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New horror project: the polish

19 Jun , 2009,
Chip Street
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We’ve spent the past few days polishing the script… folded in much (but not all) of the feedback we got, fixed the typos, found some new words that sounded more better.

Still very pleased with the first draft, the structure overall. The polishing is putting that final sheen on it, but it really isn’t getting what I’d call a “second draft”. Don’t think it needed it. Is that hubris? Could be… time will tell. It is after all a genre movie, and it was pretty carefully outlined as such before we set to writing, so we had a clear structural target from the get-go.

Important changes:

  • More boobs. We have two sex scenes in the film. We wrote them with some delicacy (if “pumps him like an oil well” is delicate). But we didn’t explicitly describe any anatomy. However we were told by two readers (one hardcore male horror fan and one hardcore female horror fan) that sex, and skin, and details, are important! So we “augmented” the scenes with an extra line or two… just to “bring it home”.
  • Nobody “gives a look”, “throws him a look”, or “tosses a look”. This was a shorthand in the first draft when we knew a character needed to silently assent to, or question, another character. We’ve now polished those, so that they demonstrate some physical action that communicates just what the look is about… a cocked eyebrow, a sigh-and-eye-roll, etc. Sometimes (rarely) this can be fixed just by removing the word “looks” — so rather than “looks aghast”, one simply is “aghast”. Almost a cheat, not quite, when used right.
  • Nobody is “fascinated” or “sad” or “angry”. See above… we’ve given them actions. They’re not merely fascinated, they “inspect the bones, eyes gleaming”.
  • No tar paper. This is kind of an inside joke, but in the cellar/darkroom we had a doorway sealed with tar paper. One of our readers, an experienced contractor type, was completely thrown by that because tar paper (apparently) is not sticky, and he couldn’t fathom how it was used to seal the door. We went around and around trying to decide whether his background informed him more than the average reader, whether it really matters that tar paper isn’t sticky. In the end, of course, we err on the side of safety. It costs us nothing to have the door sealed with newspapers and masking tape. In fact, it’s weirder, and everyone knows what newspapers and masking tape are.
  • Not everyone screams. There’s a lot of shooting, blood letting, eating, and attacking in the script. We were compelled to find lots of synonyms for “scream”. On the first draft, we were lazy. Now people shriek, wail, screech and scream. What fun!
  • Surprises don’t come quite when expected. I observed in The Descent that a part of what makes that film work (when it works… it doesn’t always) is that the “boo!” moments don’t come quite when you expect them. They’ll turn a corner and… nothing. Then, the next character joins them around the corner and… nothing. Then the third character turns the corner and… nothing. But then she turns back and — BOO! In these genre films, we’re conditioned to expect the boo! when we’re cued to… we wanted to follow a bit more of The Descent‘s lead on that where we could.
  • Dead guys don’t drive. Amazing as it seems, we had accidentally used the wrong character name, and had a since-dead character driving (for a moment anyway) the truck. Spooky, yes… appropriate to this film, no. Oops. We fixed it.
  • Removed Popeye. Our lead beastie has an identifiable physical attribute, a nasty scar and missing eye. In draft one the characters came to call him Popeye (in Tremors you’ve got Stumpy, in Gremlins you’ve got Mohawk…) but the consensus was that Popeye was a kind of silly name, appropriate for a Gremlins or Tremors type film, but not for this film (which is more like The Descent in tone). So now he’s Scarface. I’m advocating for just calling him Pacino.
  • Nobody is “ing”-ing. Nobody is “looking”, they “look”. Nobody “is” or “are” anything… “he is looking” becomes “he looks”. Yeah, that’s screenwriting 101. Just wanted to let  you know we didn’t forget. To remove them, anyway.
  • “Then” nothing happens… “He turns, then walks, then kneels.” Yike! The “then” is inferred by the fact that it comes next in the sentence. Again, screenwriting 101. But, it’s easy to miss those in the first pass. They’re all gone now.
  • More 101: Changing “jumps” to “leaps”. “Reaches” to “lunges”. “Runs” to “bolts”, “races” or “sprints”. Finding more dynamic verbs is good stuff.
  • And yet more 101: Remove modifiers. Nobody “talks quietly”, they “whisper”. Nobody “walks silently”, they “tiptoe”.

Awright. Maybe those weren’t “important” changes… but I thought they were noteworthy, just to give an idea of what our polish is about.

All told* we probably added 13 hours.

That puts us at:

108.33 hours (chip).

Page count is a question mark… we’ve lost a couple of pages in the polish, but we’ll also add a page or two in new material. Plus, as stated before, page count varies on Zhura between the edit view and the PDF export, and both are different than what it’ll be in Final Draft. But we’re aiming to bring it in under 100.

*You know, I was certain for the longest time that this phrase should be “all tolled” — as in “all counted”. I don’t know why. I guess I was connecting a “toll” with a “sum” or something. Anyway, now I’m using it right. It still looks wrong though.

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