Circumstantial flummery from a would-be spoonbean hustler.

The Big Restart

Have told some folks that I got my Nicholl dink for 2007. Was disappointed, but not a big deal which means I’m probably getting better at deluding myself. Success! This was the third year I’ve entered and marked the first time I dinked on a script that was entered twice- Nickel & Dime. Which probably had something to do with my expectations as there were signifigant changes made- as I’ll relate below- of the story between the ’06 and ’07 versions. I was hanging a lot on making the quarters just once to validate that I’m moving forward. It’s all about the validation.

But I still really like the script, so everyone who doesn’t (Nicholl readers, Mom, screenwriting assassins, whoever) can go fuck themselves. It’s not like the contest has my name on it or anything.

So in the interest of finding validation elsewhere, I’ll report that I’ve reached the point in the Gallows Gulch script where I’ve written about half a draft and decided the premise needs an overhaul so it’s back to soup trying to detail a new outline. I call this bastard event ‘The Big Restart‘ and it’s sort of familiar territory.

This weird write-half-a-script, stop, go back and rebuild-from-page-one thing has happened in most of the scripts I’ve done. Except the crack-headed one I did in 11 days for a entire class grade and I was probably juiced out on Mountain Dew/Rum cocktails at the time. Anyway, the point is that it occurs and that I’m never really sure when or entirely why it does. With N&D this actually kinda happened twice- I was about 25 pages shy of THE END-ing the first draft and realized that adjusting some major elements would improve things, but I pushed on anyway and ignored the urge to go back and rebuild. So once I got to the 2nd draft I was rebuilding over 130 pages and had to stop and do the restart anyway and change everything from after about pg 25. It ended up long and painfully drawn out over the course of a year and a half and a Nicholl entry fee.

Other occurrences of the Big Restart have seemed to slow down process as I tweak and once an earlier script was completely killed and to this day it sits unfinished in a dark corner of hard drive. This all gives the sense that I’m doing it wrong and it’s a rather unorganized approach, but no matter what amount of outlining I do beforehand I think I honestly need to start throwing down scenes before I get a handle on my characters and my theme as I try to implement the story.

Having mentioned how frustrated I was with the protagonist a little while back, I can say now that he’s starting to come into focus just a little more, even though I am mucking with his backstory a bit. So the big restart isn’t abandoning huge amounts of what was worked up previously, say reaching pg 57 and chucking it all in the shredder. It’s usually an attempt to make story choices that add depth and dimension to the characters and their relationships and the overall picture. Which I’m sure is a task I’ve been told to save for the rewriting once you have a complete shotgun draft. But I really get to the point where I can almost see that if I go ahead and shotgun through that fast draft I’m going to end up stuck with some things I don’t like and am going to end up changing anyway. So, you know, it’s frustrating.

Now stay with me, because this is where I express the hope that this is in fact an indicator that my process and understanding of craft is evolving. What I’d like to hope is that this go round I’ll get through the restart a little faster and with every subsequent script I’m more quickly able to recognize whatever it is that pushes me back to start. This would all ideally culminate in me being able to build a stronger story from the get-go.

All of this assumes that my problem is story and structure and as my understanding improves it will go away. Which might not be the case, it might not really be a ‘problem’ and may just be they way my schizo logic works- build the shanty first, go back and build a mansion around it and exorcise the crap later. I may always have the Big Restart and hey, whatever, we’re all using different brains here most of the time. For the meanwhile that’s how I’m putting my head around it, but all opinions and suggestions welcome.

ETA: Found a post from Will Dixon that mentions the idea of ‘rebreaking’ a script:

Now I’ve story edited several Canadian features and TV movies, and there’s been more than one occasion when I joined the development fray that I had to suggest that the writer rethink their structure. The kernel of the cool idea may still exist, but their execution hasn’t realized the full potential of the idea. It needs a rebreak. In essence, you’re telling the writer they need to ‘start over’, and that’s not easy for anyone to say…or hear.

Which, even though I can’t rule out being completely delusional, is kinda what I feel like is going on.