Monday, November 14, 2011

The Initial Impulse or Rediscovering the Passion

I recently submitted an older script for a funding round after pulling it out of the bottom drawer, doing a quick polish and attaching a new producer. The script - The Tangled Web - has some pedigree. It received an Australian Film Commission New Screenwriter's grant back in 2002, has been optioned twice prior to this now third producer and was well received at a PAC Script Lab reading back in 2007.

Yes, it has been around for a while - thirteen official drafts by my count and no doubt countless more revisions. At one stage, I am told, Sam Worthington was interested pre-Somersault days and an experienced producer was on board as a mentor for the then director-producer.

The story is about a married man who becomes addicted to the fantastical world of the internet and the glamorous people within it while failing to notice his real life world collapse around him.

As you can see in the whiteboard snapshot, the structure was deliberately designed as an upwards trajectory as the addiction takes hold (and things seem to be getting better) then, after the midpoint, a downwards slide into obsession with only the hint of redemption in the resolution. Requiem for a Dream was clearly an inspiration as this always was, at its heart, an addiction story.

Five years ago it might have made an interesting 'cautionary tale' on the social impact of the internet. Now there are many examples, particularly with films like Catfish, Talhotblond and yes, even The Social Network.

What strikes me though, on reading the current draft, is how far it has drifted from my initial impulse for the story. The more drafts, the more development, the less it seems to speak to what I was attempting to say and explore.

Most "internet movies" like Catfish and Talhotblond have as their central "conceit" the implicit understanding that the person you are 'talking to' online could be anyone. That virtual reality and real life is never the same. Witness the "hot girl" inevitably ending up as the tragic figure of the middle-aged woman... or a guy!

In The Tangled Web, in its early incarnation, it was always different. Our hero keeps getting drawn back to the internet (chat rooms in early drafts) because of a beautiful woman in her early thirties (written with Naomi Watts specifically in mind) who he later discovers is exactly the same in real life - superficially gorgeous on the outside. The 'twist' is that she is actually a bitter and angry divorcee who uses the internet as a crutch for her own need for attention and self-worth ie ugly on the inside.

Yes, it will come as no great surprise that this is based on a real life experience, exaggerated for dramatic effect (no, I've never been married nor fired for stalking etc!). About forming an instant connection in an unusual way, about revelling in that, about discovering that beauty is more than skin deep, that the internet is liberating in some ways and destructive in others. All things that fascinated me when I first started to write the script...

At the reading there was one scene that people (mostly) HATED. I mean, they were in my face about. The object of his desire - the perfect woman from the internet, the one he has opened his heart to - is anything but 'perfect' when he goes to her house, uninvited, unwanted in real life. She pours her scorn, her anger, her bitterness onto him... and he lashes out and hits her. I knew it would be controversial but I thought it was the ideal low point and, more importantly, in keeping with both their characters. At least it got a reaction!

Now? The script does not have a 30 something Naomi Watts internet alter-ego. It is an American Beauty like 19 year old. The above scene? Gone. The subsequent drafts went to the more obvious, the more, in a strange way, acceptable? Perhaps that is why my passion for it has waned. I am pretty sure if I read the early drafts there would be a) terrible writing, sure but b) a rawness and honesty there that is now missing.

It's that initial impulse, that spark, no matter what it is or where it comes from that keeps you going. It is also, in many ways, your compass. I think I lost mine with this one a little... okay, maybe a lot. It's a nice reminder for other projects... and this one if I ever decide to go back and "fix it".

Hold onto that spark, that impulse, that thing that made you passionate about wanting to tell the story... and protect it at all costs. Otherwise you'll drift away from it, draft after draft until, in the end, you have a script with no blood. No heart. No chance...


  1. Oh so true.

    Was doing an edit on someone else's script and I'd watched it deviate away from their original idea for the worse; based on different feedback. I basically said the heart is gone and if this gets made it won't be the film you want. After a lot of reworking we got the spark back but you really have dive in and remember what it is that made you want I write the story in the first place.

  2. Absolutely, DVS. You do much script editing?

  3. God. I really need to proof read my 'internets' whenever I respond to things...I have a habit of just banging out my thoughts quicker than my fingers.

    I've done a little but it's something I'd be keen to do more of though...should time permit.

    My editing background is kind of strange though...about 8 years ago I took over and helped run a storytelling/song writing league on this forum that had loads of competitors, mostly from the U.S and Europe and every week I'd review, critique and write articles about each weeks rounds. So consistently every week for about 3-4 years I gave feedback to about 10-20 stories minimum. To cut a long story short it really helped when I crossed over to scriptwriting 3 or so years ago, in terms of how I see, critic and review ideas and create them myself, because I was going over and over what's the structure, what are you trying to say, was it effective, did it work, why didn't it work, what could be done to make it work, was it original, why wasn't it, what could be done to give it a unique take etc.. which is a lot of the questions we apply to scripts now.

    So yeah that's a little history on my editing 'story' ha, I'm sure you've done far more considerable film work than I have and worthy for that matter.

  4. Interesting background!

    You might have already read this but these are my thoughts on script editing:

    So enough with the 'worthy'! :-)