The Rough Draft

If you can't go through it. Go around it.

A smart man once wrote, “Life is pain.  Anybody tells you different, they’re trying to sell you something.”  I think William Golding knew what he was talking about, don’t you?  And if you don’t agree with that sentiment, wake up and smell the coffee.

One of the hardest things I’ve ever done was learn the proper format to create a screenplay.  I came from the world of writing long form prose.  I could use internal thought, I could be in a character’s head and explain their motivations.  My first teacher beat that out of me pretty quick.  You have none of that in a screenplay, you have to imply everything without the sin of directing on a page.  It’s not easy, it took me years to get it sort of right and then even more years to nail it down to a point where I was basically satisfied with it and didn’t cringe every time I sent my stuff off to be read.

I learned how to present the work in the proper format as a mark of respect to the craft and to the industry I wanted to be a part of.  To show that crafting a workable script was not only in my wheelhouse but that it was a part of me.

So it always generates a heavy sigh and a shake of the head when I read some comment from somebody with aspirations of being a screenwriter that goes something along the lines of, “I don’t believe in format.”  It makes me want to grab them and slap them silly.  Well actually because I’m Scottish, it makes me want to grab them, head butt them and then kick them once they’re lying on the ground until they stop moving and then kick them some more just to make the point stick.

I realize this is a socially unacceptable response and society is all the poorer for it.

Format in any written discipline exists for a reason.  For one it’s a tool set.  Master format and you show that you control the tool set of the job you have chosen as your career.  A mechanic wouldn’t go on about not believing in wrenches and socket sets and torque settings.  If they did you’d never take your car to them for servicing.  If a Lawyer dismissed precedents and decorum, you’d walk out of their office, fast as your legs could carry you.  So why would writing be any different?

I think more than a few of the next wave of, “Artists,” have been told they’re great all their lives to the point where they believe their own press and that the rules don’t apply to them.  I’m sure the dousing wave of bitter reality will come as a nasty shock because when it comes to the world of the screenwriter, nobody gives a shit.  You do it right or you’re gone.  Whine about it and you’re labelled as difficult and you’re gone.  Bend the rules and not have the brilliance to back it up?  Gone.

It’s a simple system and it works.  Many are called, few are chosen and the few that are chosen are pretty bitter about it.  It isn’t for the faint of heart.  I keep trying to leave and they keep sucking me back in again.  Which begs the question, am I an optimist, a masochist or just plain nuts?  After all, film is one of the few professions where they’re always moving the goalposts.

I also love how these mavens who would change the world for all of us rail and rail again against the lack of understanding they’re shown by the very bastions they would cast down.  How they’re oh so much smarter than those who went before, how they see the truth of it all (and I’m always wary when that one pops up).  I like to point out, when it’s everybody else all of the time, the problem does not lie with them.  It’s time to look in the mirror.

I work with a man who is always moaning about this problem in his life and that problem in his life and how hard it all is.  One day I looked at him and said.  “You don’t have problems.”

“Yes, yes I do,” he replied as hangdog as he could manage.

“No mate, what you have are outcomes.  A problem is an unexpected occurrence in your life, it comes out of nowhere.  An outcome is the result of a series of actions you’ve taken in reaction to a given situation, knowing the possible consequences.  Want a different outcome, change your reaction to the situation.  Otherwise history will keep repeating itself.”

It’s solid advice, he of course ignored it.  Last I heard he was getting divorced, seems his wife wasn’t keen on him having a girlfriend.  Outcomes are funny like that.


Which is why this is a rant.  I know it will change nothing.  I know those who believe what they believe will keep on doing what they’re doing and they will receive rejection and the taste of bitter ashes will be in their mouths and everybody else will continue to be wrong and misguided and it will twist their souls into black little knots and I’d like to be sad about that but all I can muster is the smallest of nods, a tightening of the corners of my mouth and the lone thought.

“You should have listened when you had the chance.”  Followed by, “What should I have for lunch?”

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