…only abandoned. When IS my screenplay finished? Every time I don’t finish a script, I think of this observation attributed to Leonardo da Vinci. It’s partly the nature of the beast. You keep tweaking, until somebody takes it away from you. Should the screenplay complete its metamorphosis to movie it will be finished, because by that time it’s too expensive to change it. However, here’s a list of films that were edited after release.
Is this piece of art finished yet? Never. Not in digital format, because it’s too easy these days to edit. I suspect it’s now the same for any creative work; you can always upload a revised version, yes, even of your novel. This is a blessing and a curse. Through online publishing, you can keep the printed version a few steps behind the digital one. Why do writers obsessively fiddle with their work? Your art is never finished, in your head or on the page. The problem is Execution.
Execution’s A Bitch, Then You Die
I searched on the quote while starting this post and I found this blog by Cole Schafer. His piece about Leonardo’s philosophy is here, quoting instances of the master’s completed and abandoned work. Execution, that old bugbear, is the commonest reason you abandon your precious idea that took you to the mountain peak. That wart-sprouting, tufty-headed monster, Execution, threw you down a crevasse and gloated from the top. Its evil laugh echoed into the canyon, making you cower in shame, never to rise again… Until the next time.
When is my screenplay finished?
The most painful stage for a writer is when you know enough about execution to be aware that your skill level is not up to your idea. Most literary managers I follow look for execution first. Revisit your favourite visual artists, who can make the most mundane subjects into something startlingly original. Compare the still life paintings of the 17th century Dutch masters with Cézanne’s apples. They’re both exquisite, but worlds apart. The difference is in execution. A good writer can squeeze the best out of even a hacked idea, I believe, although the struggle to improve never ends.
Time To Walk Away
Cole Schafer also says it’s important to know when you’ve made something good and recognize it’s time to walk away. How do you know? I tend to rely on others to tell me because I find it really hard to judge. There is a series of checks you can do to make sure a screenplay is ready to go out. However, finishing it is the single most difficult thing to do in the world. Even masters like Leonardo struggled with that.
I Have An Idea
I’ve been told more than once that production companies seek original ideas brilliantly executed. That’s obvious, and it’s also technical, a two-stage process. You have to shape and develop the raw idea to a form where you can execute it, like the visual artist works out his design and tests it with preliminary sketches. There’s no hard and fast rule because everyone has their own process, and writers will debate process to the bitter end. They tend to fall into two camps – the “just write” brigade opposing the “plot everything down to molecular level” and every writer is one of these by varying degrees.
It’s possible to kill a good idea with bad execution, or waste time executing an idea that isn’t worth the effort. How do you tell? There are ways of testing your ideas, mainly among peer groups and communities you trust. I believe Clive Frayne is discussing this in his new book (forthcoming). You can elevate an idea that seemed ordinary to start with. The top animation studios collects consumer reaction for months before settling on the core premise.
I’ve listed a few resources below.
R.I.P. Covid-19 Victims
I intended this post to remember the victims who have died from the virus. Every one of those had plans to start, work on, or finish something and they no longer have that opportunity. In the UK, I’d like to see a national day of mourning and remembrance for them including a televised memorial service. It would be a small gesture of comfort to those families left behind.
I think a lot about these victims, because the media only mention them as numbers. “One death is a tragedy, a million is a statistic.” Attributed to Stalin. Unfortunately, our MSM seems to have walked right into “statistic” mode, no pause for thought about personal tragedies.
2020 is a horrible year for everyone, and a never-ending progressive nightmare for many, especially front-line medical staff and key workers. Be kind, be generous, above all if you are rich or in government. Media persons, try not to insult our intelligence with your persistent lies. And if you must be selfish and callous, at least be polite. Thank you.
Ideas, Execution & Finishing for Screenwriters & Writers
Thanks, and keep writing.
Blog image courtesy of the wonderful, talented, PICJUMBO.