The Bag Means Your Mind

A delightful mix of insightful comments and ignorant assumptions about screenwriting... and such.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


I'd like to thank the Academy and Pfizer and Santa Claus for making this all possible. Starting out at 165 pages I never thought this day would come. 120 is so sweet. When I hit 125 I thought I had trimmed all of the fat, and to a certain extent I did. To trim off five pages all I had to do was go over every scene and try to eliminate all but the bare essentials. It only took me 72 pages (scary). Is the script better for it? I'll have to save judgment on that for now, but I suspect it is.

I'm guessing that this is the sort of thing that a writer should do for every script he/she writes. I'm doing it because I wanted to get rid of as many pages as possible. If my script were 110 pages, would I still have a burning desire to shrink, shrink, shrink? I think not. As a result I have some valuable lessons to grow from*.

With this monkey removed from my back, I can breath easy and focus on what really matters, making the resulting script as good as it can be right now. That's not to say that it won't be completely rewritten at some point in the future when I come to my senses and realize that I should have been writing the great American soccer movie. But I can't worry about the future. I can only worry about right now. And worry I will.

But for now, I feel good, real good. Cue the James Brown music and the flamenco dancers.

*Note to future Tom: Stop ending scenes with a character saying something inane or describing a facial expression and then adding dialog that pretty much expresses the same thing again. You moron.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007


I finished my third draft and hit my goal of 125 pages or less (124 and ¾ to be exact). Almost 11 full pages were trimmed away while adding three additional scenes to boot. Overall I’m happy with the changes and I think that as I reduce this monster it is getting better and better. With the fourth draft I will get the page count down to 120 or below. This seems like a daunting task, because after finishing any draft I tend to think: “I’ve taken out as much as I can. There is no fat to be trimmed.”

I thought I had hit bone after I reduced it to 136, and now I’m at 125. I suspect there is still some fat to burn off. I won’t know until I try. Still, in the back of my mind I wonder where the line is. At what point does the story start to suffer the more you take out? Could this be a 125 page story? After I reduce it to 120 I will compare the two drafts and determine which one is better.

The problem is that anything over 120 pages is a red flag for an unsold writer. How many people would pass on reading it for length alone? Of course if it is really good, the length doesn’t matter (kind of). There are no hard and fast rules, but it is in my best interest to eliminate anything that would cause a reader for form a negative opinion before he/she ever reads “FADE IN:.”*

All I have to do is write a strong beginning and a lights-out ending. Oh, and it should have a wonderful middle as well (Did I miss anything?). Easy Peezy.

*Positive knee-jerk judgments are always welcome.

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Monday, March 05, 2007

Less is More

This is the first in a series of posts in which I profess to know something about screenwriting. One day, after a long and illustrious writing career, I might bump into these nuggets and chuckle at their caveman-like simplicity. But, if I determine that I actually had it right, I’ll build a time machine so that I can travel to the past and pat myself on the back. Since that hasn’t happened let’s just all assume that I came to my senses and decided to do something more useful with my time machine like killing Hitler. Unfortunately, according to Wikipedia (It is never wrong) World War II did in fact happen, so I can safely assume that I’m better at writing than time-traveling.


Less is more. Yeah, it’s a tired cliché, but that doesn't make it less apt. In the rewriting process, nothing has rung more true for me. Every draft I do, shrinks in page length, but grows in content. Amazing right? What it is, is the product of bloat coupled with the startling reality that more than one thing can be happening in a given scene. Yeah, I know, mind-blowing stuff. Take my football script that started out at 165 pages and is dangerously close to a respectable 120 as I write this.

On the second draft I took 165 pages, chopped out a bunch of scenes and added a bunch more, and still got it down to 136. That told me that I shouldn’t be showing everything between breakfast and bedtime, but it also showed me just how my method of storytelling works, and how exactly I can tell when things aren’t right.

I don’t know how other writers’ minds work, but when I read through my own work, there is a little part of me that cringes when I read something bad. It is important to recognize this cringe, this wince because it can be very subtle. Especially when you are dealing with a scene or sequence that you really like. When I feel the wince I put a note in the script and go back and look at it later. Most of the time, the wince is right.

On the third draft I read through the extremely tight 136 pages. I winced a lot. Now I’m into the third act and I’m already down to 125. And this is all with adding three scenes and enhancing some existing dialogue and moments. Every time I read through I find more and more things wrong. It seems obvious to me now why some scripts can take a dozen or so revisions before they are finished.

Another handy tool is the ol’ “What would happen if this scene never existed?” It is disconcerting how often the story will march on without skipping a beat if a particular scene is removed. If I’m having trouble with a small scene I try and step back and look at how the story would flow if the scene wasn’t there. Too many times, I find that the script says to the scene: “Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on the way out.”* No kiss goodbye, no cab fare.

As a result, the story is leaner, meaner, and stronger. I’m hoping to get below 120. Then the real work can begin, and the questions can be tackled. Less is more. Anyone telling you different is worried about something else.

*Scripts are not very cordial or polite. Actually, they can be downright mean.