The finishing line

Finally I finished that script. In bits and pieces. Over one year. Never again will I write a script this way.

Now I have to sit on it for 2 weeks. Then I will give it out to friends for feedback. Oh, before that… I have to take away 40 pages. Why are you staring at me? Even Aaron Sorkin writes 160 page first drafts, you see.

Photo by Purrrpl_Haze 

How do you know you have it in you to be a scriptwriter?

I have a friend who is a mechanical engineering graduate. Now he is planning to move to Mumbai to become a scriptwriter. Naturally, when the countdown has begun for the shift, the self doubt is creeping in. On one of such moments, he asked me- How do you know you have the talent to become a screenplay writer or for that matter, any kind of creative writing?

The truth is, you never know until have made your first sale or your first film. And often, your script getting produced is not an enough validation of your actual writing talent. Especially in our film industry. But still the question caught me. We make drastic and risky career choices based on the conviction that we can write. We spend a lion share of our spare time writing, shutting ourselves off from our family and day job. Often a little bit of objective perspective can save us a lot of loss and despair.

So, below are certain points that I could think of, which may help. But the standard disclaimer is, these points could be indicators of talent, but not necessarily that of success. More than that, these are points which should guide some one to understand how important writing is to himself.

The motive talks for itself

Are you into scriptwriting because you believe it is the easiest and least expensive way to break into film industry? Or because you absolutely love writing? Most of the other aspects of film making requires technical expertise. Expertise in screenplay writing can be acquired by sitting at home and writing. If that is why you turned into writing, be careful. Writing is learnable but the progress is much slower than learning to edit or capture a shot. And there are much less objective measures for your improvement (if any).

Have you written anything in the last 3 years?

Writers write. Talking and debating about writing, reading script gurus, analysing the scripts of recent films, writing blogs about scriptwriting- all these don’t amount to writing. Writers have this itch to punch out things- even if they are not on a grand scale. It doesn’t have any logic. But they go on doing it in some form or other. If you have not written anything for a long time, it is much more likely that it is a dispensable habit for you. Then why all this trouble because writer as a career is one of the most volatile, insecure, stress inducing and unpredictable professions.

 Is your writing appreciated by strangers?

Friends and family members don’t count. Also if the appreciation comes from a stranger even without your seeking for an opinion from this particular person, it counts more. Someone buying your script is the best and honest form of appreciation. Unless it is your parents.

 How much does success matter to you?

Imagine this. Your guardian angel appears in front of you and tell you that if you pursue writing as a career, you are not going to succeed at least for the next 10 years. Now be completely honest with yourself. Would you still continue to write now? If answer is an emphatic ‘no,’ one needs to reevaluate one’s options. Because the truth is, even if you are talented, probably you are going to take that much time. If you can’t the enjoy the process in the mean time, then what’s the need for the suffering?

Can you survive the scissors?

What makes script writing different from so many other forms of writing is that, unless the you are the writer-director-producer kind, your script will go through changes many of which you are not going to like. If you want to be the autocrat hermit, it is better to write a novel where the interference is much less. Producing scripts is about being good in the room, articulating your position and being willing for compromises. It may sound easy. But it is not. Because everyone involved with a film loves to give opinion on the script. But sometimes the writer has to sacrifice the pawns to save the king.

Some indicators of your flexibility are- 1)Does your script undergo drastic changes after first draft, based on feedback? I mean a page 1 re-write with complete restructuring because you liked someone’s advice? 2) Have you got into heated arguments with the person who gave feedback on your script?3) Is your co-writer still in talking terms with you?

 Ability to give intelligent feedback is not equal to talent.

Many of us are very good in breaking down and analysing films/screenplays. It doesn’t mean the scripts that we write are going to be good. A good script is not only about getting ‘things right’ and ‘avoiding mistakes.’ It is also about consistently good execution in every page and line. In a good script and film, good writing may appear deceptively easy and simple. Don’t get fooled by thinking that ‘it should not be that difficult to write something better than that film that got released last week.’ Because our judgement about a script is heavily coloured by the quality of the final film.

 Do you finish your projects?

Occasionally losing faith in a project is normal. But if the pattern is persistent, say out of the last 5 scripts none were completed, you need to be careful. A possibility is, your ‘shit detector’ is decent enough but your writing is very bad. Sometimes our mind knows even though we don’t want to openly accept it. Also it is possible that you are not able to sustain enthusiasm on a project for long. Writing a tweet and a script are different. There is no instant gratification while developing a script. You have to hammer on without any guarantees or encouragement. Is your temperament suited for such a process?

