"I'm Rewriting Your Script" -- Bang!Complications Ensue
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Wednesday, October 06, 2010

I've been asked to look at a script by a writer you've heard of, with an eye to possibly rewriting it for a producer. Producers often ask you for your "take" before hiring you to rewrite, to make sure your instincts line up with theirs. (It's always good to ask for a creative person's take before telling him yours; that way you get a clean, honest creative response. Also, while most crafty writers will execute your creative instructions, they'll do a better job if it's what they would do on their own.)

It occurred to me what I really want to do is talk to the original writer and say, "I've been asked to rewrite your script. As a courtesy, I thought you should know. And I'd also like to hear what you think the next pass on the script should do. What would you have done if you'd been hired? What did you see as the flaws in this draft?"

I have to admit I've never done that. I've rewritten a lot of scripts, but I've never asked the previous writer what they thought. And no one has ever asked me what I thought when they rewrote me.

Obviously we all have a lot of pride tangled up in our work, and it's hard to hear that someone else is mangling your baby. And when you read someone else's script, one supposes that the previous writer did what they were capable of, and if they didn't get it right it's because they didn't know any better.

But that's not necessarily true. I just turned in a rewrite on a script of mine. In each draft I've been working on clarifying the main character's motivations, which in the first draft were pretty murky. I always knew they were murky. It's taken several drafts to get them to the point where they're fairly clear. Usually when I turn in a pass, I can't tell you what's wrong with it, or I'd have attempted to fix it. But give me six months of perspective, and I can usually tell you what I'd do in the next pass.

On another script of mine that was taken off my hands, I knew the producers wanted something funnier, but I didn't know how to do that without betraying the characters as I saw them, and the tone I was going for. I gather the next writer just went funnier. A good friend of mine was kind enough to tell me he's rewriting that writer, and I suspect he'll nail it. He was even kind enough to ask to read my original draft.

If you knew you were being rewritten, would you appreciate a call from the new writer? Or would that be too painful?

If you are rewriting someone else, can you imagine contacting the original writer? Or would that be just too awkward?



I don't have the experience or the expertise to speak from anything that has happened to me personally.

However, the way I'm connected with my work, if someone asked me first, it would kind of feel like your neighbour asking if you mind that he is taking your ex-wife on a date. I mean, you'd first appreciate the sentiment, but then the more you let the thought fester and brew, the more you'd realize that you're not being asked permission, you're just kind of a lower cog on the wheel of creative courtesy.

Someone is going to fuck your ex-wife whether you like it or not. And unfortunately, now you have both a face and a name.

Then I'd just get really angry and start drinking and fighting.

By Blogger beingbrad, at 12:11 PM  

Definitely no, I would not ask the previous writer. If I can't figure out what his intentions were just by reading the script, then I wouldn't consider myself much of a writer. More importantly, his intentions are entirely immaterial now -- otherwise they would've kept him on. They want a fresh pass, a new perspective, unpolluted with the previous one.

By Blogger Wordlings, at 1:33 PM  

I'm more like you, Alex - I've never turned in a draft I thought was perfect. Each pass fixes a number of things, but others remain or become broken. If I knew how to fix it, I would have.

My writing groups help immensely with this process, but sometimes, the people with the money just want somebody else. That's the business. Once you accept their money, it's no longer YOUR script, and acceptance of that is the key to your serenity.

So in light of all that, I'd be happy to talk to the new writer, if they thought it would be helpful. But I would NEVER approach the person doing the rewrite. And come to think of it, I've never reached out to anyone I was rewriting.

By Blogger Angelle Haney Gullett, at 2:04 PM  

Having been rewritten, I'd have to say, someone asking you what you wanted to do is very flattering and relieves some of your sense of dread -- but when they inevitably screw up 5 or 10 really key things you were doing in the original script (and probably without even realising it), you're liable to get so pissed off that it'll cancel out the original appreciation anyway.

So I guess what I'm saying is... I'm pissed off! Glad to get that off my chest ;)

By Blogger David, at 5:30 PM  

I would have no problem if another writer such as yourself contacted me. Likewise, I would have no problem contacting you or any other writer.

By Blogger Robert Smith, at 8:41 AM  

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