Peggy Bechko: Rewriting is Hell

Full wastepaper basket

by Peggy Bechko

Rewriting is hell, right?

Nope. Not when you can goose the effectiveness of your writing and create a really outstanding script or manuscript.

Have you heard from a producer, “there’s nothing wrong with your script, it just needs a rewrite.”?

Have you heard from an editor, “it’s a great story, it just needs some rewriting.”

Did your heart lurch, your stomach drop and your mind rail, “I want it the way it is!”?

I mean here it is, you thought the script or the manuscript was great just as written, you thought it was ready to submit and someone was going to be just as excited about it as you were when you finished that last touch-up edit.

When you think about it there are about three categories of writing and it applies to most areas of writing – especially movie scripts and manuscripts.

Worst = not on its best day will it ever have a chance of acceptance anywhere. Trash it. The producer/editor already did. Moving on…

Middle of the Road = pretty good and could be fantastic with the right rewrite.

Best = wow, outstanding! Ready to go and everybody is going to want it. A bidding war is in your future.

Admittedly a whole lot more scripts and manuscripts fall into the middle category than the best – the worst is probably where a large majority falls because (and I’m not trying to be unkind) it seems like a huge number of folks who’ve never taken the time to study any craft of writing think they can simply chuck out a story and everyone will be scrambling to grab it. Nope, not true.

Now, if you’re a serious writer and you hear from the atmosphere, “you’ve got a great story here, it just needs a rewrite,” don’t despair. You’re actually miles ahead of most of your competition. Success is within grasp.

Here’s the thing, most of us writers have the instinct to protect our work like a mother tiger protects her cub, claws out and fangs bared. But wait a minute, what if we would think more like explorers than fanged terrors? What if we stopped, stepped back and realized suggestions can make the work better? Has it happened to you that someone said something had to change and you reared back in horror, knee-jerked your way to disaster since you refused to change anything and the editor/producer just walked away?

Hmmm, probably not the result you wanted or anticipated. So let’s get our heads around the creative process, the need for engaging and considering changes to our work.

First of all, before you take off on any rewrite remember you have a computer hard drive. You can and should save your original version and back it up. That draft will be there. You can always go back to it.

Now that you’ve copied it again you’re totally free! You can rip it up, pull out chunks, insert new ones, take a whole new direction. You can follow suggestions and see where they lead. You can initiate new ideas based on those suggestions. The world is your oyster you can unleash your wildest creativity and that original draft is tucked away… just in case.

Okay, the next question. Do you really want to rabidly defend all those little tiny details? Cut to the core of your story, the heart of the manuscript or screen script you’ve written. Remember how cooperation can move your career forward. Of course you want to keep the heart of your story pumping, but writing is at its ‘heart’ a non-linear process. It’s also a cooperative process – unless you self-publish and do everything yourself. Otherwise you’re going to have editors involved, producers, even possibly actors. Learn to be flexible and you’ll get much further and be much happier. Only stand firm on the heart of the matter.

Look for the value in the comments and notes you’re given on your writing. Think about it (okay, privately fly off the handle for a while if you like, then get to it) and use it. What if, instead of being threatened by editorial comment or script notes you turned it around and told yourself that instead of interfering, the person making the suggestions was making an effort to help you make that book or script great, fantastic even?

Ponder this. If you change something in the story near the end, whether book or script, chances are you’re going to think of several additions/changes/deletions that need to happen earlier on for that final change to work. In scripts it’s called set-up and pay-off. In books it’s foreshadowing and climax.

Granted, you need to be selective in the suggestions you accept and how you launch into changes of your writing. That’s your prerogative and it’s important. Long long ago in that far and distant time I had an editor suggest changes and wanted me to remove a character from a manuscript. The character was small but pivotal. I did the rewrite, did the cut in length and left the character in. The book ended up much better, the editor didn’t even notice the character wasn’t removed, everybody was happy and the book was published – by Doubleday. Sometimes suggestions are way the hell out in center field – far beyond the outfield and you have to reel things in a bit to find the seed of brilliance, or uncover a problem that will make your writing great.

Focus on what will make your script or manuscript great. Brainstorm. Let your characters speak to you. Always ask yourself, am I making it better?

Peggy Bechko is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about her HERE.

The Art of the Villain Backstory (and Why Dracula Untold Fails)

Time now for a perceptive look at both a new feature film and an old feature film and TV writing problem. Yes, even we egomaniacs at TVWriter™ are suckers for good analysis and advice:


by Petra Halbur

Villainous backstories are an… imprecise science. When done well they can imbue a previously simplistic baddie with depth and challenge conventional morality. When done poorly, however, they are frustrating, self-pitying, and utterly off the mark. Unfortunately (though not surprisingly), Dracula Untoldfalls into the latter category. To be fair, as a film it’s not entirely awful. It contains some interesting visuals, great sound editing, and a decent score byGame of Thrones‘ Ramin Djawadi. However, as a villain origin story, which it purports itself to be, Dracula Untold is an absolute failure.

