NAVIGATING HOLLYWOOD: Writing Updates – Reviving a Screenplay (i.e. Rewrites)

A new director attaching to your project usually means rewrites. This week, Manny Fonseca updates you on the status of his current script, Whittier, and the process of working with a director.


Manny Fonseca is a former Hollywood creative executive that gave up a life in perpetual development for a life in perpetual development as a Hollywood screenwriter and author. His first book, BURST!, Is currently looking for a publisher and his first script, Whittier, is in pre-production. Twitter: @mannyfonseca

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Obviously, I haven’t been around much these past few months. There’s been a very good reason for that. Given the fact that this column is all about navigating Hollywood, I figured I’d fill you in on what’s been going on. The bottomline? I’ve been buried with rewrites… which is a good thing.

WHITTIER FINDS A NEW DIRECTOR

I shouldn’t go into specifics, but I’ll share with you a little bit about the process. We (Big Dick Barny and I) went out to a couple of name directors in the hopes that they would attach themselves to the script. The hope being that we’d be able to get Whittier off the ground again.

Unfortunately, they passed.

In a fit of frustration, I reached out to Barny and asked him exactly what we needed in a director. Did it have to be a “name director” to secure financing? Or could we get financing as long as the director was a first time director… even if he or she wasn’t a name?

Barny responded that as long as their first movie was well made, had a decent cast and found some sort of distribution, he coud probably get SOME money.

As it so happens, I knew a guy.

FRIENDSHIP GOES A LONG WAY

Back in 2011, a woman who had been reading my column, reached out to me to ask some advice about a movie she was working on. Her and her husband had started the process of putting together a movie based on a script she had written.

She had found a decent amount of success producing documentaries (some that many of you have seen) and her husband was finding success as a commercial and freelance director.

Rather than ask to send me the script, she asked if she could send their “look book.” Which is essentially the marketing materials they’re using to raise the money needed.

They were making a throwback to campy horror comedies, something that’s not easy to do. Back then, they’re focus was more “vampire-y” than I felt it should have been, and I told her so. Twilight was all the rage, and it felt like the market was over-saturated. My advice was they lose the vampire thing and focus more on the “blood lust” of the villain.

Just don’t mention vampires. Ever.

She ended up taking me to lunch to thank me, and we became fast friends. I became friends with her husband on Facebook and found that we shared an equal amount of snark. Often commenting on each other’s shit in a comical way.

We chatted via Facebook for almost 2 years before I actually met him in person. Which is somewhat absurd given the fact that we both worked in Sherman Oaks, practically down the street from one another.

Script EXTRA: Download our FREE Rewrite Checklist today!

Long story short, they finally made their movie and found a modicum of success with it. They got into several big festivals, did their fair share of press and found distribution with one of the big cable channels.

From start to finish, it took them 10 years.

BACK TO BARNY

After pitching the director (let’s call him JK) to Barny and getting his okay, I reached out to JK and asked him if a) he’d be interested in reading the script and b) if he liked it, would he like to possibly direct it.

He came back with a resounding “YES!”

To be fair, he had pretty much been kept up to date about the entire saga of what was going on with Whittier as I filled him in on the latest news every time we got together. So he had a pretty good idea of what he was getting into, although he had never read the script.

It took him less than 48 hours to get back to me and to let me know that he loved the idea and was on board.

I reported back to Barny, and we set up a meeting.

SCRIPT ISSUES

Prior to the meeting, Barny asked for a copy of his film so I sent it to him. Barny did his homework and watched the flick. As for JK, his homework was to read the very first draft I wrote. Which means he read the last draft and the first draft.

By the time we all got together at Barny’s office, everyone was on the same page. Barny brought up his issues and JK brought up his. We brainstormed as a team and came up with some possible solutions. Obviously, we wouldn’t know if they worked or not until I dove into implementing them in the script.

Overall, the meeting was extremely positive. Everyone left feeling good and I was happy that I had some direction.

Now it was time for me to get to work.

REWRITES, REWRITES, REWRITES!

The first step of undertaking rewrites, and kind of the most frustrating step, was to undo ALMOST everything our original director, Professor X, did. While his fingerprints weren’t necessarily bad, they just didn’t vibe for the original thing I was going for. Fortunately, JK is as big of a movie nerd as I was and saw through the bullshit. It was very easy for him  to see what I was going for.

It’s a beautiful thing when someone else “gets it.” Especially when that person is your director.

We had a couple of phone calls where we just talked about some of my original ideas and movies that were in my head when I wrote it. He knew exactly what I was talking about and could see it. He was able to offer some ideas of how to better convey those concepts.

I dove in and took my time. If you remember from the last time I talked about Whittier (catch up HERE) one of the issues I had was that I wrote too fast. I didn’t let things marinate like I should have. Ultimately, I felt I gave Professor X too many “bad” drafts to read in a short amount of time, thus causing him to lose interest.

I wasn’t going to make the same mistake again.

This time, I was going to take my sweet ass time, THINK about every move, READ between every line and deliver ONE draft to JK for him to ponder.

JK (along with his wife, who we asked for input) ended up sending me roughly 4 long pages of notes. Most of which were simply reverting back to my original ideas with some improvements.

Script EXTRA: Rewriting as a Director – How to Tackle the 2nd Version of Your Film

I put my nose to the grindstone, rolled up the sleeves and dove in head first. If I got stuck, I reached out to JK who was more than willing to talk through things. A FANTASTIC thing I didn’t have the first time I went through this process. Having unfettered access to the person you’re trying to make happy, makes the world a better place. Trust me.

