Wednesday, April 22, 2009

How I Write

As I've mentioned before, I write with a that should be "How we write."

I consider myself a director who writes rather than a writer who directs. What that means is that if I had to write on my own it would take me a very, very long time. I am extremely afraid of the blank page. Travis, on the other hand, can dive right in, since he's actually a writer. My strength is in the rewrites. I am very good at looking at something and rewriting it to make it better.

One of the reasons I prefer working with a partner is that as a director I'm a collaborator at heart. Everything I've done has gotten better through collaboration, while everything that has sucked was because I was too stubborn and insisted my idea was the best (it never is).

What's great about working with a partner is that you trust each other. So, I know that if we're trying to think of a line or a scene or a story, I can throw out the dumbest idea without being embarrassed. Because, even though I know that idea will never work, it might give Travis an idea, which then gives me an idea, which then grows and changes into a great line, scene or script, having begun as something really stupid. That's what I love about collaborating. Neither of your ideas might good but they might inspire something good. If I were writing alone that would probably never happen. I would go with what I thought which would probably be wrong, or lame, or on the nose.

How Travis and I write has changed with every script we've written. The first screenplay we collaborated on was a thriller. The way we ended up writing it was I wrote the first ten pages, because I had a really clear idea in my head about how I wanted it to start. The next day, Travis started writing pages 11-20 while I went back and revised pages 1-10. The next day, Travis wrote 21-30, while I rewrote the pages he wrote the day before. Travis was able to push through on scenes, even if they weren't good and all he was writing was a placeholder, knowing that I would be coming through and expanding on it. Travis' first draft was 76 pages; mine was 94. (It has since expanded to 118.) We wrote the first draft in 10 days.

The next script we wrote, Glory Days: The Legacy of Chet Steele was a comedy. We decided that it would probably work better if we wrote each scene together. So, we sat down to one computer, traded off typing and went through it scene by scene making each other laugh and putting those lines in the script. "Wouldn't this be funny?" "Oh! What about this?" The final count of our first draft was 148 pages (it has since been cut down to 108) and we wrote it in 10 days.

The third script we wrote was intended to be a low-budget thriller. It takes place in one location with two actors. We thought that since this was ultimately one big conversation we should each be a character and we would sit down over iChat and have the conversation. So we did. We played the characters and let is flow. The first draft was 80-something pages and we, again, wrote it in 10 days.

Now, all of this writing was preceded by weeks of discussion, outlines, scene-carding and so on. We had a pretty good idea of where the story was going, what the scenes, were and so forth. For Travis and I this is a really important part of the process. We discuss the hell out of it until we're on the same page, we have the story beat out, and even a list of the scenes, and then we're almost just filling in the blanks.

But for us, a script is a living thing, and our approach differs depending on the story. I'm sure if write another comedy we'll do it similar to how we wrote Glory Days. That's a technique that works really well for us.

In the end, it just kind of happened organically with each script. We didn't force it which is probably why it felt easy.

(That said, the first two scripts we wrote have spent the last three years being rewritten, so there's always work to do after the first draft.)

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