Spoilers for Dracula Untold below.

The fundamental problem with Dracula Untold is that it shies away from ever making its protagonist, Vlad Tepes III, do something truly bad. It even incorporates Vlad’s legacy as “Vlad the Impaler” yet still manages to characterize him as a squeaky clean Marty Stu, which I honestly didn’t think was possible. Vlad never kills or hurts anyone the audience cares about, apart from his sexy lamp wife who begs him to drink her blood just before she dies anyways. For all the movie’s talk of “monsters,” Vlad never becomes one. Even when he declares himself “Dracula, the son of the devil” (an appreciated historical reference), he’s a monster in name only as he still hasn’t compromised any of his morals. Despite the score’s best efforts, there’s no menace at the end when Vlad introduces himself to Mina in the 21st century because Vlad still hasn’t developed into a character the audience fears. If anything, the Stoker reference only draws attention to the disconnect between Vlad and the iconic Victorian vampire he was supposed to have become.

Of course, Dracula Untold is not alone in this failure. The reluctance to challenge the audience is a reoccurring pitfall in villainous origin tales. Writers try to play it safe, an approach that consistently fails because villain backstories are fundamentally paradoxical: they are stories that contextualize and evoke sympathy for characters whom we are supposed to oppose. If it’s not challenging, you’re writing it wrong. Yet so often the pre-villainy protagonist is driven to act against societal or moral norms for some greater good that plays no part in whatever motivates him or her as a fully-fledged baddie. It’s as though once the character crosses the villainous threshold his or her complex and well-intentioned nature is erased and replaced with a brand new personality.

There are many cases of this, but in my mind there is no example more egregious than Morgana from BBC’s Merlin. She started out as a Demona-esque antiheroine, passionate about overturning Uther Pendragon’s unjust laws and protecting those with magic (as did most of the villains, actually). Yet by the finale she had devolved into a power hungry tyrant and Hot Topicpatron bent on ruling Camelot and willing to kill all manner of magical folk in order to do so. I imagine, somewhere around season 3, the writers realized that they had made their destined baddie far more compelling than their heroes and panicked. So they threw in a twist that Morgana is Pendragon’s illegitimate daughter, with as much right to rule Camelot as Jon Snow has of being Lord of Winterfell. This drives Morgana to pursue the throne with a ruthlessness and disregard for human life that comes completely out of nowhere.

Similarly, Hannibal Rising purports that Hannibal Lector began eating people during his mission to avenge his murdered (and devoured) sister. We are then left to conclude that, much like the crocodile from Peter Pan, Hannibal has acquired such a taste for human meat by the end that he… just… keeps… eating people?

And then there’s Anakin Skywalker, who turns to the Dark Side in an attempt to save his wife’s life. He betrays the Jedi Order and kills Younglings for an understandable reason based on a moral compass that has completely disintegrated by the beginning of A New Hope a few decades later.

Why does this keep happening?

Well, behind these botched villain arcs I sense a basic underestimation of the audience. “There’s critical acclaim to be earned from giving villains depth, but people can’t sympathize with a character that’s genuinely twisted or oppose a character with remnants of humanity.” So goes the logic. Yet our society is increasingly comfortable with ambiguity.

Read it all

TV’s Remake Craze: Who Gets the Money and Owns the Rights?

The Hollywood Reporter is nothing if not practical. Which gives it a special place in the uber-idealistic world of Hollywood.

Okay, okay! We kid! But as past, present, and future stakeholder in the re-boot rights issue, we find this a potentially very valuable discussion:


by Lesley Goldberg

Hollywood’s reboot and remake frenzy is spreading from film to TV.

To break through in a competitive scripted landscape, networks are turning to familiar feature-film material with new fervor. Fox is reviving Big and Monster-in-Law, CBS is tackling Rush Hour and In Good Company, CW is plotting The Illusionist, and Showtime and MGM TV are rebooting In the Heat of the Night, to name a few. But the rush to remake is requiring studio lawyers to sort out rights, and not everybody — including some of the original creators — is excited.

In early October, Say Anything‘s Cameron Croweappeared to quash NBC’s plans to adapt his 1989 romantic comedy, leaving many to wonder whether he had that power. The answer is complicated. Although Crowe, like most screenplay writers, probably doesn’t own remake rights, his mere objection — “[John Cusack, Ione Skye] and I have no involvement … except in trying to stop it,” tweeted Crowe — was enough to give producer 20th Century Fox TV cold feet about moving forward. Whether the families of the late John Hughes and John Candy, who expressed concerns about ABC’s planned Uncle Buckremake, will have the same kind of influence, remains unclear.

Studios typically reach out for a creator’s blessing when adapting a film into a TV series, even if consent usually isn’t required. And it’s not uncommon for original producers to be involved, as was the case with FX’s Emmy-winning Fargo, which Joel and Ethan Coen executive produced.

