WilderWorks

Mar 30, 2010

Treatment Suffocation? [Sick Day]

I worked all weekend on the treatment for Sick Day, but I only made it slightly into the second act. Starting yesterday afternoon, after I made dinner, the exhaustive detail of the thing started to weigh on me. I took a nap and felt exhausted by the size of it. It will be a thirty-page scriptment at this rate, and I simply don't know whether that is for the best or not.

Moving backward through time, Unpredictable had a full treatment, but it was so overlong, plot-wise, that it was vastly and explosively revised as I wrote the screenplay. By the end, the script and the treatment has diverged in very serious ways. That was okay. The only problem was, the script was also okay. Nothing more. I can't afford to do that again.

With Gravedigger's Son, I'd written and re-written that treatment a hundred times, several times from scratch. I'd tried writing it as a novel. I'd started on the script as many as three times before realizing that I'd missed the boat once again. And this is all after three and a half revisions of the complete screenplay that was Storybook Park. It was a daunting, multi-year process. I can't afford to do that again.

Prior to that, ignoring Hell Froze Over, and some fits and starts and failed attempts on other titles, was Zaniness Ensues. As I remember it, I made an index-card outline on my corkboard, and then wrote without a treatment. I wrote 5 pages a day for a month, straight through. Of course, I had a short-script that I'd worked on relentlessly prior to it. Also, let's not forget, the feature screenplay underwent a number of structural revisions at the script stage, which was difficult - but effective.

Perhaps I'm over-writing this treatment. Perhaps I'm over-planning it. Perhaps I'm suffocating it by solving every plotting and practical puzzle, right down to the blocking.

Maybe, instead, I should produce a beat-sheet of scenes, each answering Mamet's three question:

1) WHO WANTS WHAT?
2) WHAT HAPPENS IF THEY DON’T GET IT?
3) WHY NOW?

And also the boring, practical:

4) WHAT HAPPENS?

In short, maybe I should be answering more sub-textual questions, more questions of flow and meaning and drama, and leave the carpentry of blocking, timing, efficiency, and gag-angles, to the scripting stage.

After all, frequently, the angle of the gags comes from the opposition of the character goals in the scene, and if I have the gag-angle out of sync with the character goals, I'll find myself wasting time on dialogue that I only later realize is fake and limp. I remember that happening very clearly in Unpredictable: I had good dialogue and gags planned out in the treatment, but they weren't supporting the desires of the characters in that moment, and so, I had to start again from scratch.