DAY 18: 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. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DAY 19: TWEAK ACT II
WHEN YOU DON’T KNOW
WHAT YOU’RE TRYING TO TALK ABOUT
You’re somewhere deep in the morass of Act II and you’ve lost it. You are attached to that scene and this character and you’ve read it over and over and you can’t find where to fix it. Here’s a magical solution:
Read two pages of a section that’s not right, a section you’ve read a thousand times before. Notice that what the characters are saying to each other is said three times.
Their words are marching in place:
HE: So, should we go?
SHE: I don’t know.
HE: Do you want to?
SHE: What will I wear?
HE: If we’re going, we should go.
SHE: I don’t know what to wear.
Identify the marching in place and draw a square around it and X it out:
HE: So, should we go?
SHE: I don’t know.
HE: Do you want to?
SHE: What will I wear?
HE: If we’re going, we should go.
SHE: I don’t know what to wear.
Now go through your entire section that is dead and awful and “Xorcize” the dead stuff. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU’VE LOST IT
Are you feeling overwhelmed? Are you anxious, jumping out of your skin? Before you is a mountain of strange papers. You find yourself shouting, “I’ve written garbage pages! They don’t mean anything!”
Good – you are progressing. This is an indication that it’s time to change modes.
Remember: You do not have to begin at the beginning again. You have done that.
Go to your visual aid again. Sit down, calm down, reconnect with your initial passion for this story. Get that feeling again. Do not think. Do not ask questions. Empty your mind of all trying-to-figure-it-out. Empty your mind of all the judgments it’s making.
Your job is to rekindle the original feeling. Close your eyes and feel the story again.
After you’ve gone back, after you remember why you were doing this in the first place, go forward. See that you aren’t stuck. See that you are at a junction and can move on. Do you have a thousand scenes and no story? Are all your papers on backs of envelopes? Do they look like they’ve been chewed? Stop. Clean it up. Type it up. Sleek it down.
In order to identify areas that need tweaking, let’s go back to your life. It’s the shortest distance between finding out what needs fixing and fixing it.
WHERE ARE YOU IN ACT II OF YOUR LIFE?
Are you reacting to external circumstances (pages 30 to 45)?
Are you experiencing initial growth (pages 45 to 60)?
Are you committing yourself to your goal (page 60)?
Are you about to change (page 75)?
Are you resolving your old life and taking on a new one (page 90)?
Where you are in your life shows you were you need to tweak in the script.
Did you have some conflict determining if this movie should be commercial or personal? Are you having difficulty with loved ones. Are they asking, “When are you going to get a real job?” You’re determined, but this seems to be an uphill battle. You’re not getting much outside support.
Your Act II is probably a humdinger. Your hero is going through the deepest bowels of hell and not surfacing. Act II is overlong. It is one test after the other, and you are putting you and your hero through the same hell over and over.
Lighten up. Have him pass his tests from pages 45 to 60. You can let him triumph now. Notice where you can consolidate scenes after page 60. In fact, it’s a bit lopsided here. You have him commit earlier than page 60, and then there seems to be another commitment scene closer to page 75 and lots of tests in between. After you consolidate the tests you put him through, “realize” that the first commitment scene was really a false gesture on his part. He’s beating his chest and making promises but he knows he can’t handle it yet. He’s just strutting stuff he knows he doesn’t have. Eliminate that. Don’t have him commit until he means it. And by the way, he can be scared, it’s okay. He just has to be sincere.
Is your character protesting that he’s going to buck all odds and nobody’s going to stop him? That’s fine, except now you find that nobody is trying to. State clearly what he’s fighting for and see where you can show clearly that there’s something keeping him from it.
Does your Act II want to keep going back to Act I? You’re never sure if it isn’t all backstory. Focus on pages 30 to 45. Get to that initial growth scene and you’ll be alright. Let all the later scenes build from that.
When you see your character becoming ambivalent, make a decision for him. Where you and your hero were one in the random draft now you control your characters; don’t let them get out of control.
Find that initial growth scene around page 45 and don’t let him go backward after that. Say your main character is already in childbirth. You can have her say, “This is too hard. I’m going home.” But she can’t, she’s got to stay there and have the baby. Keep going forward.
You might be experiencing a lot of heebie-jeebies about what your character learns on page 75. You feel resistance to change. Here’s a fine cure. Repeat this statement: “I approve of myself.” Repeat that about a thousand times in the next few minutes. Now reread Day 6 and Day 15. Then fix Act II. I swear it will work.
GO AHEAD AND SAY IT
You will find that there is something that you want to state very strongly. Something you really care about. And you stated it here, somewhere in Act II. Only now you see that it’s not really there yet. You want to take it out completely. Here’s what to do instead. Make it stronger!
If your character is in the back of the room whispering, bring him out in front and have him say it loud and clear. You don’t want him to be absent or weak or pretending. Wake him up and keep him awake. Write the juicy scene that expresses your passion for doing this.
