Middles stink

by Suw on January 3, 2004

Apart from the time I spent cooking chicken risotto (see below), I have spent more time working on SP1 today than I have for ages, yet I've still only managed to write seven minutes. Sophocles, the screenwriting software I use, measures scripts in minutes rather than pages, which is fine as one page is supposed to equal one minute anyway.

I started on this rewrite at the beginning of the week having constructed what I hoped would be a fairly solid outline. I'd thought long and hard about the new version of the core premise, I'd tried to plot out the main turning points and key character developments, and I had hoped that writing the script from the outline would be relatively easy.

Oh, pffft and phooey.

First day, got 33 pages done, mainly cutting and pasting from the old version of the screenplay. Second day, managed about another 20. It's gone asymptotically downhill from their as I finished cutting and pasting and had to start thinking.

First act, i.e. the first 30 minutes, was a piece of cake. The third act is too short, but simply needs fleshing out rather than changing dramatically so will also pose no problem. But the second act… oh, dear. I spent most of last night and this morning with a print out of the sequences that make up the second act, trying to figure out what was wrong. Lots felt wrong, but it's harder to pin it down to a specific flaw. I shuffled things a bit, deleted a few scenes, and eventually it started to feel slightly less wrong. Then I started writing. The shuffling helped quite a bit, but more scenes have been deleted, and some new ones added that this morning I had had no idea should exist. Still, they're in there, for better or worse.

Act 1 ends almost dead on 30 mins, which is perfect if you're following the three act/120 minute script model. Trust me, it wasn't planned to fit in so well, it's just an accident. Act 2 currently ends at the one hour mark, which means that it's about half an hour short. As I'm about half way through it, in terms of writing the new scenes that didn't make it over from the first version (most of Act 2 is brand new), hopefully it will come out ok. Act 3 is currently 12 minutes long, and needs to be between 20 and 30.

I'm not all that slavish about following the three act/120 minute script thing, if it comes out short then that's fine because I've a lot of big sword fights that will probably turn out longer on screen than on the page, but it is a useful guide to use, a tool to make sure that you're somewhere in the region of what's going to be expected. This is a genre action/adventure film, after all, and if I intend to sell it I have to give people what they expect, without giving them something predictable.

I watched Cast Away when it was on TV the other day with my Dad. I've never seen it before, and knew nothing more than that Tom Hanks gets stuck on an island and goes nuts with a volleyball. It was the first time I have sat there watching a film and accurately predicted what would happen and when. Tom washes up on the island dead on 30 minutes (it takes 10 mins for his plan to crash, by the way). The toothache he suffers in the first act comes back to haunt him in the second act when he has to knock one of his own teeth out. His obsession with time and being on time is thrown into stark relief by the loss of his wristwatch. His arc through basic survival to competent survival on his island takes us through Act 2 and exactly 30 minutes from the end Tom is rescued. The rest of the film deals with how he copes with that and contrasts his behaviour now with his behaviour at the beginning of the film – he's no longer a company man, for example, and doesn't give a shit about being on time.

Now, I'm not saying Cast Away was a bad film because it was predictable. If I hadn't spent much of the last three months reading up on film structure then I probably wouldn't have seen it all coming. I still cried at the end, even though I saw it coming. (Mind you, I'll cry at the opening of an envelope, frankly. Heaven forfend I actually ever watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy in case I drown all the other cinema goers at the end of Part III.) But it was a conventionally structured film and I think I learnt a lot from watching it. (Although not as much as I've learnt from repeatedly watching Pirates, but that's a whole nother post.)

Yes, so, SP1. Still underway. Very hard work. But I'm getting there. Chances of finishing it tomorrow, as I'd originally hoped, are nil. Chances of finishing it by next weekend, hopefully very high.


I'll keep you posted.

A visitor January 4, 2004 at 6:09 am

Had you considered just taking a very long walk and a hot bath? This could help with the writing. But, after all, it's just a suggestion.


Chris Gibson [dancing_house@hotmail.com]

Suw January 4, 2004 at 10:01 am

You know, the long walk might just work. If I don't get hit by a car in the midst of it, which is always a risk walking along these lanes. Or shot by a mad land-owner, which is the risk of walking off-road.

But yes, I often find that walking helps – for some reason I feel more creative and intelligent when walking. I read a report about five years ago that scientists had discovered that balancing on one foot actually raises your IQ a little bit, and as walking is simply balancing on both feet alternately, I wondered if that was the reason why I come up with good ideas when walking. Course, i usually come up with the best ideas when walking without a notebook…

One day, i'll get myself a tread mill and hook up a computer so that i can walk and type at the same time. That way I should be able to get fit and knock out a screenplay in a matter of days. 😉

Pandora January 4, 2004 at 5:09 pm

And it'd make the gym a damn sight more interesting if they provided them on excercise bikes.

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