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Thursday, May 24, 2007

Writing Lake Midnight

I just finished what we're calling Draft 06 of Lake Midnight. This is the first time I've collaborated on a feature script, and it took some sweat to figure out how to do it.

We began with the intention of doing a short film. We had a good location, a fun story idea, and a good supply of 16mm film at our disposal. For about a week, the project was called Lovecraft's Typewriter, as the writer H.P. Lovecraft was referenced directly in the story. At some point, our short morphed into a feature project. Our tale of a writer going mad would become a writer caught in a time loop (and going mad). The short could stand as the first cycle of time in the feature.

It was always John's story. During the brainstorming process, John and I would have meetings where I would take notes furiously. I'd go off and try to write some scenes. Inevitably, by the time I'd get them back to John for approval, he'd already come up with new ideas that contradicted what I just wrote!

Eventually, John took the bones of our original short film script and expanded on it. When John writes, he likes to begin with page one and push through until the end. He would call me up and say "I'm on page 60. Things are going good. Now we need a good action sequence for the end."

Meanwhile, I was taking his work and chopping it up into pieces, trying to flop things around so they made sense to me. I'm desperate to get the "cool scenes" to adhere to a sort of logic. I have to believe that everything in the film happens for a reason, so I do tons of research to back up the backstory. I get ideas from everywhere -- when I'm writing, it seems everything I read relates to the script somehow. Some of influences on this script: the works of H.P. Lovecraft, Dashiell Hammett, and other pulp writers; stories of North American lake monsters; references on Babylonian and Greek mythology; and paranormal stories from "Weird U.S."

I see a script as a jigsaw puzzle, so when John would ask me what page I was up to, I couldn't answer. I didn't start at the beginning, I've got holes all over the place. How can I have a page count? A few months ago, I felt like it was never going to come together. I tried to break it down into acts, but the script refused to behave for me.

Once John finished his version, I looked at what he wrote and saw it more objectively. It was more coherent than I had expected, considering the mind-warp nature of the story. It needed work, but at least I could pinpoint what needed fixing without tearing it to shreds.

In the last few weeks, I've built on his framework. I swapped a few scenes around, brought in some old dialogue from my days of noodling, and added crucial exposition and character details to tie our various story points together. John has been hands off, encouraging me to put in everything I think the script needs.

The next step? We'll be taking suggestions from an objective third party. Then we'll undoubtedly tear the whole thing apart again.