Top of my list right now: deadline for NBC Writers on the Verge. It’s tomorrow. I have 2 scripts and thought I was ready, but after the incredible script review from my Nickelodeon review at ABFF (the best notes and critique I’ve ever received and I’ve received a lot, solicited and otherwise), I had a lot of revising to do.
Thankfully, I believe in play. I let myself go to the gym, read “The Atlantic,” (I say “let” because there is a component of guilt when there’s a deadline looming) and other meditative or inspiring work as well as things I must do (doctor’s apptmt, cook, laundry). But all the while, the subconscious is working. This is why play is so important — play that doesn’t involve money and preferably, not other people. I am a big proponent of downtime, of me-time especially for those in creative fields even if you are a parent or have a day job. Make your spouse take over kid duty for 2 hours; let go of the TV at night; make the weekends about you; put your insomnia, if you have it, to good use rather than watching infomercials. It’s sounds counterintuitive but make time for play. You don’t always necessarily be at a playground or doing fun things but you’re not directly working on the problem you’re trying to solve. Walk in and look at the stone as the legend of Michelangelo goes and your David will appear. Study after study shows how critical this is and how effective.
For me, my problem with the script was in my D story and a huge chunk of Act 2. And lo and behold, as I sat down with my index cards at Panera yesterday, writing out scenes in each of my color codes for each plot line, I had the AH-HA! moment to make it all work. The result: a much tighter script that flows.
Lesson learned: go through each scene and ask “what is at the heart of this scene” and stepping back, “what is at the heart of this plot?” For me, plot D was about a mother finally getting her daughter despite her bad choices. I didn’t need the background, not for a Plot D, so I had made a scene that got Plot D in motion happen a week earlier, off camera so we begin the show in the midst of it. BAM! Three scenes disappeared but the heart of it remained plus more at stake. We didn’t go through all the work of the history of it. I’m big on history and stories often start right in the middle. History is good to get the basis, and then just start on the “Why Now?” moment. What about this story makes it imperative to start telling at this moment? It’s not a novel. No need to follow David Copperfield. In my story, a daughter wanted to do something; her mother didn’t approve; she did it anyway. That’s it.
For my A story, the meat of that plot is that a character refuses to admit he has a hearing problem until he mishears leading to an embarrassing outcome for his daughter. What he mishears is a brochure that he took it upon himself to proof the wording. It’s her brochure, he proofed it but wrong. Earlier, I had two characters go to the printer shop; one has to step away so the person with the bad hearing makes a bad decision. I had to have one day in which a proof needed to be approved in person. And another day in which the person has to pick up the pamphlets up just so he’s present for when the embarrassing mistake that he approved is discovered. UGH! That’s really complicated.
The second lesson learned: if you’re putting characters through all sorts of hoops and contriving situations just to make your point, DON’T. There is always an easier way to cut to the meat of the matter. First of all, how can you mishear if you are right in front of someone?! No, it needs to be over the phone. You mishear the most when there are no visual cues especially if what you’re doing is approving a brochure. BAM! Another scene gone (the printer scene). BAM! It can all happen in one day. Better flow. Less stuff. More common sense.
Even for screwball comedies and action adventures, every new obstacle should rise naturally, and make sense. As absurd as a comic world is, it should still make sense for that world. Every world has its own rules. The audience sticks with flying monkeys and time warping and all sorts of things if you make the rules of a world clear. When you break that rule — wait! he needs the same amount of energy to go forward in time as he did to go back! — you lose the audience.
Okay, so back to finishing the app. To all the other applicants, good luck! Have fun playing!