Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ah, sweet misery of life ...


It's the most frustrating, fun, stressful, exciting part of writing for me.

And it's where I'm at now on my screenplay, The Whole Truth.

It helps to have spot on feedback from my producer Larry Estes, encouragement from my best mate and British writer John Beresford and support from executive Gary Allen Tucci.

It's difficult for non-writers to understand that we're actually working - writing - when it does not look like we're working at all.

We can experience floating intermittent reveries (dreamy states) when we're on a writing jag. That is, falling into a semi-napping state, coming out of it, going back, actually taking a nap, waking up, and repeat. When we come to, we tap furiously on the keyboard to get every thought down on the screen before we lose or forget it.

I normally have my laptop on my lap so it's always at the ready for every plot twist and turn, character development or note I need to write immediately.

We may stare out the window for some time, or take on a certain look that sends us far, far away or into the world of the characters with whom we've shared our minds, or work on the puzzle of how to show a cerain thought without just saying it but showing it.

Then there's the all important walk or work out to keep the corpuscles flowing to our brains.

I'm not one to overwrite as many are. A comedy should come in at about 90-100 pages. It's just fine to go 140 pages then cut back, but I try never to exceed 100 because I'm editing scenes and dialogue in my head before I write it out.

In this case, the script lands at a solid 101. Longest comedy I've ever written.

I think it makes a difference if I direct the script because I tend to see it being shot in my head as I write it. When I lose that direct viseral connection, of seeing it in my head, of feeling in the company of the characters, things tend to go a bit awry in my writing.

No matter what, I'm having a great time on this rewrite rollercoaster, becoming a literary and photographic detective to solve the problems of the script structure and characters that make it most enjoyable for you to see on the large or little screen.

When we hit paydirt, get just the right answer for the question I've posed, hitting just the right note and tone to perfectly illustrate the scene or situation, then it feels like making a touchdown in the Superbowl! And believe me, the three dogs and kitty wish I didn't do it quite so vociferously!

They unfortunately are not fans of my work at all -- they enjoy sitting on or next to or against me when I write, but when I enthusiastically explain a perfect story turn or read great dialogue to them? Nothing.

Well, back to work. I *think* I've solved a problem I've been pondering awhile. Solid stuff, works much better in the story. It helps when I let the characters tell their own story more and I get out of the way.

I've decided to get rid of all the ending scenes - they just weren't strong or clear enough - and redo them completely.

The solution to their quality existence lies in the rest of the script. I have to put my investigative cap on, get under the skins of the characters and let them reveal what should happen that is real, fun and definitely a twist that has been indicated all along, but isn't apparent.

I'll never forget reading scripts for one of the funniest shows I've ever enjoyed, Absolutely Fabulous. They were not funny, just being read. Shocking.

But because the characters were so absurdly real, based on three genuine generations of people who have strongly addictive personalities and all that attends them (states of denial, constantly trying to fill the emptiness), the actresses portraying Eddy, Patsy, Saffron and Mrs. Monsoon (Jennifer Saunders, Joanna Lumley, Julia Sawalha and June Whitfield) were absolutely hilarious. And, it goes without saying, absolutely fabulous (in their own minds).

It also helped that its star, Saunders is the writer of the series, so she saw in her mind what would make it funny. She's a fearless writer, and I've admired a lot of her work, as well as the work she's created with her performing and writing partner, Dawn French. Their decades-long show, French and Saunders still enjoys the occassional reappearance on British television.

The key is to make sure whatever is produced is funny on screen. There have been some real hoot scripts that somehow didn't translate as hilarious on screen.

I do laugh a lot at my own stuff. That's not necessarily good if someone, like the audience - or a script reader, don't share the same sense of humor. That's the cool part of directing my own stuff because I understand how to make it look funny.

But that's half the fun. Enjoying all this angst and drama. The misery and high times experienced by those characters, that is.

Fortunately, my personal life is free from drama - I keep it strictly confined to my work!

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