It's an interesting situation. I was originally asked to write a short screenplay but it wound up being forty pages long --- too long for a short and too short for a feature. The director-producer and I were really happy with it and, after letting it stew for a few months, we decided to expand it into a feature.
Easy, right? Wrong. I was once in contact with a director whose film I had just given a bad review. I worked up my nerve and told him that it seemed like he had taken a five minute short and tried to expand it into a feature. He told me that he had taken a five minute short and tried to expand it into a feature.
Short films can play by their own rules and, among those rules is not necessarily adhering to the rules of structure that most feature length films tend to follow.
So, it's been a challenge to take this screenplay that was structured one way and rewrite it so that it is structured another way --- without changing the story.
I e-mailed the director last night:
I am really throwing up bricks when it comes to fixing the story. If you have any ideas, feel free to run them by me.
Here are some issues to consider---
_____ needs some flaws, a shortcoming that we recognize when we see him for the first time.
The end of the film should reflect the beginning of the film ie. in the beginning of "The King's Speech" he second in line to the throne, not expected to ever be kind and is afraid to give a speech because of his stuttering. At the end of the film he has become king, overcome his stutter and now has the confidence to give a speech to his subjects.
He got back to me:
I actually think we already have his tangible goal. I think his tangible goal is respect....
Sure, we all want respect but, in terms of plot points, act breaks and character arc it still wasn't working for me so I put the question to my screenwriter's group on Facebook:
QUESTION: is respect a valid goal for the protagonist? My director says "yes" but I think the character needs a more tangible goal. Think "Rocky" in which the protagonist wants respect but he has the title bout to shoot for, the thing that will earn him respect. Any thoughts?
And I got some responses:
Yes, David. You need to make this goal more tangible, respect has to be symbolized by something specific, otherwise, how do we know that it is achieved?
Yes, you're right. Rocky had an inner goal and an outer goal. Outer goal was to win the title, the inner goal was to gain respect. What is the outer goal your protagonist is after? In Tootsie, Dustin Hoffman's outer need is to become a working actor so he can earn enough money to direct his friends play . His inner need is to become less selfish and in so doing, become a better man.
I shared those responses with the director and he responded:
I agree with both responses, but I feel like we already have that in the script and they are both the same thing. His inner goal is to be taken seriously, his outer goal is to ____ that doesn’t require him to ____, to be appreciated for his ability and not _____.
To me those goal are pretty clear. As the writer, I wouldn’t focus on changing those goal, I’d focus on making more a distinction about those goal.
Once again, I am reminded of the loneliness of the writer, how it really is all on me but I am encouraged to know that I can always reach out and get help when I need it.
The goal: finish the screenplay.
The obstacle: the plot doesn't fit into the structure.
The solution: realize that even, though I am the only writer on this project, I don't have to do it alone.
So, I finished a screenplay today, turned it and, tomorrow, I get back to work on the second draft of the screenplay mentioned above.
I think I can do it.