Spidey Sense for Screenwriters

Posted in Diary of a Directrix
February 22nd, 2010 by Devi Snively (The Directrix)

spidey+senseDo all writers go through this, or is it just me…?   You knock out a rough draft of a script, tinker with it a bit and think , “Hey, I’m almost there!” only to return to it a week later with fresh eyes and wonder, “Egads!  Who wrote this crap anyway?!”  Sometimes, it’s hard to determine just how rough a draft truly is at first.  Fortunately, I was just reminded that we writers possess our own brand of “Spider sense.”  I was reminded, I’m delighted to report, because mine just kicked in.

spidey84_spidersense3I recognized this super-hero power about a month before we shot Death in Charge.  After workshopping the script and rewriting it several times, I sat down at my desk to make this one little tweak and suddenly this odd tingly sensation came over me – enlightenment!  I realized that the script was finally finished – for real this time.  There had been several premature “final drafts” prior to this moment, but with the last tweak I felt a completely distinct feeling from any I’d had previously –  total confidence that the script was everything I wanted it to be.

circus glows smCircus and I have been reworking our current screenplay for some time now.  It’s won numerous awards in various different drafts, but despite its popular appeal, I always knew it wasn’t quite working yet.  So, after completing my last writing deadline, I returned to this script once more and declared, “Okay, it’s do or die time.”  We either had to make it work, or move on once and for all.

meltdownIt was quite the journey.  At times, it felt like it took over my life.  During the past few weeks I’ve had 2 “creative meltdown moments,” teetering dangerously close to the brink of letting go of it forever, declaring defeat.  But that’s not my style.  Though I’ll threaten to upon occasion, I am not one to retreat.  Not if I truly care about what’s at stake.   I just recognize that it’s always darkest before the dawn and sometimes I find Dawn needs a little kickstart to get her ass in gear.  Besides, it was precisely because of these meltdown moments that my mind ventured into new territory that allowed the necessary changes to be made.

Saturday morning I did a final read-through  of our newly completed draft in preparation for a table read we’d scheduled for Sunday.  I reached the end and literally felt goose-bumps.  I knew this reading was going to be crucial.  I knew that by our reading’s end, I would know if we’d indeed succeeded at last.

readingsmreading1smFortunately, the reading was a blast (thanks to all those who participated – you were wonderful!)  I didn’t get my full-on Spidey-sense by the end because our script still needs some additional tweaks.  But I did get pre-Spidey sense – which is to say – I know now that we’ve arrived.  This is the draft.  Yes, there’s a bit more polishing to do, tweaks here and there to be made, but the story, the characters, the structure are all finally what and where they need to be.  This is the movie we want to make.

I can’t stress enough the value of doing what it takes to “get it right.”  I shudder to think of the many times I have sent my work out into the world prematurely simply because the opportunity arose.   I’ve since learned we get but one chance to make a first impression, so it’s best to hold off until that first impression’s gonna rock somebody’s world.   Settling for mediocrity is a death sentence for creativity.  Besides, mediocrity in general, simply put,  sucks.

pizzapartysmThat’s why Spidey sense is an invaluable resource for writers to hone.   A writer mustn’t let impatience, arrogance, short-sightedness, frustration or laziness (a surprisingly common excuse) cheat her out of the opportunity to write the best possible screenplay she can.  If it’s not working on the page, it won’t work on the screen and the world will be subjected to yet another cinematic misfire.   Get it right.  Get feedback from people who have no reason to flatter or mislead you, and also learn how to not mislead yourself.  If it feels stale, try improvising scenes with friends and/or actors to mix things up a bit.  (incidentally, we just had a fun reunion with some of our trippin’ script improv gang this past weekend – thanks, Sam, Amy, Jim and Kara – your contributions were invaluable!)

tinglingThough some may prefer to call it “intuition,” “instinct” or even “education,” I truly believe we all have Spidey sense when it comes to our art.  The hard part is being honest enough with ourselves to only identify it when it’s truly there and not simply because we want it to be there.  I’ve wanted to be here  with this script for a long time now, but the Spidey sense remained stubbornly elusive. But now at last we are here and I have never enjoyed more rewarding tingling (or at least none that I’ll mention on the Internet anyway…)  Thanks, Spidey – you rock!  I seriously hope the writers of your next movie hone their Spidey-sense as well!

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