Now put in the scene that you avoided. For instance, if his estranged wife comes to see him, does he run out the door? Have the confrontation. Once you write the scene and get it out, you can see what really needs saying here. Then find a good way to show that. ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
DAY 20: TWEAK ACT III
A word about your deadline: It is your friend.
Focus to reach your deadline. Make it your priority. Sleep, food, and phone are secondary to the deadline. Pace yourself. If you get to the finish line and you’re not finished, do this: take a moment to feel like a jerk because you missed the deadline. Then reorganize based on what you have left to do.
If you don’t do that, it will take more time to finish; your body is geared for a Monday completion, and if you keep going through Wednesday your body will get confused and walk off the job. Don’t think we’re suggesting that you actually miss your deadline; we are just in the process now of beginning to end.
LET’S TALK ABOUT OUTCOME
There’s something to do today. There is life beyond your movie.
Write for 8 minutes:
What am I going to do when my movie is done? (I mean beyond selling it and making a million dollars. I know you’re going to do that. I mean what are you going to do on Day 22?)
Are you going to celebrate? Do the laundry? Quit your job? Get married? What? You need to know you have a life to go to when this is over with.
So write on that for 8 minutes.
Okay. On the heels of your 8 minutes on Life After Script, answer this multiple-choice question.
What is your overriding feeling while tweaking?
The script’s a mess, you have no idea what you have.
It may be brilliant. It may be awful. You’re not sure which.
You think you should go back to the beginning and start a new story.
All of the above.
What you are experiencing is closing anxiety. Any problems in finishing are not problems in the script.
IS THIS TRUE FOR YOU?
Do you tend to start projects and not always finish? Then be on the lookout for this:
You might have gotten to Act II and suddenly another story started. And Act III almost looks like Act I all over again. See if this is so.
IT’S A COMMON FEELING
The concept of death probably frightens you profoundly. You feel that if you finish anything, it means you will die. (I’ve worked with many writers who feel this way. You’re not alone.) But here’s what. It’s not death that you are afraid of – it’s more life. If you can take your character from point a to point z and are willing for him to experience unknown adventures along the way, then he will not end in death; he will end up more alive. Not surprising, we often think that if we set out from point a to get to point z, that’s all we’ll get and that’s the end. Point z is never all we get. So put your hero on the roadway. Give him life.
Here’s what to do if you’re afraid:
Just do it.
Inner Movie Axiom: The success of Act III tweak is directly proportional to your desire to get things done.
DAY 21: CLOSING CEREMONIES
Let’s talk for a minute about this business of the 21 Days.
The Inner Movie method is designed so you can write a movie in 21 days. But here’s what: There’s no law that says you have to. You can take anywhere from three weeks to a lifetime to do it. Whatever you want. But if you want to do it in 21 days, you can.
If you want to take longer, you can. But still use the 21-Day procedure. The concept still works. Go fast through the random draft; then take off an arbitrary amount of time, then rewrite, then rest again, and then polish.
Don’t think too much about your movie.
Inner Movie Axiom: The longer you take; the longer you’ll take. It’s actually easier to do it faster.
I bring this up because if you got here and you’re not done, you didn’t flunk. Keep going. It will get done.
HOW TO KNOW WHEN YOU’RE DONE
Here are 9 test questions that can be answered only when the script is absolutely finished.
What is my story? Can I state it in two or three brief sentences giving the beginning, the middle, and the end?
Who is my main character and what does he want?
What does my main character get? How is that different from what he wanted?
Can the reader state my story and identify the main character’s needs by page 10?
Is it in screenplay form – 120 pages, correct tabs, specific descriptions, appropriate caps, paginated?
What haven’t I said that I really want to say?
Is it the story I wanted to tell?
Do I believe it?
What have I learned? How is it different from what I visualized it would be?
HOW TO PICK TWO PEOPLE FOR A TEST READING
(EXCLUDING ALL MEMBERS OF YOUR IMMEDIATE HOUSEHOLD)
Pick out experts in the field. If you don’t have access to an expert, your best bet is a kid between the age of ten and twelve. “Pitch” your story to the kid verbally. He or she will be able to tell you if you are missing any story points. The reason ten- to -12-year-olds are good at this is because they are at the height of their brain coordination and language skills. It’s the time the parts of the brain are still cooperating with one another naturally. Verbal channels are open. After twelve years old, we all start shutting down around ego and opinion. (If the studios really want to hire baby moguls, this is the age range they should interview.) Kids are really good at story.
If no expert or kid is available, then choose a wise friend who is insightful about you. What he or she doesn’t know about structure can be made up for in an understanding of the uniqueness that you bring to the story.
While they are reading, make up a list of at least twenty questions you want to ask. What you want to know is this: Did they receive the movie that you thought you sent?
Stop them after page 10 and ask if they know the story. What is it about? Have them tell you everything they know so far.
Where you have any doubts about the script, think of questions that will reveal whether they got what you wanted them to get:
Do you care what happens to the characters?
