Kill Your Baby

Sometimes you have to kill your baby. Editing is all about finding the essence of the story and eliminating the extraneous stuff that distracts from the main narrative. Sure you have to keep a little filler and transitions to give the story breadth and rhythm, and specific details to allow the characters to sing, but getting a script down to an acceptable length is all about asking, how do I tell this story in the most concise way possible and boil the narrative down to the basics?

One trick to scale a script is to look at it from a budgetary perspective. Is that car chase really necessary? Do I need the mountain lion on page 35 to complement the main character's emotional state in a grand display of magical realism...or can I save $15K? As a writer, you don't want to completely eviscerate imaginative storytelling, but you also don't want to forget practicality plays a big role in getting movies made.

Another way is to focus on the dialog, and in the case of this script, also Voice-Over (V.O.). Much of the inner monologue from the blog this story was inspired by, was re-purposed for the screenplay, and although each line has meaning, there's a lot of V.O. that seems repetitive. Can it be consolidated without adversely affecting the story? Can two lines be condensed to one? Can five be condensed to one? In real life, our vernacular is often long-winded, and repetitive. The beauty of cinema is that film dialog does not need to be an exact representation of real life. It's got to sound real (if that's the style in which you're telling your story) and authentic to each character, but it should be concise in order to capture the essence of a scene. Less literal, more metaphor! Strangely, I find that the final lines of a scene, especially in a first draft, can often be cut.

I'm almost down to 120 pages! Cutting 40 pages is no easy task. Some tough, painful choices had to be made. I'm agonizing whether to remove a chunk of V.O. I wrote for the ending that encapsulates the entire story:

Alexandra (V.O.): What will the novelists, the poets, the playwrights and the screenwriters write about us a hundred years from now? Did we only sacrifice for ourselves and eagerly turn a blind eye to the problems before us? Did we stop listening and loving, and let anger and fear pit us against each other? Or did we grab our stilts and superhero costumes, spreading our wings with a feather in our hair, and fight for each other, for love, for happiness, for a more perfect union?

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It's powerful, but millions of fluttering butterflies are more affecting. Kill your baby and move on. One week to go until deadline. I still need to trim another 20 pages!

Halfway to Heaven

Halfway through a first draft! Converting this story from outline to script is taking time and a lot of effort. The first challenge is finding the right tone. The blog this film is based on is very dramatic, but hilarious. I was afraid to make this strictly a comedy, but there's humor on almost every page. I think there's enough drama to balance the funny. Dark comedy?... Might as well embrace it.

The next issue is structure. The blog is told in first person perspective, and I always saw this as a voice-over (VO) style film. I'm a huge fan of Martin Scorsese pictures like "Goodfellas" and "Casino." I recently re-watched "Wolf of Wallstreet." Heavy VO. Multiple perspectives. Yes. I just pulled the script offline to use as a reference - I guess the studios publish scripts publicly now? I remember living in New York when street vendors sold scripts along the sidewalks. Oh, the good-old days. Actually, it's better now, because they're free.

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Storywise, the very beginning is proving a little tricky. I've got this great "prologue" based on a story I read about agents watching films at Sundance and getting frustrated that all indies seem to have suicide in them. Instead, in my story, a movie executive is reading the script to a film the main character (MC) is submitting (this film?) and likes it, until he reads the suicide part about MC killing herself (spoiler alert!).

However, I'm finding the need for a bit more backstory in the first act, prior to MC moving to LA. How did MC fall in love with movies? How far back should I go? There's some discussion of high school in the blog. Nothing to do with college and film school. Odd. Maybe I need to show how MC develops a love for movies as a child? Maybe the inspiration comes from her father? The blog creator has a contentious relationship with her father, and I'm curious what his role was in shaping her dreams (and despair). Not much about him in the blog, but seems like many motivations and struggles emanated from this relationship.

I'm also curious about how to end the story. I know the return of the wedding album will be the conclusion, but there may need to be more. If we learn MC dies in Mexico in the beginning, shouldn't Mexico also be the end? May need a denouement. Something with butterflies? There's such a prevalent emphasis on butterflies in the blog (Burning Butterflies and Origin Story to reference a few instances). Such meaning. Such personal connection. I've been thinking about the great monarch migration to Mexico. How could I get MC down to Mexico at the end?

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