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Stories from a seasoned screenwriter. Take heart! Your creative source is infinite and un-ending. Sometimes Hollywood just rips up the roadmap back to it. The bottom line is that Hollywood is not at all as bad as it sounds. Additionally, it's worse than you can imagine. Remember to pack a sense of humor.


I am a screenwriter living in Southern California. I've written screenplays for most of the Hollywood studios over the past 20 years. One of the uncredited writers of FANTASTIC FOUR, I wrote FIRE DOWN BELOW starring Steven Seagal, and the TV Movie 12:01 PM starring Martin Landau and MANEATER with Gary Busey. I have directed short films. I have written on numerous Hollywood studio assignments, some for big shot actors, some for small shot nobodies.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

We Love It, Now Can You Take 10 Pages Out of Act One?

I love that note. How the hell do you do that? Happens on every project - you always have to cut pages for pacing, for budget, for time. But keep the feel of everything, can you do it? Well, you have to.

And I've realized I need to do that to my spec.

And how about 20 pages off the back end as well? And trim the bangs? Can you tell I'm running a bit long? But that's how I write, I over-write and trim back like a gardener cutting a hedge. Always have, and have learned to embrace my process, otherwise I kill any inspiration. Other writers create differently (like a friend of mine) who goes scene by scene honing at the length he wants, until he finish his draft spot on at 118. (I hate him).

You need to have a very capable editor within you, yet the edit switch must be OFF when you create your material, and then turned ON when you trim it. Boy that's a tightrope walk. I'll write how I do it in my next post.

(My most severe experience of that was taking a feature script at 120 and have to turn it into a 90 page teleplay for a two hour movie. Can you just cut 30 pages? That one physically hurt.)


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Start with less story.

If you know that you write long, make your outline shorter going in.
If your first drafts come in 20 pages long, aim at writing a 90-page draft.

John Lasseter of Pixar has said that the key to great storytelling is "less story."

Saturday, January 21, 2006  
Blogger James Lincoln Warren said...

That is the strangest advice I have ever come across. I'm not even sure what it means.

The key isn't "less story". The key is telling your story in the most economic way.

Saturday, January 21, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

James: well said, that's exactly it. And the path to finding the economy is one's own. In my case, I write an outline, then write the story, which inevitably changes as it grows into life, then I have to reassess the new adjustments and trim to tell it in the most efficient way.

To start with less story doesn't make sense to me and would cripple my inspirations. To tell an inspired story in the most economic way is what I'm always shooting for.

Saturday, January 21, 2006  
Anonymous pd boy said...

I have to admit, anon's advice kinda twisted my brain.

Philip describes his process as turning his edit switch to "off" when he writes his first draft.

I agree. In fact, I don't call it my edit switch. I just remind myself to not censor myself. Get it all out. Don't try and think of running times of scenes or the overall running time of the script. I've done my homework, barf it all up and when the big, fat, first draft is complete, then go back and do my editing.

Afterall, what is the purpose of the second, third, fifteenth drafts if it weren't for rewriting and editing to tell our story in the most economical way.

Saturday, January 21, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

pdboy: yes, this is right. Woody Allen's famous line "I hate writing, I like re-writing" is right to the point. You need to produce the clay, then mold the clay. I do at any rate. Mozart came out with finished drafts. I only... As to the "less story" advice, I believe the Pixar dir. (who tell very fantastic complicated stories with multiple characters) are saying - shortest steps to each story point, shortest steps withing story points. Again go up to James Warren's remark and hear it better - "The key is telling your story in the most economic way."

Saturday, January 21, 2006  
Blogger cvcobb01 said...

I overwrite too. But with a background as an AD, I then start the edit from the vantage point of thinking about how the thing would do under an AD breakdown. So I find myself asking first: what locations can I combine? ANd what characters can I combine. It's an easy place for me to jumpstart a rewrite, even if the answer is no place and no one.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Philip Morton said...

cvcobb01: an excellent point, and a whole other way to attack editing; with production knowledge. Does it sacrifice creative vision? Not neccessarily, particularly (for example) when you plan to direct your own low budget film and have to be twice as creative, with half the time and a quarter in your pocket. Sometimes one become more creative when the confines are greater, simply because one has to.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006  
Blogger Piers said...

I always underwrite. Always.

Which is a shame, because then when I'm doing the second (third, moreth) draft I end up cutting down even further as I figure out how to say what I need to say more effectively.

And then I have to find new scenes to bulk it up again. Which is easier than the first draft, true, 'cos I can look and see where the thematic and dramatic gaps are.

But sometimes I wish that it came out over in the first instance.

Thursday, January 26, 2006  
Blogger Eleanor said...

I overwrite, and I'm still trying to get the hang of the rewrite edit.
Hurry up with your next post already! ;-)

Friday, January 27, 2006  
Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

Reminds me of a scene in Amadeus where the Emporer tells Mozart just to cut a few notes and it will be perfect.

Friday, January 27, 2006  

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