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.

A series of hidden peaks

I had thought, when I wrote about my last moment of breakthrough, that that was it: I'd cracked the project. I'd found my way in.

It seems I was too hasty.

I'm coming to realise that this project (and I'm sure it's the case for most) is not one steady climb to completion. In fact, it's just when I experience a breakthrough on one problem, that I discover that there's another even greater challenge to overcome.

A series of hidden peaks.

I had thought that getting to draft one was going to be the hard part—once I had the broad brushstrokes on the page, it'd be easier from then on. In fact, getting from draft one to draft two has been incredibly challenging.

But it's not the actual writing that's been hard.

At VCA I've been fortunate enough to have had some very comprehensive one-on-one development sessions with terrific industry professionals over the last few weeks. They gave me a lot to think about. I felt like they broke my brain with all the big questions and issues raised—about the nature of the film, its intent, what I want it to be and how I'll achieve it. Really important questions but a lot to process.

So I spent the last few weeks stewing and knotted up, trying to get my head around and through these questions and issues.

I sat down with my supervisor on Wednesday for a chat about all the (sometimes very conflicting) feedback I'd received. It was the conversation I needed to have—she told me not to throw out all the work I'd been doing but to take it further, keeping in mind certain pieces of feedback that were more important than others.

Then I wrote my second draft in 36 hours. It seems to be the way for me: think, process, examine, question, stew, despair, walk around in circles for a while, then just do it and do it fast.

Obviously it's still very much a second draft and already I can see some of the work that needs to happen in the next draft, but it felt like another breakthrough. The project has become clearer to me, as it hopefully will with each draft to come.