For those of you tuning in, Part 1 consolidated into this dainty TL;DR: I lost my job, we crowdfunded our dream movie, got the Duplass Brothers as Executive Producers, and now it was up to Prarthana and myself to rewrite the script so all of the events occurred during one school day in the film, or there would be nothing for anyone to produce!
When you hear horror stories or producer notes in Hollywood, usually I think of the first An Evening With Kevin Smith where he tells the story about a producer demanding he incorporates a giant spider in his Superman script, because … well, how cool would that be?! However, as precious as we all might be with our work, most development notes aren’t “add giant spider; giant spiders are cool,” they’re coming from someone trying to help and address a plot hole, synch up the hook of the premise, etc. They're trying to make your project better and more production-ready. This means they’re notes that actually are important to your story and its success.
… and you need to take them.
But even if the note is a good one—maybe even a golden note—it doesn’t always make rewriting easier. The natural instinct, even for someone like myself, is to go … “but you’re wrong! This way is FINE. And I’ve already put so many hours into this way, can’t I just have it, please?” And the honest answer, you know and they already know, is … No, stop being selfish.
This isn’t just your movie anymore, and people are counting on you—you need to make the best version of your movie, not just the one you spent the most time on.
STORY TIME. Back in college, I had a creative writing teacher tell me an allegory—I’m paraphrasing, and she likely paraphrased, and it’s based on an anecdote that … well, who knows if it existed, but let’s pretend it did for a quick moment. Once upon a time, there were two college senior capstone pottery classes. One was allowed to spend the entire semester perfecting and working on one project while the other class needed to generate ten pieces, averaging a new piece every two weeks. In the end, they had a gallery for the students, and, lo and behold, the students who generated more pieces also generated more excellent work. Sure, they have numbers on their side, but also, we have to admit that some projects may still be built on a faulty premise or idea that no amount of fine-tuning will elevate it as well as a project without those foundational flaws. A student stuck with their first iteration, or piece, for the entire semester may simply hit the limit of how excellent a piece can be.
I've taken the story above in my writing like so: some stories have roads that only go so far, and some feel like they’ll get you to the end—you can see it in your sight, so close! But it still is the wrong road, and you have to go back and take another one. You have to try again. And again. Maybe again. Because close doesn’t equal destination. And a path that gets you close, but doesn’t get you there, is just as useless as the rest.
And so the torture of this revision of our script, The MisEducation of Bindu, was that we were so close. We could see where we needed to be, and you could practically throw a rock and hit it. This is a story we had worked on for years, that had once semi-finaled in the annual Nicholls Screenwriting Fellowship at the Academy of Motion Pictures and Sciences—
—and we went back to page one.
Rewrite hell, I’ve come to understand, isn’t what someone does to you, but what you do to yourself as a writer. Where your story just crumbles to pieces and pours out your fingers, no matter how hard you try to tighten them. And you become deeply afraid, if not full-on grieving, that what you are losing in these changes you will never get back. The insecurities bloom like a red tide of putrid dead fish, their cloudy glaucoma-riddled eyes set on washing ashore for all to see the disgusting mess.
But all of these fears are based on scarcity. The idea is that you have a limited amount of stories inside of you, and that if this one is all used up, no others will take its place. You will just be an empty husk of someone who once was close to having something.
All of this is a roundabout way to say at this period in the filmmaking process, I drank a lot of wine and felt sorry for myself, and I felt like a fraud, and I was letting everyone down.
It is always lucky to have someone in the trenches with you to absorb the unfathomable psychological horror of a page-one rewrite, and for me, I had Prarthana. Many days we’d just text each other oblique messages like, “How …?” And, “What if we make it 12 days but use flashbacks … so she’s just remembering what happened …?” “Why, brain, why …?” All of our thoughts ended in ellipses during those days. While we tried to pick up the pieces of our story and rearrange it into a decorative collage (different, but the same) as summer and our shoot dates were coming.
But we didn’t give up. Which is the big lesson here.
I’m not sure either of us quite knew how to give up even if we wanted to. It felt like we were climbing Everest and knew just sitting still for a moment would be enough to throw us off course and perhaps lead to our demise. Whether we could see where we were going, or feel our fingers anymore, it no longer mattered. Like a beating drum in our brains, we kept going. Intending to march until we dropped, and not a second before.
Dutifully, we kept meeting and trying to breathe new life into this version. Even if it was to make sure when that email went out, we could say… “Hey, I promise you, we tried …” And all that time sitting and trying—showing up when we certainly didn’t feel like showing up, until we hit THE BREAKTHROUGH.
We were at a Starbucks in Burbank, our butts going numb in those wooden chairs for hours of brainstorming, and we realized we had been taking pieces of our previous drafts and had just been moving them around on the floor side by side. None of them were building upwards. We needed a structure that fits in the shape of the new 1-Day format, a spine that fits in our new parameters to hang our pieces of the story on. And it occurred to us that our main character, Bindu, would need to go into every class she had that day with the goal of making money from the other kids. The kids who bullied her and had made her time in school so hard. The ones she wanted to be rid of once and for all but needed on that day to achieve her goal.
Suddenly, while building up, answers flowed. What did she need money for? To test out of high school. Why? Because she hates high school even though her parents want her to go.
Two weeks is what it took before we turned in our page-one rewrite to the Duplass Brothers. A brand new story, a brand new path. And one that felt like it could get us there. When the emails came back stating the script had been read, I instinctively opened my screenwriting app and started on page one again, ready to try again and again, only to reread the email. We had gotten the go-ahead with our new draft.
The rewrite hallucination-inducing fever was broken. We had a script. We were going to make our movie.
Coming up next: Part 3, Quiet On Set.
*Feature Photo: Kay Tuxford