Wednesday, 7 May 2014

"The Days Run Away Like Wild Horses..."

I recently "celebrated" my 39th birthday - what better opportunity to look back and wonder where all the time went! More to the point, it's the looming FOUR-O next year, which will no doubt bring upon all sorts of weeping and wailing on here in a year's time.

So where did all the time go? Well, after having a poke around through the many, many (Commandant Lassard style) folders containing many, many script documents, it transpires that a LOT of the 90's was spent writing. I probably write a little less now (due to, well, having a life) - But I also spend more time working on a single script. In the 90's, it was a factory - a seemingly endless conveyor belt. Couldn't churn it out quick enough. But was it any good? Erm... Well...

Miles Raymond:It tastes like the back of an L.A. school bus. 
Now they probably didn't de-stem, hoping for some semblance of concentration, 
crushed it up with leaves and mice, and then wound up with 
this rancid tar and turpentine bullshit. 
Jack: Tastes pretty good to me.

In my defence: In the early 90's, there wasn't the internet. Now, advice is everywhere - not all of it great (or at least put across in an encouraging tone). But there is plenty of brilliant, practical advice. It is now incredibly easy to create a professionally formatted script now - which was half the battle in the 90's.

A lot of my 'early scripts' were a product of my age. I hadn't lived much, and I was incredibly influenced by whatever tv or movies I was in love with: Translation - Nyeeerrrd. For example, my first attempt at writing a screenplay was a comedy "Aliens" rip-off - replaced 'Aliens' with 'Killer carrots'. Hey. I was fourteen. Okay, even for a fourteen year old that's pushing it, I know...

Then I moved into 'Die Hard'-parody: The twist being that an action-hero convention is over-run by terrorists, and it's left to our normal, every-day hero to rescue all these Steven Seagals and Schwarzeneggers. Set in a shopping mall. Hmm. Ooookay.

Then Reservoir Dogs happened - saw it seven times at the cinema ('cos we lived in an era of banned movies - the only place you could see it was at the cinema - sounding very Grampa Simpson, I know.). So I moved onto MY Reservoir Dogs.Lots of style over sense, and lots of Reservoir Dogs. (Which seemed to work okay for Tarantino and 'City On Fire', but he added his own stamp to it. "It's a fine line between stupid 'n clever:" Never a truer word, Mr. Tufnell.). This was probably the first script I ever re-wrote. And re-wrote. And re-wrote. To the point of it making no sense at all by the end of it, such was my desperation to create the next Reservoir Dogs.

Re-Writing: Not always a ton of fun.
Around this point, I started working on films as a runner/A.D., meaning I was also reading 'proper' film scripts'. Before then, it was mostly Faber and Faber reprints of famous scripts. Whilst working on these films, I began to realise the problems with the scripts - not that it was ever my place to tell the producer. (Okay, I did ONCE. Well, he did ask!). But it's very easy to poke holes in other people's work.

I was writing from a place of fear, such was the pressure to create an instant classic that would be immediately snapped up (because that's how it happens, of course...): I was living at home, desperate for money, so I just worked and worked and worked... With precious little to show for it. The work went out into the world too quickly - and whilst I did get some great feedback, an agent and a couple of good scripts out of it - there was also a torrent of rejection. Understandably. (Although youthful arrogance at the time dictated otherwise!)

So looking back through my old scripts, I counted (roughly) around 43 features (not including short scripts, or projects half-written/incomplete). Some good, some bad, a lot of middling - Some were never destined for the dizzy heights, but there was always something about them that reminded me WHY I wrote them. They had purpose and meaning for me - and therein lies the answer. I was writing for myself.
Rejection is never easy.
But there did come a turning point. A moment where I decided "I WANT to aim higher, try harder. I CAN do better." And that script was "Perfect Harmony". Several drafts later, it still isn't where it needs to be - but I know I'm getting closer. It wasn't ready in 1998, and the subsequent drafts prove that had the film been made back then, it would have been worse for it. My then-agent-nabbing sci-fi/western script 'Crouch Valley/Handshake From Hell" originally came in at 180 pages. Whilst that's just ridiculous, it showed enough potential to get me an agent who then worked with me to lop it down to 110 pages - which in turn taught me a LOT about script editing and killing your darlings. (The 'darlings' were stacked high by the end of that particular edit.And it hurt for the better.)

Miles: What about the new ending? Did you like that?
Jack: Oh, yeah. New ending vastly superior to the old ending.
Miles: There is no new ending. Page 750 on is exactly the same.
Jack:Well... maybe it just seemed new because everything leading up to it was so different?
Miles Raymond: [sarcastically] Yeah, that must be it!
Whilst personal tastes change as you mature as a writer and a human-doing, there is still one big similarity between now and then: I still write to 'please' myself. As I've recently discovered with a couple of projects, I find it very difficult to get all excited 'n creative over something which just doesn't fire me up. It's almost impossible to write something that I really don't care about. That's not to say the idea isn't great or doesn't have potential - It just isn't a great match for me. Working half-heartedly only achieves frustration because I'm seemingly unable to write anything. I've given a couple of ideas away because I know somebody else can do a better job with it - and that's fine by me.

Regarding these 43 scripts, it took me a long, long time to 'get it'. I fully admit I'm probably slow on the uptake - but not to run myself down too much, there was always something good about those 43 stories. I could see what I was trying to achieve. There were good scenes and characters, funny lines... They just needed more work. But when you're not being paid for developing spec scripts, it's very easy to get caught in a cycle of creative panic.Which is what I try to avoid these days. I now know that when I type 'the end', it's not THE END. It's end of draft one-of-many-yet-to-come.

See? Right there. Just what you just said.
That is beautiful. 'A smudge of excrement... surging out to sea.'
So as I'm dragged kicking 'n screaming towards my forties, I ask myself "Where is it all going?". Fair question. The honest answer is I have less idea now than I did back in 1993. All I know is that I'm working on projects now that fire me up more than ever. Film-World is forever changing, for good and for bad - but that's part of the adventure and the game - and I've never been more certain that this is where I want to be.

"I like how wine continues to evolve, like if I opened a bottle of wine today 
it would taste different than if I'd opened it on any other day, 
because a bottle of wine is actually alive. 
And it's constantly evolving and gaining complexity. 
That is, until it peaks, like your '61. 
And then it begins its steady, inevitable decline."
For an inspiring read about not-aiming-for-the-middle-of-the-road, click this: