Bah! Enough TV for now, on to the next series...This series was originally going to be titled “How to Revise”, but let’s face it: revision is bullshit. You can tinker around the edges all you want, but you won’t really improve your story until you tear it apart and rebuild it. You hope that you can just tweak a few plot points or sweeten some dialogue without affecting any other scenes, but that’s not going to get you anywhere. In fact, it’ll just piss everybody off.
The screenwriting world is filled with unwritten rules and I’m still discovering new ones everyday. Here’s a big one: If someone reads your whole screenplay and is thoughtful enough to give you a ton of notes as to how you can improve it, then don’t you dare ask them to read it again unless you’ve massively re-written it.
There’s nothing more annoying than re-reading a screenplay that’s only been slightly revised since the first draft. That’s true even when friends read each others’ scripts, so imagine how infuriating it is when producers or reps devote more time to their re-read than you did to your re-write.
Don’t be precious. Don’t be resistant to change. Don’t defend your script against notes. Follow the Back to the Future rule. On the DVD commentary, screenwriter Bob Gale says “If we got a note only once, we could tell ourselves that only one person felt that way, but as soon as we got the same note from two different people, we knew that millions of people would feel that way.”
Indeed, they describe years of re-writes both before and after it sold. Let’s start with the most basic: what does a time machine look like? Well, it’s big metal booth that you climb into, right? So if you needed to re-charge it back in the ‘50s, what would you do? You’d hoist it up onto the back of a truck, throw a tarp over it, and drive out to New Mexico to steal some nuclear material. And in the first twenty versions of this script, that’s exactly what happened...
Finally, after years of beating their head up against the wall, one of them thought to ask, “Hey, what if we invented a time machine on wheels…Wouldn’t that be more convenient? And what if he could stay in town and re-energize the time machine with lightning? But how would he know the exact moment that a lightning bolt would strike. Wait, that gives me an idea…”
That’s hardcore, ground-floor re-writing right there. Let’s figure out how to do that in this series…