Wonderland

Nelson Mandela once said, "It always seems impossible until it's done." Good words to live by when you're writing. There's a million reasons to give up when you write. You sacrifice your social life, your sanity, and even your personal relationships - DON'T F'ING INTERRUPT ME! But if you give up, you're dead.

Getting the script down from 160 to 120 pages was a Herculean task in and of itself. The original source material, a blog called LA Stories, was a seven year journey of one girl who dreamed of becoming a screenwriter, but crashed and burned and "died" before she was able to achieve her dreams. After sharing the script with a few writer friends, listening to suggestions, and being open to making changes, I took one more stab at editing the story to see if a 2-hour film could be scaled to about 100 minutes. 120 pages is for amateurs.

I took the "truncated-action approach," turning full descriptive sentences into raw action verbs and beats. It's not how one talks, but how most scripts are written. I took an even closer look at some of the voice-over... and threw out good portions of it (see "Kill Your Baby" for more details). I looked at some dialog towards the end and turned it into a title card preceding the film. And I came up with a killer title.

100 pages was the goal, and I almost got there. 103 is the final page count. I'm happy with that. It's done. It's ready to share with the world. Well, at least some literary agents and producers. Gotta get this baby made!

I present to you... "Monarch."

monarch.jpg

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!