Many screenwriters identify as introverts and enjoy the initial phase of solitude while they flesh out this new idea, this new world, on paper. But bringing a script to the screen, whether it’s film or television, flips to the other extreme where playing well with others is essential.
As a ghostwriter, I have had many experiences with taking input from clients as I tried to craft their story in ways that served their goals and desires. I’ve had experiences where I’ve spent hours researching and drafting a complicated section of a client’s novel or memoir– only to have them decide not to tell that story, or want to change critical aspects of it. It could be frustrating, but the cardinal rule of ghostwriting is that I’m the hired gun– and ultimately the client wins. But I have learned a whole new level about the ebbs and flows of collaboration through my journey with The Revisionist.
What makes the collaborative filmmaking process such an endurance race for writers is the constant stream of incoming feedback. Since the leap from script to film requires many hands on “the merchandise” (the script), you can’t get out of accepting others’ perspectives and inviting people to lend their vision to the project. And unlike ghostwriting where the ownership in the material is clear, there can be many different “owners” and goals that all have to coalesce in making a film.
I’m very protective of my own creative voice– and it’s been my experience that my work suffers when I try too hard to impose someone else’s vision into it. But the reality is in filmmaking, you can’t afford to be a prickly pear about accepting others’ visions. I learned pretty quickly that even with an amazing story, I had to become willing to let others put their mark on the tale in order to get others on board to see it through…
And that means notes.
Some notes are clear and I can implement them easily. Other times, I’ve learned, it’s better to take “the note behind the note” to address the underlying concept that seems to be in the same spirit as the suggestion offered. If a piece of feedback makes me mad or hurts my feelings, I know there’s truth to it. It’s right and on some level I know it, and I’m mad at myself because I didn’t see it. I think that’s one of the hardest things to do– to act on or surrender to something despite the fact that it pushes your buttons.
And then there are the notes that are completely rejected, but there haven’t been many of those. That’s because these script suggestions have come from people I want and need to have involved with this project. They’re bringing resources (either financial or talent) that will make The Revisionist a better movie.
And that’s why since the first draft back in March 2017, I have written 23 different versions of The Revisionist. My production partner called the latest a “polish,” but it certainly doesn’t feel like a polish when you’re reworking the whole third act! So even though there are green lights ahead, the script is still far from done. So I fully anticipate to be rewriting right up until the last days of principal photography!
Despite that, I still consider myself lucky. Not only because my movie is getting made, but because I am a producer on the project as well as the screenwriter. That means I get to stay in the room when decisions are made. I get to argue for what I see as best for the story. I get to say, “You are here because you were attracted to the script as it is, so why are we still changing this?” Sometimes it works, and sometimes I lose or concede, but at least I am in the room. At least I can contribute to the end product so it resembles what I intended.
And having flipped the script so many different times helps me do that. It’s a positive side effect of revising and rewriting and massaging the story every which way, because it makes me the bulletproof story expert. I know the plot points and my characters backwards and forwards and inside out. I know their motivations and fears like my own, so I can better defend and guide creative decisions.
Good thing, too. I’ve just been asked to make some more tweaks. Here comes version 24…