Photo by It’s a Keeper

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy: The book and the film

Should you read the book or see the adapted film first? Well here is the problem. If you see the film first, there is not enough incentive to get into the trouble of spending 5-6 hours on a book where you know every beat, just with more beating around the bush. Unless the language of the writer absolutely captivates you. I can imagine seeing a film based on ‘Catcher on the rye’ or ‘Pedro Paramo’ and still enjoying the book afterwards. But with most plot oriented books, after watching the film it is going to be difficult to enjoy the book because there are so many details coming your way without the hook of ‘what happens next.’

And this time around, I tried it the other way. I read the book first. And what do I think? I think after reading the book, it is really tough not to be disappointed with the movie as you naturally build an allegiance with the book. So much of details, back story, nuances etc are lost on the chopping table.

Anyway, this was an interesting experience. It gave me an insight into how different the priorities of a novelist and a scriptwriter are. After I read the book, before I watched the film, I tried to make a note of all those aspects that I would pay attention to, if I am adapting this book.

 (Minor spoilers ahead)

-I thought I would take out the whole track of  Jim Prideaux working as the teacher (lot of pages are devoted to it in the novel) because it doesn’t add much to the actual story.

  • In the film even though it has not been completely taken out, it has been kept to a bare minimum.

-I thought I will resist the temptation to start the film in the middle of the action (which is the fashion nowadays). Continue reading

My script writing strategies for 2012: first update

First of all, I was supposed to do an update every month as per the initial resolutions. But this is coming after 2-3 months. Because after some time I felt that too many updates may make less sense as there is more data to go through.

Total number of days- 96

Number of days where I completed 2.5 hrs of writing- 42

number of days where I didn’t write anything- 35

Number of days where I wrote for more than 3 hrs- 4

Number of networking mails/calls/sms supposed to be sent- 25

Number of networking mails/calls/sms sent- 15

Number of targets set- 10

Number of targets completed within stipulated time- 4

The alarming number among these is the number of days where I didn’t write anything. Well, there has been some unexpected developments at work and home because of which those days happened. But if I had really put my mind into it, I could have written at least one hour on those days.

Networking may appear to have fallen short of the target, but actually there was some initial procrastination and ‘finding my way to do it’ involved. Now things are on track. Target setting is doing fine. Believe me, I was even worse than this. Now I have a 40% success rate.

The new idea I have come up with for the last 3 months is learning the art of narration of a story. I should sit in front of the mirror and practice. May be I should videotape my own narrations (which  then would be safeguarded in the strongest lockers known to mankind for avoiding unwanted embarrassments). Let us see.

Photo by Lawrence Whittemore

Schizophrenia: myths and misconceptions of fiction writers

May 24 is world schizophrenia day. There are some popular misconceptions about schizophrenia that keep recurring in media and films about schizophrenia. Interestingly, in most of our films, the disorder mostly have symptoms that would help the writer to manipulate the story.

I can imagine the argument against this- ‘writing is about finding dramatic possibilities. One should not get too serious about the factual aspect of it. This is not a documentary.’ But it is a lousy argument. If a writer is writing a court drama and to heighten a plot point, if he makes up some laws which are not in Indian penal code, will we accept it?

Basically inaccurate depiction of mental illness is the product of laziness of the writer. First, the reluctance to google the particular illness and spent some time reading about it. Second, the laziness to really work around the irrevocable facts about the illness while trying to create drama. Instead they go for the easy path of molding the illness according to the needs of the story.

Now this can be really damaging from a bigger perspective. Because stigma and lack of awareness have been big problems worldwide in creating barriers in mental health care. And films and media are important determinants of public perceptions about mental illness.

Below are some common misconceptions that keep recurring-

1) ‘Schizophrenia is a behaviour or a state of mind.’

Often you read about a person who is very ‘schizophrenic’ or ‘psychotic.’  What this means is different for different writers. Some times they are referring to weird or aloof behaviour. But using name of a medical illness to denote a behaviour is in itself weird. If some one talks very sweetly, would you call him ‘diabetic?’ Continue reading

Vicky donor

This is again one of those films that thrive on the talent of the writer, but not essentially on the ability of the writer to spin a story. The key here is quirky characters and quirky dialogue.

You can guess all the plot turns miles ahead. But at some point, this familiarity and predictability becomes a strength because it makes all the situations credible.  When you go for all those fancy twists, some times the universe of the story gets pushed into another realm which is not relatable any more. This film demonstrates that, if you choose your subject appropriately and can write great scenes, you can get away with being predictable.

And don’t misunderstand me. Vicky donor is not a great film. But it does have some interesting characters and entertaining conversations. You won’t squirm in your seat for the ordeal to end.