I’m not copy pasting them in here anymore; they’re going direct to the Script Archive page as PDFs. I’ve had almost 100 visitors to the archive since I put up a link in Reddit’s playwriting subreddit. This one is about a frustrated writer named Brad (SO META) and a visit from the Muse…
I’ve been working on the screenplay for A Little Too Broken, even though the “work” I’ve been doing lately is more about reading than writing. I’ve broken down the story into scenes, and then put it all up on giant Post-its, as seen here. The underlines and numbers on them are my estimates of scene length. PS all of this will be really boring if you haven’t read the book 🙂
What I’ve already learned is that what I thought of as Acts 1 and 2 aren’t. First off, I was reading Screenwriting 434, which told me that Act One is the setup, through no more than 17 pages (17 minutes) into your script. And The Screenwriters Bible (TSB to save fingers) says that the Catalyst has to happen by page 10 – the thing that makes the rest of the story happen. So yeah, the Catalyst takes place ASAP, at the Humane Society – it’s Tom and Jamie meeting but, most importantly, the setup for Jamie to go volunteer at the Canine Companions office.
It’s interesting, when I really pull apart the novel, to see what works. Jamie blurts his interest in volunteering, but when I look at it, that doesn’t entirely make sense. I think maybe he needs to idly mention volunteering at the Humane Society to get over his guilt about not taking home June, and it’s Nina, the Humane Society lady, who plays matchmaker – she sees the attraction between Tom and Jamie, even though neither of them will acknowledge it even to themselves, and she pushes Tom’s card at Jamie.
TSB says that the Big Event is what changes your character’s life. I realized that the Big Event in the book, the one that really transforms their friendship, is Brett showing up at CCC, wanting to kill himself but not wanting to. Tom’s PTSD is triggered and he withdraws/isolates in shame that he couldn’t do anything about it. Whereas fatalistic Jamie finally has the moment he “always knew was coming, when it would all end in tears,” and handles it in a way that he astonishes himself, and he passes through the emotional fire.
Now, in the novel, that comes in 60% of the way through the book. Which is fine because in the novel I’ve had the luxury of adding long backstory sections for both Tom and Jamie before this point. That isn’t going to work in the movie. So I have to really condense the backstory, and ruthlessly compress as many scenes before the BE that I can.
Jamie’s backstory with Daniel, that’s easy enough to compress. The Bad Man seduces Jamie, gets him on drugs, and leaves him to face his diagnosis alone. Five minutes’ screen time max. Now Tom’s, there’s more to that. I need the K-town scene with Ed, I need the waking up in the hospital, I need the road to recovery, which includes his depression, his therapy in the hospital, the work he does to get his legs back, including kicking pain pills and Xanax and antidepressants. But again, I gotta compress, because The BE needs to be coming in by page 40/40 minutes, or 50 at the very, very latest.
TSB says when it comes to adapting a novel or other work, pick the 5-10 scenes you love most, because those are the core of the story. You can see the best/crucial scenes circled in blue on these sheets.
Anything that’s NOT one of those scenes, I looked at real hard to see if I could lose it, especially if it happens before the Big Event. I realized I could get Tom and Jamie out of the office ASAP and off to lunch that first day, removing the sitting around bit. And, I may be able to kill the scene with Tom and Ed at the university, with Tom confessing he’s gay, and attracted to Jamie. Or at least shorten it, or tag that on somewhere else.
And in Act 3, which is what happens after Tom and Jamie finally Do It So Hard and the relationship is for sure happening, I could merge the double date night (Tom, Jamie, Ed, Ava) and the fundraiser, and save some minutes there. Then the Denouement, which was originally Tom and Jamie at Jamie’s, seeing if Jane and Jackson would play nice, is not just a short visual at the Humane Society when Tom and Jamie go and find Jane still there, and adopt her.
So yeah! Now it’s just having the time and energy to push the words around into their proper shape.
Now, if you think this sounds “formulaic,” well, two things. First, I really, really want this script to be READ when I put it up on the Black List site, and while I have no confidence it will ever be made (TOO GAY), it could serve as my “calling card” for other work. So that means, what I do first has to prove that I can hit the targets.
Second. I downloaded the script (legitimately!) for Manchester By The Sea, and really picked it apart. SPOILERS!!! I chose that one because so much of the story, the character development, is about what happened in the past. And I wanted to see how he managed the backstory stuff.
Surprise! The Catalyst happens on page 10, when Lee’s brother dies. The Big Event happens in the past, when Lee’s house burns down and his children die, because of his carelessness. But yeah. It happens starting on PAGE 44 when Lee says, “I can’t be Patrick’s guardian,” and we flip back and forth between the lawyer’s office and the past, and learn why Lee “can’t” take on the responsibility.
Then, Lee is just starting to warm to the whole situation, on page 98, when he tells Patrick they can sell his late dad’s guns and buy a new motor for the boat, whereas until this time he was going to make him sell the boat.
BUT. Then comes the Showdown, when Lee runs into his ex-wife on the street, and there’s a powerful scene where everything from the past is refreshed for Lee, and he goes to a bar and picks a fight. Then, home later, he passes out and there’s a kitchen fire – a minor one, but it forces his decision: he can’t do it. He’s a mess and he can’t take responsibility for Patrick. “I can’t beat it,” he says, and what he means is, that he can’t beat back the pain of what happened, he can’t beat back the ways he deals with it.
And off to the Denouement, the ground is finally unfrozen and they can bury Joe. Lee and Patrick are seen bonding, they’re family, it’s as good as it’s going to get.
(People called it a downer, but I don’t think so. In a magical Hollywood ending, of course Lee “overcomes” his tragic flaw and takes the responsibility. But this is more interesting, and in a way, he’s more responsible by refusing to take on a role he knows he can’t fulfill.)
Anyway! So here’s a super literary movie, and guess what? It hits the structure, it hits the timing. Its a 110 page script, and they say “don’t go over 120.” The movie ends up running 137 minutes, because of all the painful pauses that come in the actual movie. But, the script conformed. So I figure, if this Academy Award nominee for Best Original Screenplay did it “their way,” who the fuck am I to disagree?