Standing on the precipice of Draft 4

The "final" draft of my screenplay is due tomorrow. I say "final" because it's really just the draft I'm being assessed on. With seven weeks to go until my shoot, I'll still be re-drafting for at least a few more weeks yet.

I churned out another draft last week—draft 3. Like the one before it, I mulled for several weeks and then wrote it quickly (in a day or two).

I finished draft 3 at 2am on Thursday morning then sat down with my supervisor at 10am to receive her feedback. She confirmed what I felt: that structurally the script is now sitting in a pretty strong place and I've (hopefully) passed the point of needing major re-writes. This was the draft in which I really found the protagonist's voice and her intentions, but that realisation came about half-way through.

So draft 4 will be about seeding earlier character moments and making sure that story progression is clear. It's hard, on a piece that's as character driven as this, to always hit those beats with exactly the right notes... but I feel like it's getting there.

Then I sent the script wider, to some of my usual feedback go-to's and some newer ones. I was keen to see how the script would read to people with far less exposure to it than those that have been reading it so far. Two friends hadn't read it, but I'd spoken to them extensively about the themes and ideas behind the film. One friend I'd barely talked to about it at all. And then some of my other usual people read it.

So I introduced a lot of new voices into my feedback pool over the weekend. And while the feedback was generally quite positive, it made me want to shrink and hide.

Because I like more time between drafts. Because the opinions are beginning to vary. Because it's getting to the pointy end of things.

Because I know it's a film that will divide people, and I'm starting to see that already. I think it's probably a good thing that the feedback I received was so varied—it means that there are no glaring issues, no gaping holes. But it also requires a much lighter, more nuanced touch. Because some things that are clear for one, are obscure for another. Because some things that are loved by one, are loathed by another.

So this is where I need to think very hard about what I'm trying to say, how I say it and who exactly I am saying it for.

My initial reaction, as I mentioned, was to shrink and hide—take a few days away from it and let my subconscious do the work for me. But tomorrow's deadline means that's not an option.

So, instead, I'm trying to take a different approach. I'm trying to see this tangled web of overlapping and contradictory feedback as a blessing, as an opportunity to go much deeper and examine every moment.

On writing

Screenwriting doesn’t come easily for me. I write in order to direct, but I tend to avoid the writing part for as long as I can. And the more I think about it, the more I wonder why that is.

I love story. I love talking about characters. I love talking about ideas. And, having come from a theatre background, I love words and dialogue.

I feel a much greater affinity for directing though. I think it’s the solitary nature of writing. Writing is the act of sitting down and turning off all distractions, alone with a blinking cursor and a computer keyboard. Or a pen and a notebook.

It might be different in teams. I love the idea of working in a writing partnership or team, because it brings community to what is, essentially, a lonely art.

Whereas, in many ways, directing is the opposite to writing. Both are acts of storytelling; but directing is about working with people and collaboration, finding points of commonality in a work, or even arguing over interpretation and execution – I love that too. It’s about an exchange of ideas between people and human interaction, which writing can only ever emulate.

For me, music helps with writing. As does an imminent deadline. It’s what gets my weeks and months of stewing, circling thoughts onto the page.

As it turns out, the project I’m developing as my VCA graduating film is not the film I thought I’d make this year. I’d been working a project on since October but something about it wasn’t sitting right. I realised that it would need much longer in development and far greater resources, so I’ve shelved it for the time being.

Instead, I’m working on a project idea that I’ve only been developing for the last 3.5 weeks. Sitting in Hamer Hall on 26 February listening to the wondrous vocals of Sufjan Stevens, I got to thinking about genius and gender in art, about all the gender parity conversations playing out across the film and theatre industries at the moment, and my current project was born.

It’s meant working much faster than usual, and cutting out the months of mulling I usually do before fully committing an idea to page. My process often involves finding the links between quite disparate images or themes, and in this case I’ve had far less time to do that – although I’ve realised that the spine of the work is riffing on a point of inspiration I’ve been exploring for the last year.

Having weekly screenwriting classes and fortnightly script tutes at film school has definitely helped move the project forward quickly. And so has pitching it to classmates, producers, heads of department – basically anyone who will listen. My treatment’s due to VCA in four days so the deadline is imminent. It’s a scary place to be, but also an exciting one.