Friday, April 24, 2015

Feature This: a completed feature film script

I just completed a feature-length script.  This blog post is about two things.  First, what does the word “completed” mean here?  Second, why did I do this?

“Completed” is a funny word for any work of art.  We’ve all heard the adage that films are not finished, only “abandoned.” And most of us know the feeling.  Writing is no exception.

What completed means for me, for this script, has to do with fundamental story structure.  I find story structure the most challenging aspect of writing any film, but especially a feature-length one.  So the first reason I call this draft completed is that I think it has all the story structure needed.  I think that characters react to things, do things, create consequences, suffer the consequences and then try to fix their world in ways that hang together. (Notice that I did not say, “in ways that make sense.”)

I seen too many short films that simply duck these issues and few wonderful ones that manage to embrace them.  If there is something fundamentally important about who a character is, I want the film to show me that.  Not just tell me.  And then, if the story hinges on the consequences of that aspect of that character, I’ll understand it and I’ll be ready to move forward with the story.  So story structure is partly about not cheating and no loose ends.

I have arrived at what I think is that fundamental structure.  Except that I’m so far into the whole thing that I probably can’t judge this as well as it needs to be judged.  So that’s where my first round of readers come in.

This draft is clearly unfinished in many other ways.  My initial character descriptions are probably insufficient; my excuse is that scenes have moved around as I wrote.  (Oops, excuses don’t matter!)  My characters are different people but it’s possible that they all sound kind of the same right now, so that’s the subject of a major rewrite pass at some point soon.  My characters reaction to bad things that happen to them might be uneven; too small in one place, too big in another.  That’s a challenge that will need addressing most likely. Some things probably need to become more important and the reactions more significant; others will need to get toned down.

Another, less problematic piece of unfinished work concerns boxing.  The working title of this script is Boxing Lessons and my main character takes up boxing as a form of exercise.  I don’t yet know enough about boxing to populate that world with as much texture as I believe it will need, but I’m okay with the knowledge that this is a known work item.  I may end up taking up boxing myself for this research; we’ll see.  The important thing is that I’m not pretending that I can just fake it based on having watched Million Dollar Baby.

Why did I do it?  One simple reason was to see if I could.  I’ve completed fifteen or twenty short films as writer-director (-editor-producer-casting-craft service-marketing-webmaster).  I’ve always said I would only become foolish enough to attempt to create a feature film if I wrote (or came into some intimate relationship to) a script that I felt passionate about.  Step one has to be actually writing such a script. I am now moving, however slowly, down that road.

But, honestly, even if I actually write a great script, the idea that I would also produce and / or direct such a film seems even more foolish.  The idea that - if it really were great - someone else might want to do those things is fantasy enough for now.  And a much better test of the real value of my script.

Okay.  When the script is truly done, when all the readers have read and commented and all the snags have been ironed out and if what’s left still has juice and fun and a personal point of view, then it will really be completed.  Then and only then will I need Michelle Williams’ email address.

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