The following is a journal entry written by screenwriter Kevin L. Powers as he rewrites the screenplay The Cleavers for producer & director Justin Sterns and producers Lynn McArther and Cesar Aguirre. The following is meant to be a look into the process of screenwriting in regards to the re-writing process. Mr. Powers has contributed to the TFP Production Last Call (a vampire anthology) and has recently written & directed his film feature film through CenterSeat Entertainment.’ƒ
10/07/10, FRIDAY – DAY 1
I read the screenplay for the short film “The Cleavers” which I’ve been hired to turn into a feature and today is the first day of my re-writes. I read the original screenplay about a week ago and thought it would make a very good episode of the now cancelled television program Tales From the Crypt. It was strong on character at least in terms of the main characters which were in fact the villains of the story but the main victims were pretty one-note which I thought was fine since it was only a short and the villains were more interesting anyways.
When I agreed to do the re-writes for the film my desire was to keep the main themes and thrust of the film but I had to expand the story so that the main “victims” actually had something to say and do in the film other than scream and run. At first I was just going to add an entire second half to the film and just keep the original film but as I formulated the plot in my head the story decided to take a turn on its own.
The thing I love about the original screenplay is the interplay between the two older couple/killers (Mr. & Mrs. Cleaver) who act like an old married couple who just so happens to be cannibals that killed people. That, to me, is where the real story of the screenplay is. If I can focus and funnel their story into something that can also benefit the other two characters (“the victims”) there will be a feature film.
It took me two days to craft a basic idea for the film in my head.
Usually an idea will gestate in my head for several months (and sometimes even years) in my head before I can come up with a good treatment that I can follow to create a feature screenplay. It’s rare for me when “character” comes first and creates the story. Usually I write a 15-20 page treatment detailing all the key plot points and moments in the film which will then allow me the freedom to come back to the story at a later date when I actually have free time to sit down and craft the finished screenplay. With this film I’m giving myself two weeks to write a feature length screenplay. I’ve only done this one other time and that was with my original screenplay for the Southlan-Films Friday the 13th fan film The Man in the Lake (my final script which was not used). I wrote that screenplay in about ten days but the page count was just under 60 pages. With this new screenplay I need 90 pages and only have two weeks.
When I finally sat down in front of my computer to start writing I know I have to start the film with a bang. What I decide to do is start the film at the ending. I just saw the film Chain Letter (Spoiler Alert!) and that film shows the final scene at the beginning. It is a great way to thrust the audience into the film and it is a good way to start the film off with a bang. So, I start my screenplay with the violent birthing. The way I write the screenplay doesn’t reveal anyone but the Cleavers themselves but when the screenplay gets back to the ending my beginning will then be the ending and the story will finally catch up with itself. It’s a very simple idea but because the film has so much character development in between, I believe there needs to be something to strike a chord with the audience as early as possible. The director really wants the film to be more of a psychological thriller which is what I’m aiming to do but I also know that the audiences for this type of film need those few shock moments. We are not going for those “fake” scare shocks that litters the typical horror film, we are going for genuine unease and terror that is derived from character which makes this completely different from my screenplay The Man in the Lake (which was gore horror).
The hardest thing that occurred today when writing the script is finding the voice of the other two main characters (the eventual victims in the film). They didn’t have a voice in the original screenplay so I have more work trying to craft their story and create something that don’t seem to be too much like a cliché or something that has come before while also linking their story with that of the Cleavers. Today’s writing went really slow because of this but I worked through this dilemma. I suspect that the rest of the process will pick up and be easier.