The Process — Screenwriting and Film: Part I

Writing is a funny thing really. From the very first moment you come up with your idea, the concept itself constantly changes.

The thought of writing my own short film script intimidated me. I knew that I enjoyed writing but I was never good at coming up with concepts myself. I’m a very collaborative person my best work comes from working with others creatively. So, weeks before I even started writing my first draft, I sat down with a friend at a cafe in South Melbourne and brainstormed ideas. We were there for hours and after much research and note taking, the theme that I intended on going with was ‘Man and Women vs Society’. Sounds complicated right? Well, yeah, it is. I wanted to write about something that I was passionate about and believed was an issue that needed to be constantly addressed and that is Gender Equality. Not in the sense that men and women are battling against each other in who is equal or not but rather, men and women together battling against societies expectations and limitations.

So I had this theme and a rough concept about a girl who gets into an art school but runs into a boy who doesn’t, so she helps him improve his art and he eventually gets accepted as well and they end up together in the end……

I wrote the script and things changed dramatically in the process of writing. I figured some things out, realised what was working and what wasn’t working in my concept and created a little more conflict between the characters. And now we have…

Draft #1

Image by Melisa Visca

Trust of Art.

This story is about an ambitious young artist Chloe Statton, who battles with her own ambitions to win a scholarship to a prestigious art college in New York and her mother’s traditional expectations set upon her, but is forced to make a decision about her future after re-connecting with her rebellious ex.

Let me just clarify, this first draft was no where near what this story has worked its way to become. It took me 4 drafts and other brilliant minds in discussion to get it to where it is now.

The title…. I really can’t remember how the name came to me. Art is a predominant aspect of the characters lives in this story and what brings the two together, so it somehow just fit.

Now comes the first table read and boy was I nervous. There is something very intimidating and nerve racking about other people reading out your script, your creation, your baby… During the first table read, I was biting my lip, fiddling with my pen and found myself constantly holding my breath wandering if these people were judging me on who I am as a person by what I wrote on paper. So, then came the feedback…

Warm Feedback:

Understood everything, the story paints a picture, it is very reliant on the visuals, can already relate to the characters, great relationship between the characters, less dialogue is great, the dialogue flows, wouldn’t think that this is a first draft.

Phew. Nerves gone. Kinda.

Cool Feedback:

Way too descriptive, remove the things that we can’t actually see (show don’t tell), easy to visualise the scene/story but not so much how the characters are feeling, the characters go on more of a journey in the beginning and it fades towards the end, feels like Jacob is the protagonist rather than Chloe, Chloe is too perfect and needs to have a flaw.

I could go on. Everybody that contributed to the feedback of my script was very comforting and very constructive which took away the self doubt that can arise when receiving feedback on something you have worked hard on. I found that I didn’t take anything personally and in ways of an attack on myself as a person. The notes that were given helped me in so many ways. I started to understand what I really needed to work on and what was already working for me.

I started work on my logline and really struggled with it and it was because at this point, after the first round of feedback, I really didn’t know exactly what my film was about.

Logline 1:

When a dedicated art student’s scholarship application is rejected, she….

When rejected into a prestigious art college in New York, a dedicated art student….

When a dedicated art student rekindles her broken relationship….

I just couldn’t figure it out! So I threw myself in the deep end and picked up a whiteboard marker and wrote whatever came to my mind first, on the board.

Image by Melisa Visca

Not the most appealing handwriting and photo but that was the first draft of my logline. It still wasn’t right, but it was a start.

Then came the re-drafting phase and…

Draft #2

Image by Melisa Visca

I spent time going through the whole script with a special red pen and my feedback notes next to me. What helped me the most in my re-drafting was listening back to the recording of the feedback session we had. So not only did I feverishly type the notes given to me, I recorded it as well.

I specifically outlined, crossed out and wrote everything that needed to be worked on an changed. It was fun.

