talk, and then consider

Today I was notified that I’ve been accepted into the screenwriters’ masterclass–which will be delivered by Paul Schrader–at the Galway Film Fleadh next week. Schrader is a screenwriter with particularly impressive credits under his belt, including Taxi Driver (which will be shown on the big screen before the lecture) and Raging Bull–both of which are considered classics of New Hollywood cinema. It’s a fantastic opportunity to learn from a master in the screenwriting trade.

He has an interesting quote in Schrader on Schrader:

“… screenwriting isn’t really writing: it’s really part of the oral tradition and it has a lot more to do with the day your uncle went hunting and the dog went crazy and the bird got away than it does with literature. One of the indispensable ways of judging whether an idea will work as a film story is oral presentation–you have to tell your story to someone.”

Theoretically, I’ve started work on the second draft of my screenplay, but I haven’t written anything yet. I’m mulling over a lot of changes to the script, and for me there’s a certain period where I find it impossible to write down these ideas. When the story reaches a certain critical point then I can write it down and figure it out. In the run up to that period I jot down ideas, sometimes in the form of questions, one-line statements, or just a series of words connected together by lines.

But, talking to someone about the story is important. Yesterday I bounced ideas I had for changes off Martin. It’s like externalising the debate in your head, except you can no longer predict the other part of the conversation, or the suggestions. Sometimes, I don’t need suggestions, I just need to talk out loud to someone.

The act of vocalising the idea highlights problems. There’s nothing that will pinpoint a foolish idea faster than saying it out loud to another person. I don’t know why that is. It sounds great in your head, and then half-way through the sentence you hear your own words and the inner critic rolls its eyes and tells you to shut up. It’s usually about then you notice your listener’s eyes have the dull sheen of boredom.

So, Schrader is right in that regard: telling your story to someone is useful. Up to a point. For instance, while I was talking to Martin yesterday my mind was simultaneously taking the various changes and running them through the script. It’s like I had a series of threads in my head–each one representing a new form of the script–and they morphed and undulated depending on the direction of the brainstorming. After a while, I have to stop. There are only so many possibilities I can hold in my mind at any one time. If I consider too many options then the threads fray and it becomes a mass of useless fibres.

Then, I have to consider the new plot shapes again. I have to let my mind dwell upon them in silence before I attempt to write or talk of them again to someone.

However, I have a hard deadline–I’m showing my script to a group in two week’s time. Unfortunately, that’s just after the Film Fleadh, so there are many distractions to achieving this goal.

I’ll do my best. If nothing else I’ll benefit from getting the chance to talk to a new group of people about my story. I should be ready by then to speak about it again.


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