Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Evolution of a Short Screenplay

I have written two short film scripts for a group of young actors (age 16-20) based on their improvisations and workshops (discussed here and here).

The first script has a strong narrative that was suggested in the source improvisation – what happened before that scene, the given circumstances of the scene itself, and a possible outcome (aided by a separate improv). It’s a nice little script – a ghost story - that still needs some tinkering but I won’t do that until a director comes on board. There is also a discussion about shortening the script to make it a potential Tropfest film.

The second script has been an entirely different beast. Many of the actors expressed an interest in doing a rom-com style short, not my usual genre at all. Many of the improvised scenes were two-handers that dealt with relationship issues in one way or another. So I set about working out how to link these into some sort of coherent narrative that might have something relevant to say about teenage relationships and love. 

It quickly dawned on me that this was going to be more of a thematic piece with only a very loose narrative. What would link the two-handers and what would the film be saying? 

The answer to the first question came in two parts - location and main character. Now, my favourite writing haunt is a bookshop cafe, a pleasant walk away. A place where all sorts of people meet to catch up and share gossip, news, friendship, business, love. Perfect, location sorted. Which led to the second part - the connective tissue would be the great unsung hero of many a suburban cafe - the cheerful, hardworking waitress.

As for theme, the First Draft deployed a device I rarely use - a voice-over by the waitress as she dispensed coffee and wisdom. The message - you don't choose who you fall in love with. The twist - the waitress is actually the architect of the break-up of one of the couples we see in the two-handers. The actors' reaction - makes her too unlikable though the overall concept was viewed positively. I had also pitched it a little too old.

The Second Draft kept the structure entirely intact - set piece two-handers linked by interaction with the waitress. However, I introduced an element of magic realism - the waitress charged with ensuring that those looking for love in this place found it. But at the expense of her own happiness as the revised voice-over declared.

More feedback was pending but I had the opportunity to go back to the Film School and workshop the draft with the actors. As I wrote on my Facebook screenwriting page: "Spent an excellent evening at Filmbites watching improvisations and a read through before workshopping one of my short scripts with their advanced actors. I love how fearless the actors are, their positive energy, the great suggestions and feedback. Makes my job a lot easier... and fun!"

The result - structure remains unchanged, voice-over is gone, the touches of magic realism dropped with a far more naturalistic feel. What elements of humour that were in the script have also slowly leached out. More 'rom' than 'com' but that seems to suit the material. We actually didn't workshop a new ending which was previously covered by the closing voice-over. So I've had a stab at that in the Third Draft delivered today.

The thing of interest though was this - one of the two-handers is about the imminent breakup of one of the couples. The male character has always come off as the least likable in the story as it's his jealousy that is the catalyst for the difficulties. 

Now, there are a lot of big personalities in the group but the actor who was workshopping the role is quieter and harder to read but clearly was uncomfortable with this. Everyone was happy with the revelations coming out of playing with the scenes but that male character was still getting short shrift. I very much liked that the actor stuck up for his character, raised the issue and we tried playing his scenes a few different ways. Hopefully, as a result, I have done far more justice to that role. 

I have submitted the subsequent drafts in revision mode so the actors can see how much a script can alter from draft to draft. If I was to hazard a guess, I'd say well over sixty percent each time with this story. To be expected as writer and actors hone in on a shared vision, essential for a thematic piece created in this way.

I look forward to hearing the reaction to the latest draft which should be strong enough now to go out to directors. Once that happens I'm sure there will be more changes but it has been a thoroughly enjoyable experience. I'm confident, at the end of the process, a really strong film emerges!

1 comment:

  1. Happy to report there was a very positive reaction to the script so now I wait to see who the director is and what changes might come out of rehearsals and pre-production.