When it comes to a TV show reboot, however, support from creators often is necessary thanks to a WGA concept called “separated rights,” which allows TV creators to participate in spinoffs and remakes. Exceptions exist, but typically original writers will receive “Created By” or “Based on Characters Created By” credit as well as payments. Original producers also can be included creatively, as with Showtime’s Twin Peaks revival and Disney Channel’s Girl Meets World.

Read it all

Love & Money Dept – TV Writing Deals for 10/20/14


Latest News About Writers Who Are Doing Better Than We Are
by munchman

  • Aisha Muharrar (PARKS & RECREATION) is developing an NBC comedy series about a “young, agnostic woman who inherits a church” after which, presumably, hilarity ensues. (Silly muncher, I had no idea that churches were private property to be passed on through families. Gonna have to re-read all the “begats” now….)
  • Allison Kiessling (newbie!) has sold a comedy series pilot called THE MIGHTY CAMILLA to ABC about another young woman (dunno if she’s agnostic) who “gets recruited by a handsome man from the future as the unlikely savior of humanity.” (At least I’m assuming the protagonist is a woman cuz if she’s a man you know that the PR peeps would be making a whole big deal about, well, certain aspects of sexual attraction, right?)
  • Teddy Tenenbaum (HELLRAISER) is developing NBS’s THE ZONE, a sci-fi-esque drama with a premise so convoluted that all I can come up with is that with luck it’ll be like ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK but with an ass-kicking babe as the lead. (Which means yer munchilito will watch even if there’s no hilarity at all. I know what you’re thinking, but it’s not the babe part that interests me, no, no, no. It’s the ass-kicking. So, see, I’m still that politically correct dude y’all love.)
  • Mark Levin & Jennifer Flackett (NIM’S ISLAND) are writing a reboot of – OMG! OMG! the ancient Bill Bixby vehicle THE COURTSHIP OF EDDIE’S FATHER for Fox. (Cuz…cuz…c’mon, kids, help me out. Why the fuck would they even think of doing this? No, never mind. I don’t even want to know.)

That’s it for now. Write in and tell munchilito what you’ve sold today. TVWriter™ can’t wait to brag to all your friends. (And, more importantly, enemies. Hehehe….)

Writing TV is Far More Dangerous Than You Might Have Thought



David Letterman’s Cue-Card Guy Fired After Argument, Assault
by David Bloom

Tony Mendez, long an on-air fixture handling the cue cards for David Lettermanon The Late Showtook the wrong cue this week, assaulting staff writer Bill Scheft, a 15-time Emmy nominee, and getting himself fired, the New York Post reported.

Mendez, 69, who had been with Letterman for 21 years, got into a verbal altercation with Scheft and Letterman over changes in cue cards, went home overnight and stewed about perceived slights from Scheft over a long period. When Mendez came back the next day, he grabbed Scheft by his shirt and pushed him against a wall, the Post reported.

Read it all

What do you think, TVWriter™ers? Was Mendez fired for assaulting Bill Scheft? Or could maybe – just maybe – yelling at David Letterman His Big Boss Self have had something to do with it?

Either way, it’s a tough world out there on the set, gang. Be vigilant!

Herbie J Pilato Reads Julie Adams, Star of THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON

by Herbie J Pilato

The beautiful and legendary actress Julie Adams has written about her astoundingly full and wonderful life in the book, THE LUCKY SOUTHERN STAR: REFLECTIONS FROM THE BLACK LAGOON, the title of which references her monumentally popular 1954 motion picture film, The Creature From the Black Lagoonjuliebook

However, Ms. Adams has made hundreds of appears on the big-screen, television and the stage beyond her most famous Creature feature, including countless classic TV appearances on shows such as Perry Mason, The Andy Griffith Show, Murder, She Wrote, and a gem of the small-screen, titled, The Jimmy Stewart Show.

Her talent, versatility, intelligence and of course obvious beauty continues to shine today, off-screen, as it has throughout each of performances, be they live on stage, or recorded on film.

The warmth of her smile today reflects the wisdom in choosing to live a “real” life, off-stage, while creating an iconic body of work in the process.

“It’s so very important to have a life beyond your career,” she says.  “It’s a delicate but important balance to maintain.”

Ms. Adams has only fond memories of artistic career, and feels blessed to have worked in her particular profession.   And her audience, whether those who were fortunate enough to view an original theatrical screening of The Creature From the Black Lagoon, or any of her classic TV appearances, were just as blessed…if not more so.

The Jimmy Stewart Show, in particular, and which originally aired on NBC from 1971-1972, is a stand-out amongst the half-hour format, as it was presented with such flair and grace, becoming one of the first programs of the small screen to pristinely mix poignant family drama within a comedy format – long before the term “dramedy” was ever invented.

“Jimmy was just a delight to work with,” Adams recalls.  “So kind…and so generous as an actor.”

It takes one to know one – for Julie Adams remains one of the kindest, most sweetest souls Hollywood – and the viewing world, of every format and genre – has ever been fortunate enough to enjoy.

Herbie J Pilato is a Contributing Editor to TVWriter™. You can learn more about him HERE.