Wednesday, 12 August 2009

First Step

My film making friend Paul Macauley wrote an interesting blog on his website regarding first drafts. You can read it here...

Paul makes the point that first drafts seem to be always regarded as a bit rubbish, but why should that be? Why can't the first draft of a script be something super?

Part of this reminds me of the philosophy which Julian Cope documents in his amazing book "Repossessed" (even if you have no interest in Julian Cope and his music, you should still read his books Head On and Repossessed - they are very funny, very entertaining and just such good fun.) By the late 80s, Copey had become a bit sick of spending weeks in studios recording his albums. He started to believe there was something pure and unconscious which comes out of the first take of a recording and so more often that not went with this approach with his subsequent albums.

Now, I'm not saying that this is probably a good philosophy to go with for a film script - there's many logistics and artistic issues which really should be sorted out before the hell of organising a shoot goes ahead - but I can see how it can tie into what Paul is suggesting.

Just this weekend I've finally finished the first draft of "The Reprise", a feature film which myself and film making friend Gus are hopefully planning on raising financing for. I wasn't planning on letting several people read this first draft, as when I was writing it I was convinced it was pretty awful. Most of the dialogue (of which there was a lot) I felt was placeholder dialogue. But I read through the first draft and I didn't think it was that bad...I figured it would be worth getting feedback on it at this stage.

Now, I didn't set out to write an awful first draft - just a feature length script is a very large beast and its often difficult to see two points at one time, nevermind from start to beginning. So I thought the best thing to do would be to just start the damn thing, get past that first page stumbling block and get on with it, knowing full well that there will be much wrong with it. This isn't a case of writing and fixing later, perhaps it's a more of "come out in the wash" approach - many aspects came to me in the middle of writing a particular scene, or after knocking the writing on the head for the night. None of this would have happened if I hadn't just made a start. If I'd got completely hung up on every aspect of this first draft there's a very good chance I'd never have finished it.

There is much wrong with this first draft - I picked up on several points, my wife picked up on several more, some so facepalmingly obvious its embarrassing. I'm still awaiting on feedback from the others.

Surprisingly though I'm really keen to get on with the next draft now, whereas I was telling myself I would need to take a break, do some research, watch comparative films and read their scripts. I still want to do this stuff, but I am honestly surprised how keen I am to throw myself back into another draft, especially as this first draft has felt like one of the most difficult things I've ever written. Usually my writing does seem to come pretty effortlessly, that I can see ahead of where I'm going (and usually too far ahead for me to type quick enough!) But with this script, it wasn't easy at all. It's still something which gives me some doubts about the project, that perhaps my brain is trying to tell me I'm barking for barking up that particular tree.

I'll also admit I've been very lazy with some aspects of this first draft - definitely a Polyfilla attitude of slapping stuff in to plug gaps. But it's got me to the end, where I can stand back and finally see from start to finish and all the bits inbetween and start to make preparations for fixing the script up properly.

So, I think that regardless of whether the first draft is there or not, the act of just finishing that first draft, of getting past not just that frightening ghostly blank first page, but also that terrifying psychological fear of never completing a first draft is something to celebrate. Don't worry about the mistakes, laugh and face palm yourself at that stupid omission, at that inconsistent behaviour. Because you can't fix something which isn't there.

I'm looking forward to getting my hands dirty and fixing my first step with "The Reprise." And I'm happy to have a bad draft to show me where to go next.

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