Monday, February 25, 2008

The Craft of Development

I recently met with a friend of mine to discuss a script. One of the main issues I've encountered, and the reason my friend called me up to ask for a read, is that it is difficult to navigate the development process on your own. Most folks will read your script and give you their impressions and overall concerns about a script. Some hardy souls will sit down with you and talk story, maybe give you some craft concerns to follow-up on, but rare is the reader who will really hang in and get you through the development from concept to spec. So, my friend and I agreed that we would exchange material and put in our full professional rigor to one another's projects.

When I give notes, I like to go through the entire script once with a pen and mark up my first impressions, then I sit down and write a memo of my impressions and possibly suggestions for springboards, then I go back over the script and pull out my page notes, type those up, sort them into categories and see how they relate back to the notes I started. Finally, I put the whole thing aside for a couple of days (or hours as the case may be), re-read the script (a clean copy with no notes on it) and mark it up again, then I re-read my notes and see if my impressions or understanding have changed and I make adjustments accordingly.

For the most part, this system leads to a lengthy meeting in which I go through the script page by page with the writer, we talk about theme, motive and intentions, the original vision for the story, what worked and what didn't, we talk about writing exercises that might help to unearth new story or character understandings, then we go through the writing strategy for the next draft. Sometimes you can skip parts of this -- especially if the writer's concerns were specific and can be directly addressed -- but most often it seems like you can skip this part, but really you need to push through until you see the words THE END.

This is the craft of development. At some point, you'll sense that the work is best viewed through the eyes of an actor and that's when it's time to set up a reading. I have a few casting director friends and actor friends that I call when I need to do this and then I get a theater rehearsal space or a stage and have at it. I don't worry too much about how close to the character the actor is, but I do try to work with actors who have training and have done stage work -- I'm sure I've mentioned this before.

Anyway, I'm reworking a spec this month which I will turn over to my friend for his notes and I have to get back to work on this indie script I'm working on for a friend. And the book still refuses to write itself. Damn it. :-)

Two of the women in my novel writing group have either sold or are on the verge of selling their books, so, while I am immensely proud of them, I'm looking at my collection of pages and desperately urging them to breed. I missed our big reading in December because I was overseas on a gig, but I did get a nice set of stationary from the bookstore (mmm, fancy), and I think we'll probably do a reading down here. I haven't read any of my own work in so long I'm terrified of the idea, but I'm fully committed to the writing lifestyle and I know this is part of it.