After a couple months of slaving away at the script, I finally finished and felt good that I had addressed all of the issues.

I sent the draft to JK and awaited his feedback.

Barny was also looped in on the plan via email. Both JK and I didn’t want to bog him down with too much shit to read, so we weren’t going to send him a draft until JK and I agreed it was done to both of our satisfactions.

Barny was more than happy to not only hear that we weren’t going to blow up his inbox, but also that we were making great progress.

ROUND 2

JK read the draft and came back with a few minor issues. Nothing too extreme, just plugging a couple of holes. He also came up with two major concerns.

One of the deaths at the beginning of the third act and the ending. Not the whole ending, literally the final scene which was a total of maybe 3 pages.

I figured out a way to fix the death pretty quickly but the ending, I couldn’t wrap my head around. JK and I had a LONG conversation about it and I knew what he wanted (and also agreed) but I needed “that thing…” that thing that would save the day.

To better explain, I’ll make you privy to the conversation we had, in synopsis.

THE GOLD WATCH

We knew that we wanted to get this family into this tunnel. It would mirror the opening of the script and give them the opportunity to accomplish what the victim in the intro couldn’t do: escape.

Problem is, they were on foot, running down this tunnel, with a snowplow barreling down on them.

How the fuck do they get out of THAT one?

Now you know why I couldn’t wrap my head around it. To be fair, neither could JK. So we’re sitting there and all of a sudden JK says, “we need our gold watch moment.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“In Die Hard. At the end. He saves Holly by unclasping her gold watch and that’s what sends Hanz to his death. It’s such a SMALL thing they reference early on in the movie, but it never really hits you until the end. That stupid watch that Nakatomi gave her, ended up saving her life. We need our gold watch moment.”

“I totally get it. What in the hell could that possibly be?!”

“I don’t know, but that’s what we have to figure out. Let me think about it and I’ll see what I can come up with.”

CRACKING THE CODE

Another thing I’ve learned in my time in Hollywood is deciphering “collaboration speak.” When someone says, “let me think about it and see what I can come up with” they really mean, “you’re the fucking writer, YOU come up with a solution. That’s not MY job.”

Okay, maybe they don’t mean it that harshly, but it’s pointless to sit around waiting for them to figure out a solution to THEIR problem. They want YOU to figure it out.

Script EXTRA: Collaboration – The Walk of Shame

To be fair, it IS your job after all. You’re the one that thought this shit up, so figure it out.

After all, if they KNEW what they wanted, they would just TELL you what they wanted.

Clearly, I wasn’t going to wait to see what JK “could come up with.” So, once again, I rolled up my sleeves and did my best to come up with a solution. It didn’t have to be the world’s greatest solution, it just had to satisfy the “gold watch” taste test and we could go from there.

THANK GOD FOR INTERNET NERDS

The tunnel in question is based on a real tunnel and to make things even sweeter, apparently travel enthusiasts LOVE to shoot video driving or riding motorcycles through said tunnel.

I watched just about every video on YouTube I could find over and over until I knew every inch of that tunnel.

Once it was engrained in my psyche, I went to the place where I do all my best thinking: the treadmill.

Somewhere around mile 3 into my 4 mile run, I figured it out. I finished up, cleaned up and hopped back on the iPad to banged out the ending that I came up with. I knew what I came up with would make JK happy.

TECHNOLOGY RULES

We live in an age where shit is so much easier if you know how to do it. Thanks to Apple’s iOS 11 on the iPad, I took screenshots from my Final Draft writer app, isolated lines of action and dialog, turned them into PDF’s, marked them up with the Apple Pencil and sent them off to JK.

Because he was familiar with the script, he didn’t have to read the whole thing or scroll to find what he was looking for.

YES, I know that Final Draft has its Revision Mode, but because I was implementing the “gold watch” in some throwaway dialog to that it would pay off at the end, that’s all I really needed to send to him. Much easier than telling him to scroll to page 50 to see how it affected his ending on page 99.

Anyway, he greatly appreciated it, read the changes quickly and signed off via text.

A DIRECTOR LOCKED SCRIPT

It would be ignorant to tell you that I’ll never have to do another rewrite again. Once talent gets attached, they’ll have their say… financiers will have THEIR say and distributors will have THEIR say, but for now… the only person that matters is JK.

I have a script that the director wants to make. A sentiment JK made when he sent the final version for Barny to read.

Unfortunately, as you will all learn one day, timing is everything. We hit Barny up just DAYS before he was about to take off to work on a movie in South Africa with a BIG NAME.

Although he said he wanted to meet before he left, it just couldn’t happen. To add insult to injury, he’s pretty much locked on that movie for the rest of the year.

TWO CHOICES

We can either sit and wait for 2018 or move forward the best we can in Barny’s absence. We chose the latter with the thought process being, that if we could do some of the heavy lifting packaging this flick, maybe Barny could just toss it over the finish line.

I don’t know when you’ll be reading this, but at the time of writing this, JK and I had a rather long meeting with another friend of ours yesterday and it couldn’t have gone greater.

Everyone is one board. Everyone wants to make this movie. I feel completely reenergized by having a team behind me. For now, the writer’s hat is off and the producer’s hat is on.

Time to roll up all of our sleeves and tackle just about the hardest step known to everyone in Hollywood.

Finding the fucking money. Stay tuned…

More articles by Manny Fonseca

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