Your Next Script #11
By Charles Harris
We're almost there. Over the last ten articles we've developed an idea, worked it up as a treatment, written a first draft and revised it to the point when it's almost ready to send out.
But there are two more crucial tasks yet to perform. And the first will often make the most dramatic difference of all.
What have you been putting off?
This is what I call the X factor. Nothing to do with reality TV, the X factor is both simple yet profound. But only you know what that is.
It could be something you've been meaning to cut - such as a sequence or character you love but which you know isn't working.
It could be something you know you need to add.
It could be some aspect of the script that you're starting to have doubts about. Perhaps the key turning point doesn't do the job as well as it should. Or the premise doesn't totally make sense.
It's the thing you've been putting off doing - draft after draft.
The difference between OK and great
Listen to the small inner voice that prompts a rethink or addition.
Most good writing comes from our unconscious minds. While we need to use our rational editing brain to polish it up, we also have to listen to those deeper instincts.
It's natural to be afraid of the amount of work needed. But that extra work may turn out to be the most important work of all.
If in doubt...
What may seem a trivial change at this stage may even have profound effects. The big difference between a script that's so-so and one that sparkles is often this stage. It's now that the writers who go the extra mile reap their rewards.
Kill your darlings
In this draft you examine everything you are clutching onto in your script.
All too often, at this stage, we find we're still holding onto the very things that we should be letting go.
Be brutally honest with yourself - because if you're not I can guarantee that the industry will be.
You only get one chance with each possible buyer - producer or agent. Once they've rejected your screenplay, they are very unlikely to look at it again.
If in doubt, cut it out
So if you have doubts about anything, cut out the scissors. Cut it out and see what happens. (Remember you can always put it back again... But you almost certainly won't).
If in doubt, put it in
The corollary to cutting what you are thinking of cutting, is to write what you've been avoiding writing.
What about that twist that you keep mulling over and putting off because it would involve some extra research?
Or the character change that you can't put out of your head, but means rethinking the entire second act?
Or maybe there's a seemingly trivial issue that you just can't put out of your mind.
What are you shying away from?
Changes I've made in this final mini-draft have always brought major improvements.
Whether it's writing an emotional crisis that I've been shying away from, because it will be too gruelling (or challenging) to write or rectifying what seems to be a relatively trivial plot hole, I never regret this last run through.
One script of mine came to life in a totally unexpected way, simply because I followed the little voice that told me I had to dramatise a flashback from a character's childhood in Jamaica.
Even though I thought I was being stupid - we'd never afford the budget for a location shoot in the Caribbean - I wrote the scene. And it worked.
Despite my fears, we shot it, for almost no money, on a gloriously sunny day by turning a gravel pits in Hertfordshire into a totally convincing country road near Kingston, Jamaica, and it gives a very special lift to the whole film.
Listen to your instincts
To sum up: you may think that all the writing is over. But you can be sure that there are a few little loose ends still to be investigated.
Now, for one final time, you will gain enormously from listening to your instincts and making those last few changes that make all the difference to your script.
We're almost done. One more job to do before we can send it out - which we'll look at in the final article of this series.
Charles Harris is an international award-winning writer-director and best-selling author. His new novel - The Breaking of Liam Glass - is to be published by Marble City tomorrow.
The Fatal Couple in Noir - by Ian Long
As a taster for Euroscript's forthcoming Neo Noir workshop on July 8 (more details here), here's a run-down of just one aspect of the genre.
"One day, while taking a look at some vistas in Dad's stereopticon, it hit me that I was just this little girl, born in Texas, whose father was a sign painter, who only had just so many years to live. It sent a chill down my spine and I thought, where would I be this very moment, if Kit had never met me? Or killed anybody..."
Holly Sargis [Sissy Spacek] in Badlands, written and directed by Terrence Malick
The ‘fatal couple’ who spark off something deep and dark in each other is a powerful Noir theme which continues to generate gripping new stories.
In its fascination with divided natures and the tendency to self-betrayal, Noir often collapses the Protagonist and Antagonist into one person.
In ‘fatal couple’ stories, though, the object of interest is a dangerous connection between two people – a connection which will probably spell the end for them (and for many of those unlucky enough to cross their path).
A morbid chemistry
The fatal meeting and morbid chemistry between the couple (usually) ensures their doom. Perhaps they really do complete each other – but in a way which enhances their latent drives towards darkness and destruction.
Even though there may be love between them (or at least a strong current of sexual obsession which they regard as love), it’s toxic and destructive: a folie à deux.
Alone, each individual may have remained a dreamer or thwarted fantasist. Together, they can do things they’d never have conceived of even a short time earlier.
They’ve recognised each other, and that has changed everything.
How does the relationship work?
Many new story variations can be found by refining the exact nature of the protagonists’ chemistry:
Although the couple is often composed of a male and a female partner, interesting variations can be found when the protagonists are two males (Rope, In Cold Blood), or two females (Thelma and Louise, Bound). These can be gay or straight, or their orientation may be left ambiguous.
In the case of two women, there may be an element of going up against the patriarchy and defying gender stereotypes by enjoying wild and abandoned behaviour.
The sheer act of defiance represents a kind of victory, even if it leads the characters over a cliff.
Q: How much thematic and narrative mileage can you find in rethinking the sexual dynamics of the subgenre?
How can we find regional variations?
Sightseers is a British variant on the subgenre which takes it in the direction of black comedy. The infringements which drive the couple to murder are incredibly banal, and they are themselves presented as assertively ‘ordinary’.
It’s not quite clear if the couple are really angry about people disregarding the “heritage” qualities of pencil museums, trams and standing stones, or if it’s all just an excuse to unleash their own pent-up frustrations.
However, the theme of an partnership that, for a variety of possible reasons, speeds its members towards darkness and doom seems relevant to all cultures (a French example is Jean Cocteau's Les Enfants Terribles, which - like Dead Ringers - concerns the toxic relationship between two siblings; Heavenly Creatures a variant from New Zealand).
Using true stories
American filmmakers seem more apt to base movies on their own recent history. In Cold Blood was made soon after the execution of the murderers, and was actually shot in the very locations where the real-life action had occurred a few years earlier. The Leopold and Loeb case inspired Rope and Compulsion, as well as the more recent films Funny Games and Swoon.
The Moors Murders were a real-life British Fatal Couple whose story was filmed as the British TV mini-series See No Evil.
Q: Can you think of more local variations on the Fatal Couple genre?
Come to our NEO NOIR WORKSHOP on July 8 to find much more inspiration from this blisteringly contemporary genre.
More films to check out in the subgenre: Natural Born Killers, Bonnie and Clyde, Gun Crazy, You Only Live Once, They Drive By Night...
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