THURSDAY'S SCRIPT TIP:

THE CHALLENGE DRAFT


You've finished your script, rewritten it to perfection, and now it's ready for market... or is it? I have a friend who has never done a *major* rewrite on his script, and my guess is that you haven't either. Most of us have never had our script challenged. We've never had to think about doing a major rewrite. We fix the small stuff, but never even consider larger issues about our scripts.

A few years ago I had a nice sci-fi script set up with a producer who then hired a director... not just any director, this guy was a legend in the horror-sci-fi world. I'd seen his first film dozens of times (it's one of my favorites) and go out of my way to see any film that he's directed. Lately, the films haven't been very good, but that's probably due to the big Hollywood machine, right? I was excited to be working with this guy...

Until the first story meeting, where I realized why his recent films have sucked: he has dumb ideas. The bad films weren't a result of the Hollywood system, the good ones were! Early in his career he had to do what producers told him to do, and now he had all of this artistic freedom... which he misused with dopey story notes. My job became a million times more difficult because everything about my script was being challenged. I had to explain *why* I had made every single creative decision. And that had me thinking about elements of the script I had never really thought about. Those major creative decisions that are just part of the story.

Imagine getting notes on STAR WARS like "Does Luke have to be a farm boy? Why can't he be the best fighter pilot in the galaxy? Or what if he's a mechanic who knows everything about the fighter ships but has never really flown one? Or what if he's *blind" - like the blind Samurai guy? Hey, what if he's an older retired fighter pilot who reluctantly goes against the Empire? What if he's a Wookie?"

Now, you may think those notes are silly, but they are the exact kind of notes you'll be getting. Everyone has some weird idea that they think is creative... and you'll be stuck dealing with them. You'll have to come up with a logical argument why Luke couldn't be a Wookie. Come up with the reason why he could *only* be a farm boy. And here's the thing - why does he really have to be a farm boy? Maybe it would be a better script if he were a Wookie! I'll bet you never really thought about the Luke-as-a-Wookie idea. Those basic things about your script are usually just "givens" - you never really thought about them. Now you're being *forced* to think about them.

"What if Darth Vader was Luke's older brother instead of his father? What if he was Luke's best friend from grade school? What if he was Luke's *mother* and he'd always been mama's boy? What if there was no relationship at all?" Again, the challenge is figuring out why Darth has to be Luke's father when there are millions of other possibilities. Possibilities you have never thought of, until now.

Now you go through each of these possibilities and have to really consider them. Compare them to Darth being Luke's father. Is the father thing really the best choice of all of those possibilities? Why is it the best choice?

Eventually you'll have to defend your choices. And articulate why, out of all of the millions of possibilities, Luke as a farm boy and Vader as his father are the best. Really explain... and *convince* everyone else that those are better choices than the ideas they have thrown out.

Back to *my* sci-fi script... In really looking at the basic elements of my script (things I'd never really looked at before), I was not only able to explain to the producer why these basic elements were the best choice, and explain why every other option mentioned would diminish the quality of the story and the (important to the producer) make the film less financially successful; I also found places where the script could be greatly improved. Places where my first choice really wasn't the best choice. I'd never really taken apart my script and examined the basic elements. The small stuff had been repaired, but the big stuff wasn't the best it could be. There were places where *basics decisions* in my script were the second best instead of the best. Because I'd never been challenged before, I just thought "Well, that's the story I want to tell" without ever really thinking about the story.

I used all of this new-found knowledge to write an amazing draft of the script - the best possible draft of that script - which I called my "Challenge Draft". Any question that anyone asked about that draft, I knew the answer. Any change suggestion, I could calmly and articulately explain why my version would be better. There wasn't a single weird idea that I hadn't really considered and discovered the logical reason why it wasn't as good as my version. That script was bullet proof!

The producer and I gave it to he director, had a meeting with him... and he still wanted his strange ideas incorporated into the script. I explained why they wouldn't work as well as my ideas, and the director asked the producer to replace me with a writer who would do the changes...

Instead, the producer fired the director!

And a few months later, the whole project crashed and burned. But I had a much better script, because the very basics of the story had been challenged and I had to really consider whether those basics worked.

So take a look at your script. A close look. Why does Luke have to be a farm boy? Why does Vader have to be his father? Challenge the basics of your script.


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