I’ve been asked to write about writing for our blog. I am both embarrassed and excited to do this. Embarrassed because as a very first time screenwriter I am bashful about the moniker and, because I didn’t write this script alone but had an invaluable partner in Caroline von Kuhn. And I am excited to write about the writing process for exactly the same reasons.
Caroline and I shook hands and agreed to write a screenplay together on what turns out to have been a fateful evening in December of last year. Neither of us had ever written a screenplay before, nor had either of us co-written such a long or personal document as this one turned out to be. We didn’t know if we could actually write a script, much less do it together. But we agreed that we would. End of story. It was going to happen.
We began by writing back and forth for a month about various ideas and inspirations. When it emerged that we had both had a formative experience in our early twenties surrounding the death of a close friend, we decided that that seemed like a goodly complicated place to write from.
We decided to start by writing a treatment and spent the next couple of months working out the intricacies of our plot (almost all of which changed when we began to actually draft our script), characters, and tone. By the time that was finished we were about three months from our scheduled shoot start date and it seemed like it might be a good idea to begin writing things like scenes and dialogue. Caroline was working for the Tribeca Film Festival in a PR capacity and barely had time to breathe let alone to write so she bravely entrusted me with the writing of our first draft.
I would like to take a moment to inform my readers that I am not necessarily new to writing and have flirted with the discipline on and off for much of my life. These flirtations however, have resulted in a consistent stream of half-finished, or more often, barely begun works. In this literary graveyard one can find single-drafted poems, the beginnings of a few novels, a couple of plays with two acts. What is missing from the pile is any sort of screenplay attempt or anything finished. These two facts did not bode well for our movie but, given the tightness of the deadline and the love I bear for the group of artists who were patiently waiting for pages, I began.
I decided that the only way that I would be able to write was to get up in the morning at an hour when the voice of resistance might still be asleep and before I’d even had coffee (a testament in itself) I sat down with the treatment Caroline and I had worked on and wrote. I would imagine most writers are familiar with this “voice of resistance.” It likes to say things like “who on earth do you think you are sitting there in your pajamas like a fool trying to write something that you have no business writing. Why don’t you just go have breakfast and leave the screenplay writing to the big boys who know what they are doing…Loser.” It can be very hard to identify this voice as what it is (fear) and not as gospel. To that end I would trick it by getting up before my rational, careful brain could kick in, and would write just until I started to hear its nasal tones begin to ramp up. In a moment of fury I endowed this voice with human attributes and an image rose up of a squat, bow-tied man who was peering down over his spectacles at me with a “You’re never going to be a writer, never” kind of stare. Now when I hear that voice I imagine that man, I make him very small, small enough so that he can stand on my palm and with my other hand I give him a punch and send him flying.
I wrote long hand on white paper using a pen that Caro gave to me during one of our camera tests in Maine. She didn’t know at the time what an attachment I would form to this cheap, half-full Bic (an attachment that sent me, desperate, into half a dozen office supply stores in New York looking for more of its kind when it finally gave out), but it was just foreign enough from my usual pilot pens that every time I wrote with it, I felt like I was entering a new and different realm of writing. Maybe just maybe a realm where I could actually finish something.
I finished the first draft in a dizzy ten days, convinced that if I didn’t just hurl it out of me I would only get in my own way. So I hurled it out and tried not to go back and re-read anything the next day so as not to freak myself out. After I finished the first draft and Caroline was released from Tribeca we began the arduous process of editing. What we discovered, to our delight and surprise, is that neither of us had any ego about throwing out moments and lines and even characters that weren’t working. We were writing very much against the clock and as July twelfth approached we became even more rigorous with ourselves. What we found very naturally was that we worked best when I wrote words on the page and then we got together to read the draft aloud to each other and then discuss. Working this way we had some of the best conversations I have had in my life, about writing or otherwise.
I can’t recommend a writing partner enough. If you are as lucky as I and find one with whom you can work so well, they are genius at banishing the voice of resistance. I had abandoned my early writing attempts always for the same reason- that I would hit a wall, feel that I didn’t know what to do next, decide I was kidding myself that I could ever write, shove whatever I was working on into the back of a drawer, and go out for a drink, little bow-tied man in tow. With Caroline, I would approach a wall and she would be there to suggest the absolute right next thing, the turn that the path needed to take. I hope that the same can be said for me vis a vis her.
Whatever kismet occurred to give us the great gift of this summer, I am particularly grateful to have had the chance to write this script with Caroline. I am also particularly grateful to have had such good and wise actors and collaborators and supporters from all corners who gave us great suggestions and critiques along the way. My hope for the entirety of this project is that it will serve as an example for all that if you desire to do something you’ve never done before, go for it! Give yourself a ridiculously short amount of time in which to accomplish your goal (in our case about six months), get up early in the morning, and get it done. The satisfaction of the words “End of Movie” emerging from beneath my pen bought me years of probably unearned confidence. I mean look at me, I just wrote three pages about writing. Who do I think I am?