Monday, April 10, 2006

Tactics for Making Passes

Men don't make passes at girls who wear glasses -- don't you believe it, especially during sweater season. (Picture Marilyn Monroe in How to Marry a Millionaire) But, I'm Rom Com illiterate, (I'm learning -- progress report pending) so let's move on to a non-proposition form of pass.

Literally, use "pass" as a softer synonym for "edit process" as opposed to "attempt to pick up", "politely reject", "throw in a foward motion" or "oops, butt burp" and the reverse of that tired old phrase works for me. I never make passes unless I wear glasses -- passes at my screenplays. Glasses are mandatory. There's a fourteen hour limit on my gas permeable contact lenses and I can't possibly edit an entire screenplay in only fourteen hours.

For my latest screenplay (which starts with an F just like my last two - what is up with the F words?), I decided to develop a structure for my edit process. It seemed to work. I didn't wake up with burn marks on my chest. Safety tip -- laptops get scorching hot so don't curl up with one for long periods of time if you can avoid it.

We outline our stories, we outline our pitches, we even outline our days in our calendars so I figured I could try outlining my edit process. So, here goes.

The First Pass - Story Elements & Dialogue

This is a no brainer. The problem for me, however, is that I can't get always get past a certain word or phrase that I know can be written better. Resist! I must resist! Save it for pass two. First things first. Make sure the structure is there and the dialogue isn't predictable or cliche but don't spend too much though debating words. I already did that in the writing process and can do it again after I get through this critical pass. Obviously, I'm going to stumble on rhythm problems, too, but I must resist the urge to fix those until the next phase of editing. In talking with other amateur screenwriters, I've found that for many of us (if not, most) this is the one and ONLY pass they take at their stories. They just do it eight or nine times. That won't work for me. If all I ever did was edit my stories over and over checking story content and dialogue, then my screenplays would all be 130 pages or more.

The Second Pass - Getting Tight and Lean

This is critical. I've always thought of this as "cleanup"and "condensing" but I didn't really have a clear process until I found these three suggestions from Philip Morton. I won't repeat them in detail so you'll have to go to his blog and read them for yourself. It's great stuff. Cut it out and tape to your wall or put it in your binder of screenwriting tips.
(1) Trim setup, exposition & dialogue
(2) Cut repeated action
(3) Multiply to condense
The final portion of this process comes from Bill Cunningham, in response to Morton's suggestions.
(4) Avengers' trick
I'm sure there is a technical term for #4. I just don't know it what it is. But, this is a method that Bill Cunningham describes frequently using on The Avengers television show --
They would pose a question at one location and immediately CUT TO a new location with the person giving the answer required. No exterior establishing shot required.



Steed and Mrs. Peel stand over a dead body in the middle of a dry grassy field. Steed turns him over and a lungful of water pours out of his mouth.


A LAB TECH turns to Steed and Mrs. Peel...

LAB TECH - He drowned, no doubt about it...

STEED - In the middle of a dry field?

LAB TECH - Could he have been placed there afterward..?

MRS. PEEL - No, his footprints lead right up to the point where he keeled over...

STEED - Or in this case, keel hauled over...

LAB TECH - Dreadful.
The Third Pass - Story Elements Again

Okay, now that I've trimmed, cut repeated action, multiplied to condense and gotten the story moving by splitting dialogue up between scenes, it's time for me to go back and make sure I haven't inadvertently botched up my story elements. So, it's back to pass one. Once that's done, I may very well have to go through pass two again. This might require I go through pass one again. It's a vicious circle. But, at least I have an outline of the circle -- okay, it's really more like a figure eight .

The Final Pass - Spelling and Grammar

So yeah, I actually check spelling and grammar along the way, but I need at least one pass that is nothing but proofreading and that DOESN'T mean relying on spellcheck cuz I am here to tell you that if you leave the letter "L" out "public hearing", spell check won't catch it!

All Done and I Can Finally Relax

Liar, liar, pants on fire. The simple truth is that I will likely go through this whole outlined editing process over and over until (1) I am so involved in another project that I finally stop obsessing over this one (2) I get a read request and am forced to stop editing, or (3) I drop dead.
I believe I'll take a pass on door three. (Refer to first paragraph for definitions of "pass") Meanwhile, anyone have an outline for outlining?


The Moviequill said...

in the Avengers example there is no question before the cut. Wouldn't it better for Steet to ask the question while the dead body is still in the scene and then cut to the morgue for the answer?

MaryAn Batchellor said...

Dunno, that's Bill Cunningham's example. He's been known to stop by on occasion. Maybe he'll weigh in.

oneslackmartian said...

Outstanding post here, MB. Thanks! I've saved it into my little to-do file!

Oh, and I was thinking the same thing as Moviequill.

Cameron said...

The question is simply unstated, but it inherently exists, because the victim has drowned without being near a body of water.

Bill Cunningham said...

What Cameron said...

(sorry I'm late to the party. Next time send me an invite and I won't crash)