Thursday, July 5, 2012

I've just agreed to do another 'page one' rewrite. Not that all my rewrites are page one. Some are page 'up to page 52, we're really happy' and some are 'Well, we do like the characters and the ending.' whilst others are 'we thought the musical about cancer victims would be funnier.' Ok that's not a real one, and it was actually a musical based on animal experimentation. I passed.  But lots of times we see or hear of the page one rewrite and that's because lets face it, features are tricky. It's a long time that you're trying to hold the viewer's attention and it's even longer that the project needs to hold yours. Years.
It's easy to lose your way; easy to get distracted by that shiny thing over there and follow a minor character up a garden path and down a long lost highway on an adventure that really has nothing to do with the main storyline, with your protagonists, well... with your film.
"I knew I shouldn't have taken that left turn at Albuquerque." is one of Bugs Bunny's finest catchphrases, and I can understand why he got lost. It happens. And it's nobody's fault. Momentum is 90% of success in this business and when you're moving that fast, with that much force behind you (lets call it a producer shouting over a speakerphone) it's easy to take a wrong turn.
So, really, the bigger question is why do a page one rewrite? It's a question I was just asked by a friend, who's a civilian - you know he has a real job - and he asked me "If you're binning everything and starting over - picking Bugs up and bringing him back to the carrot patch - why bother sticking with that concept in the first place? Why not find something else?" 
It seemed a reasonable question. Really, if you're binning everything (and sometimes you're actually binning the core concept) then where's the 're' in rewrite?

But the answer is simple.There must have been something that made someone cut a cheque in the first place. And foresically speaking you need to find out what that is, and sometimes finding that out is a job in and of itself. Often, the people working on the film can't remember where it all started. Everyone is lost. (Prometheus anyone?) But it was just so long ago, and it may have been a few regimes back. But I assure you, something is at the core of the project. Even if it's just the casting. We've got Will Ferrell and Chris Rock AND Angelina Jolie, but they hate the concept? Fine. Page one rewrite. Or just one drawing that made you believe in the project in the first place and it's pinned up over that guys desk. Ok. Lets stare VERY hard at this thing, ask some deep psychological questions as if that drawing was drawn by Dr Rorschach himself and start again. Page one rewrite. And we've still got that momentum thing behind us. Onwards!
Think of it this way; For a long time there's been a deep desire to build a tunnel connecting France to Great Britain. This was not a desire of the French or of the Brits. None of the people wanted this, but you know, their engineers did. It was like some insane scratch they needed to itch. They kept looking at the map as if they were climbers staring up at the peak of Everest. And they kept thinking, how hard can it be? It's not that far. Lets stare at that map again. They had to find the right place to start, and the right place to finish and I'm sure that deep, deep down underground there were Act II problems. There are always Act II problems. And in the many times that they had to stop and start again, nobody ever thought, "Ah let's just build a turbine in Finland."  At their darkest hour, someone may have suggested a suspension bridge. In fact, I know they did. But the point is, the goal was always to connect France to Britain. They may or may not have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque as they dug, but eventually they did it. Beginning, middle and end. With a gift shop on both sides. It's just like filmaking!
The truth is on a page one rewrite you're never truly binning everything, and the one thing you're most definitely NOT binning is the map of how you all just got to here. Starting again is fine, but this time you know where you've been... and you will not be taking that wrong turn again. Oh no, you'll be taking new and different and exciting wrong turns but eventually you'll get to the gift shop.

No comments: