Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Script Rewrites - A Professional's Advice"

A lot of blogs are popular because of their helpful tips.  Today, I shall follow in those blogs’ footsteps.  The best way I can.

I shall tell you how I did things, my helpful tip being, “You see what I did there?  Study it in detail.  Then, do it a different way.” 

Spread the word.  This blog is educational!

If you do things differently than I did, you’ll be doing things – if not right – then at least righter than I did them.  This “Avoid my approach at all costs” strategy is guaranteed to help you do better work, reduce stress and aggravation, and allow to get home in time to see your children before they’re asleep.  Or have gone off to college.

Last time, I talked about “Page-One Rewrites”, involving scripts that, during “Production Week”, were discovered to be in such atrocious shape they required a massive amount of rewriting, from Page One to the end, hence the panic-inducing moniker, “Page-One Rewrite.” 

This was hopefully a rare situation.  However, when I ran shows…

Every script was a “Page-One Rewrite.” 

Let me qualify that remark before they come over and take back my awards.  It wasn’t that every script we prepared for production turned out to be in terrible shape.  The majority of them were in pretty good shape.  The actors read them at the table, the laughs were plentiful, and the story essentially made sense.  There would inevitably be the necessary “trims” to bring the episode to time, minor content clarifications and a handful of joke misfires in need of replacement.  But that was it.

Nevertheless, on every rewrite during “Production Week”, from the first rewrite after the “Table Reading” to the rewrites after the runthroughs (of which there were generally two), when I ran the room, we would always begin our revisions starting on Page One.  I would then dutifully call out the succeeding page numbers and, if there was a “trouble spot”, we would stop there and do what needed to be done.

Sometimes, believing they had an upgrade, a writer would pitch an alternate joke, even though the joke currently in the script had gotten a solid laugh.  We would then take time to debate which joke was funnier.  Being now in “pitching mode”, other writers would jump in with alternates for the alternate.  The “winning joke” would then be inserted – or the original one left alone – and on we would go. 

There would also be times when a joke that got a laugh earlier stopped getting a laugh – because, through repetition, the joke’s “funny” had eventually worn off – and we would irrationally take the time – up to an hour in some excruciating cases – to pitch a replacement joke.  I say “irrationally” because the audience would only hear the original, previously funny joke,


Then, of course, there were the serious script problems, involving a scene that required a “start from scratch” reworking.  More often than not, this “trouble scene” was the climactic scenes at the end of the episode.  Our rewrite would begin with a discussion of that scene, a task which might eventually involve creating an entirely new outline. 

After it was decided how to revise that climactic scene, if I ran the room, we would then return to Page One, and away we would go.  Working our way through the script.  Line by line.  Joke by joke. 

But Earlo, if the major problem was at the end of the script, why not tackle it first, when you’re fresh and focused and full of beans, and then start back at Page One, cleaning up the “little stuff” along the way. 

Really?  You think that’s a better approach?


I know that’s a better approach!  What am I, crazy?

Then why didn’t you do it that way?

Because I had to begin at Page One!!!

I am certain there were show runners who worked on the hardest stuff first.  Aside from the fact that my congenital linearity made me temperamentally incapable of not starting on Page One, there were logical reasons for the way I did things.  But all of them were weak.  Still, as a nostalgic tip of the hat to my inflexibility and dumbness, I shall respectfully allot them the following paragraph:

Sometimes, to accommodate the revamped ending, certain structural underpinnings earlier in the script needed to be revisited, and I wanted to remember to attend to those adjustments.  Also, though the hardest work – which could take a number of hours to complete – was behind us, there was something, for me, psychologically discouraging about going back to Page One at a depressingly later hour. 

Most importantly, however, I was an idiot.  And we shall leave it at that.

(Additional Parenthetical Excuse:  The people who taught me always started on Page One.  But retrospectively?  So what?)

Anyway, there you have it, your helpful tip for today.  There are two ways of handling a rewrite – my way, and the right way. 


If I only hadn’t been me.


Rory W. said...

I do a fair amount of writing at work, which is reviewed by countless hordes of people who provide their own helpful suggestions, and I have to start me "rewrites" from page one as well.

I also have to have the punctuation right or I get so distracted by the misused semi-colon or the lack of an Oxford comma that I can't focus on the content.

You're not alone in the "doin' it wrong" club.

Canda said...

I think sometimes it's better to start on page one, with lines that can be adjusted, and are fixable, so that everyone feels good about themselves, knows they're making progress, and thus are in a better mood to tackle that big problem later in the script.