TWEAK ACT I
Rah rah sis boom bah! You’ve done it! You’ve gotten through. It lives. You are a truly spectacular human being.
So now what?
Now we tweak.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A BIG TWEAK AND A LITTLE TWEAK
If you are confident that you’ve gotten the story and the pages are pretty clean, meaning:
cause and effect builds,
what is set up is paid off, and
then you’ll be doing a little tweak today.
If this is your first screenplay and you’re still not sure if the story’s there, then you’ll do a big tweak.
HOW TO DO A LITTLE TWEAK
Have ready a script in a neat pile. If this requires that you take it to a typist and get a clean copy back, then stop the 21-day clock and get that done. (Don’t allow the clock to stop for more than three days.)
If you are the typist, type before tweaking. Don’t stop the 21-day clock and don’t allow more than one day to type. The rule is that while the script is in your hands it takes 21 days to finish, if it’s in somebody else’s hands, it’s their business how long it takes.
If you are your own typist, do not tweak and type simultaneously. You will never finish either.
Now. Let’s assume you’re ready with a clean copy of your script and a pen with ink of a colour you especially like. Choose a place to do the read through. This should be somewhere that is not your usual work space. Turn on background music if you haven’t until now; make this time and place somewhat different from your regular writing environment.
Now do a marathon read through. Have the pen on the table, not in your hand. If something needs fixing, pick up the pen, fix it, then put the pen down until the next thing needs fixing. This is so you won’t change every “it” to “the” and cross out and put back. Remember, this is a marathon read through. Do it in one sitting. Get the big picture.
Look out for logistical flaws. If she calls New York from L.A., do you have a three-hour time difference? If you left him in the rain, do you have him walk into the next scene wet?
Read for pace. Does it bog down anywhere? If so, see where the dialogue repeats and cut, cut, cut. If characters are arguing, have them stop and get on with the action, or at least have action going on under the argument.
If dialogue seems too on-the-nose, use subtext. For instance, if he’s saying he’s going to leave her, what happens to the scene if you have her seducing him, or if she’s throwing his clothes in his suitcase and shoving him out the door? Subtext is what gives meaning to the dialogue.
See if one long deadly scene can be broken up and spread out over different times and locations. This is film; let’s be cinematic. Cut to here and there and tomorrow. Free up the linear line.
Now that you know what it’s about ask yourself if this is the best possible way to do the scene. Could it be in a helicopter, instead of in the kitchen? Could it be shown with no dialogue? Could the dialogue be entirely different?
Look at scenes that don’t seem to work. Is there a split-second story here that could be conveyed better? Is there a choice you can make that will instantly show a thousand feelings going on?
HERE’S HOW TO DO A BIG TWEAK
Do it the same way you would a little tweak, only do it at your desk on the original pages. Don’t retype until after you’ve tweaked. You are allowed to hold the pen in your hand and use it a lot or use your computer or typewriter. What you will be doing is a line by line edit of all action and dialogue to make the best possible choices to tell your story.
Here are some guidelines for tweaking Act I:
- Tighten and retighten the first ten pages. Take out any little thing that isn’t absolutely necessary.
- Punch up the dialogue to say as clearly as possible what you really want it to say.
- Check the central life questions again. Have you said what you want to say loud and clear?
- Look at descriptions; if three words can be replaced with one, do it.
- If it’s a comedy, now is the time to make it funnier. Cut on punchline. For example, in Private Benjamin, Goldie Hawn says to her dashing dancing partner, “I can’t go with you, I don’t even know you.” He says, “I’m a gynaecologist, I’m Jewish..” CUT TO: The two in bed together. Film gives you an opportunity to use time change to make a joke. Use it. Be hiliarious.
- How well are you laying in exposition? Are you having the character say, “This is my birthday and it’s the Depression and I’m an orphan”? Show, don’t tell. Have her sin “Happy Birthday” to herself when she finds a candle in the garbage. Find your exposition and take it out of dialogue and put it in action. If you must tell us, find a minor character to be the narrator. For instance, the hero goes for a job, the minor character as the personnel director tells us the hero’s qualifications and what the job is that he’ll be doing.
- Is your hero in most of the scenes from pages 10 through 30? If not, why not?
Here’s the main action for today:
Tweak away everything that isn’t your movie. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
©Andrea Nicola Dodgson, 1971.