I have been very fortunate so far in my career to be working with wonderful script editors. Hilary Baverstock turned me from a person with ideas and a keyboard into a writer. I know I have mentioned Hilary before here but that is worth saying again and it likely won’t be the last time. Hilary has been so helpful. I’m now working with an incredibly helpful editor on the current TV and feature work I’m doing (just posting this after a call in which she really helped me make sense of a rather cryptic email).
Having had that great help over the years is what motivated me to be as helpful as possible when I work as a script editor myself on shows like Nelly and Nora.
So ‘helpful’ is really the key word in all that. I remember some years ago overhearing a writer complain about their script editor because the editor didn’t like that the writer wasn’t doing exactly as he was told. I will never know more than that about that particular situation. I don’t know if the script editor was a problem. I don’t know if the writer was being difficult. But I can tell you that the relationship probably wasn’t working and that would have been detrimental to the final product.
It is generally not a writer’s job just to do exactly as they are told. Anyone with a keyboard and a spellcheck can take dictation. It is a writer’s job to craft a story and deliver the absolute best work they can. It is a script editor’s job to help them do that. It is a crucial role. And for it to work, the writer must see the value in the help that is being offered by their script editor. Writer and editor are a team. There must be trust. As soon as one person becomes the enemy or even the boss, it breaks down and it will be very difficult to repair afterwards.
It takes openness and work on both parties at the start. It’s a relationship. Writers – be good to your script editor. They are your friend. Script editors – be good to your writer. They are your friend.
Just a little outline/treatment tip today. I have mentioned before just how important a good outline is before you get stuck into a script. The more you catch problems early on, the better your final product will be. Here is a way of testing the individual parts of your story.
Divide your outline at the main beats – where something has changed, the story takes a turn or a big event happens. Hopefully your divisions will look quite even or at least not look totally random when you put all your headlines in bold.
Now go through your story backwards, from bottom to top reading a section at a time. When you’re working backwards, you disrupt the overall flow of the story. You have to take each part in isolation. You’re not still coasting on that previous great moment hoping that it will carry the next one. So this is a really good way of revealing the boring bits.
If a section isn’t interesting in itself, that is a problem that you need to address. Each section should have you feeling like, yeah, that’s fun or that is a strong moment. Each section needs to be clear, even when taken in isolation. Do we know what the stakes are in that section? Do we know why it matters? At the end of the section, has something changed? It should. Has something been achieved or, alternatively, has a plan failed that now requires a new plan?
Each section should feel important even without the context of the rest of the story.
So divide up your story and go through it backwards, like that film Memento. It will reveal different issues to tackle than those you see when going through it forwards.
Mario is one of the most well-known plumbers in the world. So when my pipes break, inevitably I call Mario. But Mario won’t fix my plumbing. And I can’t even get his brother on the phone (I get some message about ghosts in an old house).
Okay so they are famous now and maybe I just can’t afford them. But actually that’s not it. It’s because they just happened to find that, after all that plumbing training and apprenticeships and years of honing their skills, they were suited to another line of work: jumping platforms to collect coins and rescue princesses (with karting at the weekends). And that line of work is either more important to them or it pays better. Possibly both.
Stay with me here – this has a point, honest.
Often we will find that people have trained for a certain thing and might even be really excellent at that thing. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that it is what they should be doing. Even if they (you, me, anyone) are fantastic at it. It is not wrong to want to try other things. To explore and test and allow your career to veer in another direction. It is not wrong to turn down a gig because you would rather be doing something else that is more important to you, even if you are the perfect choice for that gig. Just because you are good at something doesn’t mean you must always do it.
And getting older doesn’t change that. You will always find new interesting things to focus on if you look for them.
You may love what you do and it may work out perfectly for you and you could be completely content with that forever. For the others, those who get restless or find you shift around your careers adding new jobs and new skills or even moving in whole other directions, go with it.
You might already be an awesome in-demand plumber but maybe you should be out jumping platforms instead.
In today’s post, I’ll break down the 12 main stages of writing a script, whether a short TV episode or a full-length feature. This is how to write a script. Or more specifically, how I write a script.
But this actually misrepresents the process. Let’s take another look at it…
That’s more like it. Take a look at the sizes – they represent the importance and the time dedicated to each section. You’ll notice that stage 6, actually writing the script, is one of the smallest sections there. The most important for me is getting it right in the outline. That is the template from which everything else will work from.
Get it right in the outline and the writing of the script itself is easy. Then you just have to work on stage 12: making it great.
The first question anyone should ask about a story, whether you’re writing yours, working on telling one in some form or you are evaluating one from someone else: is it fun? Hopefully you won’t even have to ask that. It should be something you feel.
As strange as it may sound, it is all too easy to lose the fun in stories.
You might add spark with conflict. Or rewrite it all to bring out the theme. And what’s really the message here? Are the beats in the right place? Maybe restructure the second and third act. Watch out for safety issues and that imitative behaviour. Oh but that one part contradicts what a character did six episodes ago so strike that. Is the language right? Maybe tweak that. Oh but now it’s too long so you’re going have to cut anything that isn’t absolutely essential to the story. Does that joke really advance the story? Cut it.
Writing is hard. Making TV or film or apps is HARD.
There are so many things to consider and so many passes at any given story. And in all of that, it is just too easy to lose the fun.
Don’t let it happen. Make space for fun. For smiles. For whimsy. For magic. Life has magical moments and you can bring these out even if your story is designed to be very grounded. Does it advance the story? Not really? Okay but is it going to make kids smile and laugh and maybe jump out of their seats to bounce up and down? If it will, maybe that’s more important. It doesn’t mean what you’re making should be a random mess of ideas that made you smile once – it still needs form. But the form should be a way to offer the fun to your audience. It’s like the package and bow around a gift.