Tuesday, July 3, 2007

ABC: Always Be Closing

That phrase is from Mamet’s film version of “Glen Garry Glen Ross”. It’s an interesting philosophy about how the salesmen are always trying to get the customer to “sign on the line which is dotted”. Selling is a continual process, never quite complete until the deal is done.

And that applies to writing, as well.

I spent most of last night rewriting my screenplay “Dylanology”, which is now going to be titled “Tangled Up in Bob” (Doesn’t that title just sound like a more fun movie?). Being in the top 10 percent of the Bluecat competition is not like winning an Oscar, but it is encouraging to know that I’m not in the pile of crap that is the other 90% (of which there were 1800 screenplays). I’m not patting myself too much on the back, though, because I realized how old that draft was that I submitted (by old, I mean four months…). So I dug out the most recent draft and started reading. I’ve haven’t sat down and read it from page one all the way to the end since May. It’s always beneficial to pick up a script after you haven’t seen it for a few months because suddenly it’s like you have a pair of 3D glasses and all the glaring errors and ugly spots literally pop out of the page at you. So I made some changes, added some lines, cut some descriptions, and tried to make the script a leaner, more fun read. I’m still working on it but its getting better.

You may well ask, “Hey, if your old script has already placed well in that competition and you’ve already done a rewrite, shouldn’t you just leave it alone?” Like I wrote before, a good writer is constantly rewriting. Rewriting is the promise of perfection. We search for the perfect expression of our ideas. So we are always rewriting. Always. Always. Always. Tony Kushner says the difference between a good playwright and a bad playwright is that a good playwright cares about EVERY SINGLE WORD. Any extra word, or extra moment is unnecessary and starts to add up. It slows the script down. When you’re trying to set a tone and a tempo, clutter is death. The only way to really nail it is to rewrite.

Now there may be that rare occasion when a script has reached perfection and any more tinkering with it will just destroy what goodness exists—but I have yet to see that script. I have yet to write that script. Maybe some day I will, but I’d rather place my odds on winning Megabucks.

I think this idea about rewriting stems from the same pile of crap about writing that other myths stem from. One of those myths is that great writers write excellent first drafts (yeah, right) so they don’t have to rewrite. Or that great writers write everything feverishly quick (also not always true). For most, writing is a laborious process. Rewarding and joyous, yes, but a real pain in the ass.

When do you stop? When is the deal done? When the audience sees it. Until then there’s always work to do. After the audience sees it, it’s too late (unless you’re George Lucas).

So always be rewriting. Until the deal is done.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have my full-length play OBSCURA to rewrite. That thing hasn’t been touched in over a year. I shudder to think what changes need to be made.

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