you’re done, just press the ‘pause’ button of your life, put on your favourite film and have a think before you act.

Or, if Gene Kelly is your choice, have a song and a dance, whilst mulling things over. In my case, I lieback on the sofa and mumble that favourite mantra to myself “Forget it, Jake - it’s Chinatown.”

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