— Matthew 6:34, King James Version
“Right side and with intensity, okay?”
“Is that everything? It seemed like he said quite a bit more than that.”
– Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation
There’s no way I’ll be able to top yesterday’s anecdote about Meryl Streep dreams, but I empathize with the plight of my fellow ‘Pub columnist. As you read these words, I’m mere hours away from the first rehearsal for my Poseidon-based script, The Adventures of Neptune: In Color! It’s one of the few things I’ve written for which I’ve felt genuine optimism once it was done. And I think that’s earned, considering I spent several marathon sessions over the past five days trying to edit the damn thing.
My play was selected to be a one-act, which I’ve written for the festival before and had every confidence I could do so again. Then I started researching. A lot. I never stopped researching, but once I began putting words into these characters’ mouths, I couldn’t make them shut up. To further complicate matters, the post-audition casting process resulted in me getting a truly kick-ass roster of Bay Area actors. So naturally I wanted to write material specifically for each of them.
The result could easily be the length of Once Upon a Time in America, but all I need is a “GoodFeathers” sketch. Realizing that my way-too-long story would require a bit of pruning, I found inspiration in a rather unlikely source: Twitter.
I remember years back when the late Roger Ebert joined Twitter. In fact, I remember years before when he specifically said he would NEVER join Twitter. He already had his regular long-form blog and implied that Twitter’s truncated form made real discourse all but impossible. He wasn’t entirely wrong: at its worst, Twitter is the medium for the sort of oversimplified opinions and patronizing platitudes formerly reserved for bumper stickers, fortune cookies, and novelty t-shirts.
When he finally joined in 2009, he would say months later, “Twitter for me performs the function of a running conversation. For someone who cannot speak, it allows a way to unload my zingers and one-liners.” That stuck with me. I forget what year I joined Twitter, but there was a period of months – maybe even a full year – where I just forgot about it and didn’t use it. (It’s this non-desire to “keep up with the Joneses” that has kept me from joining Instagram, Snapchat, Tinder, etc.) But since I was a teenager, I’ve always held an appreciation for the democratic way the internet gives everyone a voice, even those with which I do not agree. If I was going to be on Twitter, I’d try to follow Ebert’s example and try to put some thought into what I typed. Short thoughts, but thoughts nonetheless.
This has proven an invaluable practice when editing scripts. Not every line needs to be “The Aristocrats,” some can just be dirty limericks on bathroom walls. Still, my biggest fear is that when the edited version is read aloud it makes no sense, but I can always say I planned it like that.
It takes me longer than others to finish a script because I usually write on a typewriter. I bought on a whim in college in 2000 and have gotten great mileage out of it since. Obviously it has a few disadvantages – no SpellCheck, errors have to be corrected manually, people in other rooms complain of the noise – but I feel those pale in comparison to the advantages I’ve gained from it – I’ve become a better speller, I predict and stop grammatical errors, and when I don’t hear the noise, then I know I’m not writing when I should be. I also can’t just take out a single line or page at my whim, because typed pages don’t self-edit. If I want to change something, you’ll likely have to change the entire script.
I’m reminded of a quote by John Milius, a writer I’ve always admired. In a 2003 interview, when asked about writing new drafts, he said that he “look[s] at a script like a gunstock [..] it has to be shaped right, and the finish has to be right, and you have to bring out all the qualities that are in the wood.” I agree with that. When I rewrite, I don’t think of it as replacing one LEGO piece with another, I think of it as playing Jenga or moving one ace without bringing down the entire house of cards.
I won’t know until this evening whether or not I’ve succeeded, and I’ll still have one more rehearsal and an actual reading left. For now, I’ll just finish hole-punching these 280 FedEx-copied pages whilst all you good people do the right thing and blow up the hashtag #SFOlympians6.
Charles Lewis III deprived himself of food and sleep to edit his script, so you should all come see it on Saturday – Nov. 7. To pre-order tickets and find out more info, please visit www.SFOlympians.com