Shudh Desi Romance

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Last minute jitters and runaway bride (grooms) have been preoccupations of Hollywood romantic comedies for a while. Now Jaideep Sahni gives an authentic Indian spin to the much idealised ‘commitment phobitis.’ The movie has sparkling dialogue, quirky characters, circumvented cliches, great performances. But eventually you get exasperated because of the forced cleverness- the characters never feel really real because they all are hell bend on not reacting genuinely to the situations they are in. After every heart break, the characters picks up the pieces and move on so easily that you really doubt whether there was any ‘romance’ in the first place, let alone ‘Shudh.’ These characters are too smart, and also too phony. When second half steers into familiar triangle territory, I couldn’t help imagining Jaideep Sahni in golden shackles with a Yash Chopra stamp on a heart shaped padlock.

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Deadlines and scriptwriting

scissors by danielgrenell
photo by danielgrenell

The question is- should one really self impose deadlines in creative writing? Can it harm the quality of the writing?

Often great ideas come when you are least expecting it. If you are mechanical about the various stages (‘After 10 hours of outlining, I am just going to write it’), you may often miss on some great breakthroughs. Writing in itself is a process that cannot be fitted into boxes and flowcharts. Often the associations you make are bizarre and counterintuitive.

But the issue that adds counterweight is the problem of productivity. Writing is not the kind of job where at the end of the day, you can count the number of words and decide whether you have worked well or not. And when it is compounded by writers’ eternal problem of procrastination, it becomes very difficult not to fool yourself. I can just daydream for months lying on the sofa and pretend to myself that ‘I am outlining.’ And if that ‘brilliant idea that burst out of nowhere’ is the criteria of good work, it may also turn out to be damp squib the next day.

So is it a good idea to restrict the time you use for outlining or writing a treatment? Probably not. But what if your outlining goes on for months? How do you know for sure that just because you have spent 2 months for developing something, it is going to be better than spending 2 weeks on initial development and then taking more time on rewriting?

Advantage of spending more time on outlining is that you save a lot of time while actually writing the script. Also most of my unfinished scripts happened because I didn’t outline. On the flip side, often you realise what you really want with the story after you write a complete draft. If you have spent too much time on outlining initially, you lose some of the mental flexibility to revamp the theme and plot of your first draft if it is required. Anyway I have decided to try out the second option- jump into the first drafts after a fixed amount of time in outlining. I need to try all methods to see which one really works.

Writing screenplays on android tablets

The widgets

First things first.

I have not done a comprehensive review of all the screenwriting widgets available on net. In fact, I have not tried any screenplay widget which is not free. What I believe is that if you can’t find a free widget for doing something, probably that function is not either relevant or important. I don’t want to buy things that I don’t really need.

But if it is any consolation (to myself included), all the screenwriting widgets I have not tried mostly have very poor rating. So the untested ones are screenwriter, celtx, fade in (paid version).

And my vote is for MyScreenplays free version.

MyScreenplays has a very different format which needs a little getting used to. It is different from other screenplay programs that we use routinely. It treats every segment of dialogue or action as a different unit. You have to open these separate units individually and edit. But after some use, you get used to the structure.

Its biggest strength is import and export. MyScreenplays is one of those few android screenwriting programs that get this one right.

It can import and export to celtx and final draft. Export function has been smooth. But my experience with importing has not been that good.

The only difference between free and paid version is absence of ads. I am seriously thinking of buying the paid version for honoring their decision not to restrict certain functions in the free version.

Fade In free which is very good in other aspects lost out here. I couldn’t export my work in any meaningful way. It is possible that this problem with Fade In Free is very tablet specific (I have a samsung 750 (10.1)) and it would work well in other tablets.

The weakness of MyScreenplays is definitely its unconventional structure and interface. But I assure you, it will grow on you. It needs some getting used to.

I should also mention dubscript here which is a final draft reader. It is a useful widget to read all those finished final draft scripts.

The experience

As I have mentioned earlier, I bought a tablet for productive rather than recreational purposes. Writing screenplay on a tablet is not going to be as smooth as in a desktop, but you can do almost as good as a job once you get used to the keyboard on a tablet. Having a bigger tablet definitely helps for smoother typing.

I thought I would be doing more outlining than actual script writing on tablet. But I was wrong. I found it difficult to outline on tablet. Outlining is the heavy lifting part of the writing and I found the tablet and the interface too distracting. Nothing beats pen and paper for jotting down random incoherent ideas while you are trying to solve a specific problem.

Run…

Things have not gone according to plan last month. Needs more discipline with the writing. The reason is- the time is almost up to really go out into the world. Until now, even though I have been networking through social media, it was more about making myself familiar to others. Within a few months, tenure of my current job position will end. Then comes the opportunity that I have been waiting for all these years- to go and meet film makers.  When I do that, I want to be able to offer a variety of stuff if they want to see my work. So need to step up my act. And punch out some treatments and scripts.

Photo by ADIDA FALLEN ANGEL

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