The art of the rewrite

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I believe it was Francis Ford Coppola who said something like, You create a movie three times – when you write it, when you shoot it and when you edit it. I think his calculation was a little off.

The script for No Evil is officially at version 4, and locked, but there were a couple of unofficial versions before that. I’ve no idea how many drafts Clare went through before showing it to me, but knowing how meticulous she is in her writing, I suspect it was quite a few.

That first draft I saw was exciting. Clare had already made it very visual. This isn’t surprising: her collection of short stories, Twisting Tales is full of wonderful imagery. But a lot of it is imagery of the mind and of the imagination – stuff that’s hard to shoot. Version 1 of No Evil was already far more rooted in the real world.

But you never write a movie, you rewrite it – and rewrite and rewrite and rewrite.

Some of the rewriting we’ve done was to strengthen relationships and subtexts. But a surprising amount of it was technical, in a sense.

A skilled short story writer, like Clare, can paint a broad picture in a few words. But if that picture exists in time rather than space, it doesn’t translate well to a script. It’s easy to write a line, for example, that has a group of people spilling out of a house and milling around for a while, saying goodbyes. But in the script, while all that is going on, you need to have these people moving and doing things – and you need to have the narrative moving forward, otherwise it’s going to be a boring scene for the audience.

Moving people around is one of the hardest things to do, because they can’t just move – they need to move for a reason and in a way that propels the story.

I found that, as I started to analyse the screenplay in order to create a shooting script, I was engaged in a constant process of breaking things down to ever-smaller components, often moving these pieces around chronologically to support changes of angle or emphasis.

It’s been a fascinating process – one of constant recreation in which not just the script but the story itself has evolved during the journey from a writer’s idea to something that can be put in front of a camera and photographed.

So No Evil has been created several times already, and that’s before we’ve shot a single second of video.

 

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