Out of your head

One of the most difficult things for me, as a writer, is trying to evaluate my own work. To detach from your own ego, from your love for the characters, and see the piece objectively.  Often, time is a good distancing mechanism, but you can’t always afford to set aside a play or a story just to wait for that objectivity.

Of course, that’s one of the reasons we have workshops and readings, and it’s why theatre and screenwriting benefit from the collaborative process. You have multiple sets of eyes, ears, and cerebral hemispheres all focused on creating art. It was somewhat amusing, and somewhat of a relief to me to see that even great writers benefit from this process.

In a script analysis class I took this semester, we read the screenplay for the classic film Chinatown, by Robert Towne. Since I also have the DVD of the film, I slipped it into the player to see if there were any interesting extras, and sure enough, there was a short interview with some of the principals. According to that interview, Towne had originally written the script with a happy ending: Evelyn Mulwray survives, and (presumably) rides off into the sunset with Jake. The director, Roman Polanski, correctly pointed out that in film noir, nobody wins and there are no happy endings. He rewrote the ending that we all know. This was, in fact, the version of the script that we read for our class.

Chinatown

But I caught one other item that was “wrong” even in Polanski’s re-write. In the final scene, the written script has John Huston’s character (Cross) cradling Evelyn in his arms. I don’t know who fixed that scene, but in the film, Cross goes after his grand-daughter, which makes more sense, since Katherine is who he’s been after all along.

So it took several people to turn what was an excellent script into a great movie, and I know from my own experience that having a good director for a new work can make a huge difference. You don’t need to go out of your own head, if you can just bring one or two more into the picture.

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