Are their problems interesting to you?
Whose story is it?
Do you know what happens next?
Do you care what happens next?
Does it lose your interest?
Can you describe him/her?
Can you tell his backstory?
Does he grow?
What happens in Act II?
Are you still interested?
What do you think will happen?
What do you want to happen?
Does he talk too much?
Does he not talk enough?
What if he were ten years older?
Did the villain scare you?
Was there enough of a threat?
So now, list twenty questions you want to ask the reader to find out if you said what you wanted to say; then list twenty questions you want the reader ask you, questions that will help you find out if you’ve said it the best possible way.
You are not after unbridled praise here. You want your script to be the best you can make it.
When you finish with one test reading, digest what you’ve learned and do a second. See where the issues come up again. Decide what needs fixing and fix it. Do not fix anything you don’t want to fix. When you are finished with two test reads, solidify the script and stand behind what you’ve got. Declare it done.
PUTTING IT OUT TO PEOPLE
“I can’t send this out to the public. If I reveal myself, people won’t like me.”
We think if somebody knows us they’re automatically not going to like us. The opposite is true. We can’t possibly like you unless we know you.
Do you feel you can’t take criticism? Well, of course you can’t. Why should you? You’re doing what you need to be doing when you need to be doing it. No matter what you’re doing or what the script is, it’s exactly what it needs to be.
HOW TO NOT TAKE CRITICISM
Don’t ask “Is it good or “Can I write?” You’ll get a subjective answer. You’ll get opinions.
Inner Movie Axiom: Opinions have more to do with the one who has the opinion than with the thing he or she has the opinion about.
If you are talking with an agent, the question is not “Is it good?” The question is “Can you sell it?”
They will give you their opinions anyway. It will be about the impending merit of your property. It’s not personal.
Here are two ways to be judged:
Know what you wanted your audience to get from your story, then ask your reader if he got that. if he did, you’ve succeeded. If he didn’t, fix it. You see how you need to keep the power of judgment with yourself. Next, if you’re brave enough, and you promise not to go on needing approval, ask some questions about what the reader would have liked more of or less of. What would have helped him to understand the story better? Notice you are not saying, “You hated my story, didn’t you, didn’t you?” You are asking, “What story did you want to see?”
You need to stay alert concerning the response to your work. This is a vulnerable time for a writer. You don’t know yet if you can write. A part of finding out is to measure the response of others to your writing.
But, self-doubt can only be answered by you. No matter how many people you show your script to, no matter how glowing their praise, it won’t do you any good until you decide for yourself what you have achieved.
Inner Movie Axiom: Self-esteem is something you have to give to yourself. That’s why it’s called self-esteem. What you get from others is something else entirely.
Here’s a freeing thought about your work:
It doesn’t have to be all things to all people. It just has to satisfy you.
FINAL CHECK POINT
If you still aren’t sure if it’s done try this test. You will have one of two attitudes about your script. 1. You need to call in a swat team to pry it out of your hands. Or 2. You don’t want to look at it again until a studio pays you to rewrite.
Which attitude shows you that you’re done?
Did you say number two? Actually it’s number one. Your script is done when you still love it and can still find yet another layer to peel back and explore. It’s done now because you’ve got it to where it is alive. And it will continue to grow, but now it can grow out of your typewriter and into the marketplace.
The other one, number two, is the one that still needs work. When you think you’ve gone as far as you can go, you haven’t gone far enough. You’ve stopped just short of bringing the thing to life. The fact that you don’t want to look at it again shows that you’re tired, it doesn’t show that you’re done.
It’s okay. Go ahead, give yourself recess; then ask yourself the hardest question of all… “Am I willing to go the extra mile?” If you are willing, then hello, you are a writer.
AND WHEN YOU’RE REALLY, REALLY DONE
Aren’t you good!
You got ready.
You believed in yourself/had no hope.
You exercised/lounged around;
Ate right/devoured the refrigerator;
Dreamed about it/ had nightmares;
Thought about it/ didn’t think about it;
Tried/ stopped trying;
Avoided/kept at it;
Had flashes it would be brilliant/watched it disappear;
Been brave around it/ been a coward;
And finally it was done… a cinch.
Nothing to it!
Hats and horns! Hooray! Voila! Aren’t you the best possible person in the world?
You have a party after the random draft, you can have another one now. But here’s how this celebration is different:
For the first-draft party, you needed people to congratulate you; to agree you were a writer, to help, support, and encourage. [That’s Pope.] This celebration is a thank-you to them and to yourself for having done all that.
Now you are a writer. You did it. How you celebrate is up to your imagination, but here’s one thing that will be the true ending, and the beginning of all things new:
You will experience a very private moment when, without coaxing, you will be very very pleased with yourself. It will be a golden moment and it belongs to you alone. Life will go on exactly as it has been going on, but from that moment forward you will be forever different.
The Inner Movie Method toasts your golden moment.
©Dodgsons KingsWay Sanctuary Church, 1971.