Editing and Revising A Screenplay by Barrington Smith and Janice Littlejohn of THOSE PEOPLE: A LOVE STORY

Watch the video on Youtube here

Film Courage: The difference between editing, revising and just plain skimming your work or a page you’ve done for the day, either skimming it (and) praising it or skimming it (and) unfortunately trashing it (I mean being critical of it)? So what are the differences between the three: editing, revising and skimming? Or are they all kind of the same?

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: Skimming is what I do when I don’t know what I am going to do. So editing, revising, skimming…interesting. I don’t know how often I ever skim. A skim would be like a copy edit or I literally kind of…or I’m just tired and I’m just going to read this through and maybe…I can’t remember was it Eric Roth, he’s a screenwriter? Is he the one who did (THE CURIOUS CASE OF ) BENJAMIN BUTTON? What he talks about when he writes, he always starts at the beginning and reads through up to where he’s going to start writing and then writes from there. And of course, in the reading through there is little things you want to change so I’ll do that. And then there’s editing, like copy editing and I make tons of typos so I definitely do that as well. Then I give it to other people to edit and then I edit again and it’s still a mess. But revision, I try to approach it as a very specific process whereby I go into it with a plan. I’m like okay, this is a scene and it’s weak and the scene has these building blocks and there is a certain beginning, middle and end and it needs some kind of adjustment and so I try to look within that scene at kind of the polarity. Like there is usually a little tiny character arc within the scene, right? Somebody opens the door for their date, hopeful, and then they have a little conversation and by the time they get to the car, they’re feeling like “This is going to be great!” or by the time they get to the car they’re like “This is already a disaster” and those are two different things. And so a lot of times I think the revision process is where you’ve kind of looked at the scene in terms of tracking what the character is going to go through throughout the entire script. Where does this scene fit into it? How is it setting up for other things? What does it need to do? So I look at it in terms of function and in terms of those building blocks and so when I revise I have a very “Now it does this and now I either want it to do this better or I want it to do something that’s different.” That’s my ideal revision. You don’t always get that luxury. Sometimes you’re just like “This sucks! And somehow I’ve got to make it seem better.” And then you’re just fiddling but revision in its ideal form for me is that.

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn: Editing, skimming and revision? I think to a certain extent I agree with all of that. For me, when I’m writing something I do tend to just write out, just completely and then go back and read what I’ve written before I go to bed or before I give it up and see if I can go a little and do a little of the tweaking and, even to a certain extent, see how much further I can go until I hit a wall and then the next morning I go back and re-read. I do a lot of self-editing, whether it be for small words or how can I say this better? Or how can it sound more real? How can it sound more authentic? Because I think as a journalist I write differently than I speak and so one of the challenges for me with dialogue has been listening to how people speak and to the cadence to which people speak and that’s why going to café’s was important to me because getting the rhythm of a particular speech pattern was important to me. I would listen to my friends in a different…actually…screenwriting made me a better listener. Because I would listen to what people were saying and how they were saying it and what inflections they gave it. So when I edit am I keeping that rhythm? Is that cadence still flowing? So I’m looking and editing for specific things. And then with the revision (like what Barrington was saying), you know, I’m looking at the overall and what can make the overall better.

I guess the editing and skimming kind of go hand-in-hand for me. It’s like I’m doing that all at one time looking for different things but I actually like the process of editing and I’m working as an editor now for Los Angeles Review of Books and working on other people’s work and looking at how to make their work better because that was always one of the things that I loved about my editors is that they kept the voice that I was looking for and my voice in the story. But they just made it that much better. And so that’s what editing for me is. It’s a way to make things better. Not always did editors make it better but those that did, that was where I found you know, a strength. And keeping that voice and making sure the best of that voice came through out. So what I hope when I’m editing is just honing in on those things that really make that voice sound authentic and I think to our credit one of the things that people said was that each of the characters had their own distinct voice and so that was really gratifying and so now it’s just the revising and making sure all that great voice is in context with a great story and a strong sensibility and good conflict and deep, meaningful you know…great…deep…meaningful

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: Story! [Laughs]

Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn: Story…yes…that was a word I couldn’t seem to get out [laughs].

Barrington Smith Seetachitt: And something you said in there also made me think of kind of you know, I think my mind tends to jump to this kind of prose editing but I think hearing her talk about voice, one another kind of editing that you’ll do is you’ll take a pass. So you’ll do a dialogue pass, especially if…we don’t get to do as many passes as we like because it seems like we’re always writing to a deadline but given the amount of time, like you’ll do a dialogue pass, and then you’ll do kind of a pass for geography and a pass for certain characters. Like you’ll do a pass where you’re just kind of tracking where one character is emotionally. You know, do they have a logical progression of emotion between if you know where the beginning is and you know where the end is or is there some place in the middle where they are in a scene but you’re getting kind of lost and you can just put in a reaction that shows that something is changing in them if they are reacting in a certain way to what is going on, so that it’s something that you see on the screen more, right? So you do your main character pass. Sometimes you’ll do a pass for secondary characters. So you’ll do those kind of different passes and I guess that would also fall under editorial.

Question for the Viewers: What thoughts on editing a screenplay can you add?

Check out the Seed & Spark campaign for THOSE PEOPLE: A LOVE STORY

The landscape for our film is black, brown and white. When we started writing this film, we knew we weren’t the “post-racial” nation headlines had suggested. We couldn’t have predicted this new socio-political climate — but here we are, and making a film like ours is more timely than ever.

What would you risk for love?

As we struggle to define ourselves: Are we the words and music; the foods and beliefs of where we come from? Or are we something more?

Even as Taylor is looking for love, she’s on a quest to define her life on her terms. At its heart, THOSE PEOPLE: A Love Story challenges the notion that familiarity breeds contentment. Oftentimes it’s when we step out of our own worlds that we find the happiness we seek.

The landscape for our film is black, brown and white. When we started writing this film, we knew we weren’t the “post-racial” nation headlines had suggested. We couldn’t have predicted this new socio-political climate — but here we are, and making a film like ours is more timely than ever.