Wednesday, 4 September 2013

The Long Way Round

Welcome to yet more of my drivel on the subject of how the script for our new web series 'Writing Space' came to be. This is the second part of a post that was simply far too long to put up as one, if you missed the first part and would rather, quite sensibly, prefer to read them in order; click here. To find out what 'Writing Space' is, click here. If after reading those you're not entirely bored with reading things I've written on this subject then feel free to continue...

Christmas 2012 was, at least for me, spent mostly in a perpetual state of feeling guilty about the fact I wasn't writing. It's an all too familiar feeling to me, but on this occasion it was exasperated by the knowledge Chris was beavering away on his first draft of the other project we were developing at the time... or so I thought. Turns out I needn't have worried because when I picked up the phone in early January for a catch up, it seems we had both achieved little more than watching Doctor Who and eating an unhealthy amount of turkey and chocolate over the Christmas break. We did not eat these things together I might add, we're not monsters.

So, in the knowledge that the deadline for our drafts was the first week of February we both did our fair share of beavering and we managed to complete them in time. At this stage the script was 27 pages long. Now you're probably wondering how I could be so bold as to pronounce this anemic 27 page script as the 'first draft' when the subsequent script we produced is 45 pages. Well, this particular project is not heavy on narrative and while the scenes involve the same characters and scenarios, structurally speaking, it resembles more closely a sketch show than a sitcom. The scenes in themselves have individual premises and while these are interconnected in mild ways through the subject and themes, there isn't a heavy narrative running through the entire piece.

This format allowed me to intentionally leave the script short in order for Chris to add original scenes of his own design. This was more important on this particular script than any other we have worked on because we hadn't actually discussed the content of this script or it's scenes prior to me taking on the task of producing the vomit draft. All we had decided together was who and what it was about and what the tone ought to be. So it felt important to have content entirely generated by Chris to counter balance mine. After I completed my draft it was Chris's turn to go over it before we started working on it together and he did not disappoint; the second draft came in around 48 pages.

In some ways, the development of this script may be one of the simplest and most straight forward processes I've ever experienced. The lack of a deadline allowed us to work at a comfortable pace and due to its sketch like nature, we were granted the luxury of being able to remove any scene at will purely on the basis of quality. We weren't, as we so often are with narrative comedy, at the mercy of scenes that were important to the overall structure and pacing of a plot that were simply not funny. When that happened in this script we simply cut it and wrote something entirely different, although I should mention that as a result the scripts length fluctuated greatly over the coming months.

In March, with Chris's draft complete we felt it was time to start working on the script together. And while some aspects of this scripts development were an easy sail down a calm river, around this stage is where the other aspects started to creep in. You know the ones that involved stormy weather and capsizing. The problem is that Chris and I have full time jobs, other writing/acting commitments, a website and a podcast to work on. So finding time in which to work together on this script was not easy. This was not made easier by the fact we do not live a commutable distance from each other, this meant that in order to avoid wasting a few hours of each writing day on travel, we would write and develop this script over the internet.

It's nothing short of miraculous that the internet permitted us to continue working despite geographical differences, an advantage the writers of yesteryear would not have had. So we would set entire days aside to work on the piece this way, occasionally pulling double duty and recording a podcast in the morning and then writing for the rest of the day. Incidentally I wouldn't recommend this as it never left much time for editing the podcast in question, or indeed living my life. To write over the internet we use Skype to talk to each other (Audio only) and used the 'Screen Share' function in order for one of us to be able to see the script the other had loaded up on their computer. As a writing method this has a drawback of only one of writers being able to alter the document and type.

I'm certain there are more efficient ways to do this, I think final draft has a feature that allows both writers to work on a script at the same time over the net, but it's not really a problem for us. This is because historically, even when Chris and I write in person I usually have the keyboard, because while Chris finds it easy to pitch stuff verbally, I sometimes struggle to explain myself accurately and find demonstrating by typing the idea or joke up there and then helps. Also, I'm a massive raging control freak. So on the whole this writing over Skype thing really works for us, or more accurately, while we live this distance apart it's the best option. Naturally we would rather be sat in the same room, but for practicalities sake this is a sufficient substitute. In fact, in this case, the gift of cutting out travel actually helped us progress faster. I shudder to think how far we'd be along now if we were only writing in person.

But that's not to say writing over the internet made it possible to write everyday, as mentioned already our schedules made that about as far from possible as it is to get. We would go entire months without finding any time to work on it. I suspect if we had written regularly this script would have potentially completed in April or early May at the latest. Instead we were forced to take the long way round, writing once every couple of weeks. slowly but surely improving the existing draft and developing it into the piece we finally landed on in early August. We claimed this was the final draft at the time, the finished article. But true to form even now it's still being tweaked in small ways with the production scheduled to happen in just 7 short weeks.

But despite having to take the slow path, chipping away at the draft we had in March over the course of several months in order to mould it into the sculpture we wanted it to be, I actually think this was the best way to develop this script. Sometimes a gap between writing sessions, and in this case we had many of those, can actually help you clear your thoughts and allow you to approach it with fresh eyes and a perspective you may not have had the first time when you return. So despite those 45 pages taking the better part of 9 months to complete, in my opinion the pace really helped improve the quality of the final piece.

So for me it was worth every second.

Thanks for reading.

-- Dan

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