I went through my script, scene by scene and adapted and changed the things that needed to be changed first then added scenes that needed to be added. The ending in the first draft wasn’t up to standard with no real idea of how I wanted it to end, but this draft I had figured it out. But I still wasn’t happy with it. I struggled to write this one a little and was stuck quite a lot on needing to include more conflict and history between the characters but being careful to not add too much description and dialogue.

When it came time for feedback, I wasn’t as nervous as the first time round. I was actually quite excited but also anxious as I wasn’t quite sure myself that I was happy with the draft.

Image by Melisa Visca

I took this round of feedback and little more to heart this time. Of course I didn’t vocalise this or in any way disrespect anyone’s opinion and criticism because the notes that were given were very valid and constructive. This was a personal experience due to how much I was doubting myself at this time but regardless of how I felt during the feedback session, I walked away from it with an open mind and trust in my colleagues that their feedback will help again and incorporated it all into my third draft.

The first round of feedback and second round of feedback were two very different experiences for me and I find it very interesting to know that, depending on what state of mind you are in on any given day can determine the way you receive feedback from others.

Then logline 2 came:

An ambitious art student is hell-bent on winning a scholarship to a prestigious art school but the rekindling of friendship with her ex forces her to face reality.

It was getting there, but it still wasn’t right.

And now for….

Draft #3

After having a couple of days to reflect on my reaction to the feedback from draft 2 and letting that feedback sit with me for a little while, I got writing for draft 3. This process was a little more motivating as I didn’t feel so stuck. I had a great suggestion to include another character in my story which upped the stakes and conflict by about 50% and cleared a few things up for myself. This is what inspired me to keep going.

We were encouraged to start to ‘break the rules’ and put our own mark on our writing a little now and I felt that I was at a stage, after overcoming my little hurdle, that I could do that. I became a little more free and in the 3rd feedback round, people started to see that. I started to put my own touch on my writing.

By this point, my main character has a flaw, my writing became a lot less descriptive, the conflict was evident, the relationships stronger, scenes had changes in them for the better, the stakes were higher and it flowed better.

But with all of this came the loss of a sense for Jacob (Chloe’s ex-boyfriend). I lost who he was and what motivated him to do what he does. When I re-drafted for the 4th time though, this was an easier fix than I thought, only having to make slight changes in the characters behaviours and little descriptive things in the story, to bring him back. YAY!

This draft really helped me figure out exactly what my story is about and fine tune my….

Logline 3:

A ‘by the books’ sketch artist is hell bent on winning a scholarship to a prestigious art school, but the rekindling of friendship with a rebellious street artist forces her to choose between her mothers expectations and art.

Lets meet Chloe…

Chloe Statton is a 21 year old sketch artist who dreams of moving to New York to study in one of the most prestigious art colleges in the world. She is very driven, hard-working and does everything ‘by the books’, however, has a fear of disappointing her parents which is why she is enrolled into a business degree. Chloe’s is expected to follow in her mothers footsteps and establish a successful, realistic career path and push art to the side as a hobby instead. Chloe’s heart is full of gold and she is always putting others before herself, willing to help them no matter the cost which in the end, leaves her unhappy. She learns that to get anywhere as an artist, she needs to take risks and put herself first for once and let go of the expectations that hold her back.

And now came the pitching process….

So, after writing a fourth draft, came the time for me to pitch my film to my colleagues.

And boy let me tell you, I was not calm. The thought of pitching my own film was very daunting. Even though my peers sat with me the weeks prior and helped me adapt the story to where it is now… this whole pitching thing was STILL scary!

It was an elevator pitch. So my pitch was only about 2 minutes in length but one thing that I realised in the process of putting it all together is that 2 minutes, is NOT a long time at all. You really need to know your film like the back of your hand and your logline and synopsis need to be very clear. Catching someones attention can be difficult in itself, but keeping their attention is a whole other thing.

Now that I reflect back on it, I think that I wasn’t 100% clear on what my film is about which is what terrified me about pitching so much. Hell, I still don’t exactly know what my film is about but I’m getting there. It’s a working progress.

You really do get thrown in the deep end when pitching and you either sink or swim. I don’t think I sank, but I definitely struggled to swim.