I am writing a screenplay, Survival of the Coolest. I have been writing drafts of this strange creature for three years. It achieved something, some state of grace, over a year ago when it started to attract some serious talent as collaborators.

“What about your artistic integrity?” my painter sister asked when I told her how I bend to the winds of the “notes” I get from these far more experienced film-makers. But one of the many strange things about writing a screenplay is that it is essentially a collaborative venture made real by the solitary writer – he is the reed pipe for a group. Well, in my case he is.

The strangeness is compounded in this case by the fact that, though a “complete fiction”, my protagonist shares my name and much of my history and ancestry – it is fictional autobiography or autobiographical fiction. As long as I can maintain sufficient distance from fictional William, I’ll be OK, and the opportunities for auto-reflexive play are enormous. Are we not our own best works of art? A story we tell ourselves about the story we’re going to tell?

I have often found myself blind to the weaknesses, inconsistencies and lacks of the screenplay – I just can’t see how it could play better until one of my collaborators gives me a note. It’s not just that thing you get with other forms of writing – put it in the drawer for a week or so and you can come back and read it in much the way a stranger might and immediately spot its clumsinesses. No, because the screenplay is not a work of art in and of itself, but a manual for making one, it is much harder to “read”. It is hard to imagine the finished cinematic experience for which the script is a set of instructions. This is compounded by the frequent challenge to avoid exposition – the “telling” of the story – in favour of “showing” it.

And yet, and yet. How much do the mood, circumstance or experience of the note-givers inform their opinons? After all the movie industry is, according to William Goldman, one where no one knows anything. One has to learn to balance their wisdom against the remote possibility that there might be an agenda behind what they say. The very complexity and uncertainty of the marriage of commerce and creativity that is movie-making spawns a plethora of dogma and doctrine from film schools and self-appointed book-writing gurus. In case of doubt fall back on a nice bit of dogma.

And triple yet. My collaborators have much more experience of the process than I do and these particular guys are not given to dogma. Rarely does the expression “character arc” escape their lips. The blindness of the long distance scriptwriter is actually a kind UNconsciousness. When one of them points out a flaw, one I recognise as soon as they point it out, I often realise that I had seen it myself and subconsciously chosen to ignore the finger wagging at the back of my mind. I am beginning to see that a kind of consciousness, a screenwriting focus, is possible that doesn’t let such worries pass by.

The notes, the really good ones, are not criticisms, but creative ideas, prompts and suggestions. My collaborators are just that, co-creators, not mere whittlers away of the dross. The creative sight of this particular long distance scriptwriter will only be fully restored when the director, actors, designers, producers and all the others from best boy to dolly grip work together to make this blueprint into a living, breathing movie.

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