You can. It’s not always easy. But you can.
As much as I’ve said more than once in my Blogs that no one is the exception, that everyone’s scripts get changed and they always bring in other writers (Hey... I’ve BEEN that other writer on many occasions), it still hurts when it happens to you, especially completely unexpectedly on a project I’ve been working on for 10 years. Not that it wasn’t completely explained in a very nice way by someone who was clearly unhappy to be doing it, it stung a lot. I do get it. I do understand, but... damn.
And yet, as a script I was hired to rewrite goes out to the original writer today, I can’t help feeling like a hypocrite. He’s going to read a script that was based on his, but isn’t his. I did try my hardest to write it with his intent at the front of my mind at all times. As I told my wife, “They bought HIS script, not mine.”
So I strove to make his characters true to what he had intended for the most part. Yes, I did change a couple of them radically. One from a comic relief spectator to a very important cog in the story wheel. Another just to make her more interesting and less like the other female lead. But these changes, in my opinion and of the producers who’ve already read it (thank You, God), I believe have made this story a fully arcing compelling, funny, tale. With weaving subplots that all come together for a satisfying end. Plus stuff for the audience to talk about as they walk out and over coffee. That’s not too bad.
I hope he likes it. I’ll understand if he doesn’t. I changed a lot of dialogue. There are whole scenes he didn’t write. I took out a huge subplot and replaced it with... nothing. It’s just gone. And so are the three characters that populated that subplot. I took that space to meaningfully build the main story and main characters.
And now... or soon anyway, someone will be doing the same thing to my script. It’s just what happens when you decide to try and be a screenwriter.
Of the seven produced films I have out there, I’m happy to say that two are 95% of what I wrote for my final draft. Two are probably at 75%. One at about 50%. One at maybe 35%. And one at about .01% and have no idea why my name is still on it. Plus, it’s irredeemably bad.
I think I’ve actually been luckier that way than most, talking to some of my friends. And I like all the films, except the THAT ONE. Whoever wrote the percentages I didn’t write (except THAT ONE) did well enough to make the film as good, or in some cases, better than I had written them. Just in a different way.
If you get to the point of having something produced, you’ll go through the same things. And even though I understand intellectually that this IS the business I chose and the way it works, I still spent a lot of yesterday wanting to punch something. Ok, and maybe actually punching some helpless inanimate objects.
Today? Not so much. I’ve erased the project from my white board and for now, am moving on to other projects I am actively writing or involved in. Including the rewrite that went out today, which may be one the best I’ve ever done, or at least I feel that way right now.
I’m getting paid to do the thing I dreamed about all my life. I look at it and it’s a dream come true.
I have a super supportive wife, super supportive kids, supportive friends who mean the world to me, a kick ass dog who gets me, a manager who has been true to his word and puts up with my bullshit, and when I think about all those things, I realize what I was upset about yesterday has happened for a reason. What that reason is has eluded me thus far, but if I sit in a corner and dwell on it, the only loser is me.
Being a screenwriter this day and age is as close to being a masochist as you can get. You do get beat up a lot. You hear NO (in more inventive ways than you can count) more than a lot. You get soooo close soooo many times and then, poof, it’s gone a lot. You have to be tough. You have to be resilient. You have to have a good supply of stuff soft enough to punch and not get hurt. And at the end of the day, you have to be able to sit back and, as clichéd as it is, count your Blessings.
I think about my set visits to films I wrote and wonder if they were real because they were so amazing. I think about watching director’s cuts of my films with my wife and trying not to cry when something I know I wrote works so damn well on screen. I think about the production meetings. The conference calls. The exhilaration when I write something I know works. The high of finishing a script. Of polishing a script. The discovery of something you never dreamed of for a script while writing it and having it make everything work better. Those are the things you LIVE for professionally. Of working with someone, whether it’s a partner, producer, director, or development exec on a script and having it hit on all cylinders. It’s those things that bring you back. It’s those things that move you forward.
Wow. My amazing wife just brought me some hot tea with honey. Rocket the dog is here at my feet and I have another writing assignment due this month. I don’t have time to think about what’s past.
A smart screenwriter looks forward, only looking back to learn from mistakes, not looking back at what could have been. That accomplishes nothing. So I thank you... for letting me use my Blog this month as therapy. And my hope is that you can learn from this and be prepared for how wonderful and painful this screenwriting thing can be at the same time.