Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beginning the rewriting process: Keeping your script to yourself

As you enter the initial phase of rewriting your first draft, it's important that you resist the often times compelling urge to share your work with others.  That day will come soon enough.  Now more than ever as you proceed with this first examination of the draft, you still need to protect that private relationship between you and your script.  It's your impressions at this point that are the most important.  Your reactions.  Your ideas for changes.  I realize that the urge to share, to get the opinions of respected, trusted friends can be almost overpowering at this point.  You want to know how others respond, what they think, what they understand and don't understand.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The First Draft of Your Script: Getting Some Distance

A finished first draft is like a freshly baked pie.  When you first take it out of the oven you have to put it on the rack to cool.  If you try cutting a piece hot, it falls apart, the insides oozing out as you attempt putting the piece on a plate.  If you try tasting it, your tongue gets burned.
It's mysterious how this works, but distancing yourself from a finished first draft is absolutely essential.  The degree of objectivity gained with even a few days of cooling off helps enormously as you go back to appraise what you've come up with.
More often than not, when you finish writing that final page, that negative voice will have grown from a whisper to a shout.  However loud it may be, resist concluding that what you've written is terrible.  Realize these feelings are normal.  There’s also the outside chance the opposite may happen and you're so excited about what you've written you can barely contain yourself.  Or you may be somewhere in the middle, uncertain as to its merits.
Whatever your feelings are toward that stack of pages, however, the worst thing you can do is to immediately start reworking them.  You need, instead, to put your newborn draft away and totally forget about it for awhile.  Two weeks to a month will permit you to gain some distance, but some writers need much more time.  During this break try to engage yourself in some other all-consuming project, perhaps even starting work on another play.  Or, as Marsha Norman suggests, "You should just find wonderful things to read between the time you put the play away and the next time you pick it up.  You should fill your mind up with other language, other characters' concerns."
I also highly recommend that you still don't share your work with anyone else even though the urge to do so now that you have a completed draft is often compelling.  During this cooling off time you and your play are still incubating together.  It should still be a private process.  Getting input from others now could forever destroy that special, intimate, personal relationship you've been nurturing.  So fight off the impulse to share your play quite yet.  You'll be happy you did when you come back to it.
Usually what happens when you return to your draft after such a distancing period is that it'll surprise you.  If you hated it when you put it away, now it'll most likely read  better than you thought it would.  If you loved it, now it'll probably be obvious that it needs more work.  The point here is that your ability to judge its merits can only really be trusted if you've allowed yourself to gain some objectivity and the only way you can achieve that is to put it on the rack and let it cool off for a while.  I've never encountered an exception to this.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Film Festival Magic

Last weekend I attended a new film festival in the heart of New England called the Monadnock International Film Festival named after the famous mountain that looms over the region.   Put together by a group of dedicated folks who simply decided they wanted to celebrate the artform, this three-day inaugural event was nothing less than a blowout success.
Held in Keene, New Hampshire, it became quickly apparent that this seemingly modest attempt at pulling off a new film festival was turning into something much more.  Public support was amazing.  Every screening was standing room only.  So were the panel discussions.  As were all the downtown after parties.  Ticket and pass-holder lines for closing night went around the corner from the main venue and stretched on for over a hundred yards back into a parking lot. I was amazed (as were many others) at the overflow crowds for every item on the program.  Throughout the festival, there was a special and highly charged energy that was clearly felt by everyone attending. 
The culminating screening on Saturday night was the pre-television release of Ken Burn’s powerful documentary The Central Park Five to be broadcast nation-wide on PBS next week on Tuesday, April 16th.   Burns, who with his daughter and son-in-law, wrote and directed the film, was there in person to receive a special award.  And along with two of the men whose story was being told in the film (Raymond Santana and Yusef Salaam), Burns took part in a stimulating Q and A with a packed house of over 900 people who to a person stayed for over an hour after the final credits rolled to discuss the film. 

As I sat in the last row of the old restored Colonial Theatre in downtown Keene that night, I was struck yet again at the power of film when it is screened for a flesh and blood live audience.  And how this was proven again and again with every screening I attended during the festival.  I was reminded of the continued hunger that people obviously have to gather together as a special community for a brief time to experience a work of art.  Live theatre offers this special coming together, but so does cinema. 

With all the talk and speculation about how the digital age is rapidly eliminating the desire or need for people to see films in theatres, this festival was, in a sense, an answer back.  Or, maybe more accurately, a shout back, saying that the movie theatre experience still has life in it and that cinema is only fully realized when that community of audience is there experiencing as one the unfolding of a film’s story. 

So I send out my own shout to the Monadnock International Film Festival with a loud BRAVO!  And for reminding me and everyone else who was lucky enough to be a part of this event that there is still real magic to be found in going out to the movies.