Screenplay First Drafts-Out of Your Brain and Onto the Page
By Tyler Weaver
I came into filmmaking and writing through composing music. Near the end of my tenure as a scribbler of notations for other people to play (come to think of it, that’s pretty much what I do now), I was working on multimedia pieces that involved scripts and carefully choreographed music pieces – which was no doubt the gateway drug to me writing and making films (and transmedia works) full time.
As a composer, I wrote my first – handwritten – draft as final, which means I agonized for weeks over a certain note. I was the living incarnation of the composer stereotype (down to the long hair, but minus the piano on the floor). As is usually the case, the pieces that I would write on a spur-of-the-moment flurry of creative “inspiration” (read: desperation) were more lively and fun than anything I agonized over. Yet I couldn’t get over that music school version of Catholic guilt – put the agony into it, feel guilty if you don’t.
In short – it had to be perfect from the first go-round.
When I made the move over to film, I brought this with me. Nothing got done. I hated everything I wrote. After an initial burst of agonizing creativity, I didn’t write any fiction, and instead moved onto historical documentaries (not that they were easier, but let’s be honest, they paid), where I didn’t script anything, instead piecing stuff together – much like black circles and squiggly lines of music notation – in Final Cut.
After 147 “drafts” of my short documentary, The Fourteen Minute Gap, I decided something had to change. I was back where I was as a composer, loathing the process (which, as any creative worth their salt will tell you, you must LOVE the process). I was wallowing in abject creative self-pity and loathing, and finally, I uttered the immortal words… “f**k it.”
I forced myself to sit down, outline minimally, pick a couple of characters, and just GO. The delete key was verboten, as was going back and editing anything I had written. With this came an acceptance of Ernest Hemingway’s immortal quote, “the first draft of anything is shit.” By accepting that quote, I freed myself up to write whatever came. Never mind if it didn’t make sense or didn’t flow. It was out of my brain and onto the page.
There’s a freedom to first drafts that I had never embraced – no one gets to read a first draft. It’s (hopefully) the only time that no one will read your work. Never curse anyone with reading a first draft (unless it’s your writing partner; they signed up for co-hosting the curse). Embrace it. Welcome it. Love it. It doesn’t matter if it’s good, if it sucks, or if it’s filled with nothing but gibberish. It’s on the page. Then you can worry about the rewrites – because that’s what the rest of your creative work will be; tightening, discovering, and building stronger.
We’ll talk rewrites and pushing through that first draft in more detail in future posts – until then, what are some of your first draft tricks? Do you push through in a matter of days? Do you agonize for months? I look forward to reading how you begin your journey!