Wednesday, May 18, 2016

The writers of the spec script THE MAKING OF STAR WARS: EPISODE VIII revealed!

In recent years, May the 4th has come to be recognized as an unofficial Star Wars holiday, as in "May the Fourth be with you." The practical result of this is that for the entire day, most geek sites turn into complete advertisements for Star Wars, whether they're posting new Star Wars-related news or reblogging old content it seems no story is too small so long as it's Jedi-related.

This most recent holiday saw the release of an unusual spec script: The Making of Star Wars: Episode VIII. If you are part of the online circle known as Screenwriting Twitter, you probably saw some discussion about this, spawned by this tweet:

A writer drafted their own spec script about the making of a Star Wars movie that hasn't even finished filming yet, then made it available on the internet via both the Black List and an open download, making certain to put it out on May the 4th. It was clearly an attention-seeking tweet from Making Episode VIII, and in reacting to it by telling everyone, "Don't do this," Mr. Sweeney was clearly giving the author exactly what he wanted. How do I know this?

Because I am "Making Episode VIII."

The script the account was shilling was authored by me and my friend Brian Scully. The whole gag was my idea, and it actually started as an April Fools joke. The last few years, the internet has been a horrible place on April 1st. As one observer noted, it's like people think doing something like "Your mother was just killed! April Fool!" counts as a clever prank. I wanted to do something that was fun, but that wasn't necessarily ruined if people didn't think of it as "real."

In the wake of THE FORCE AWAKENS, I also saw how some sites were so hungry for Star Wars discussion that they'd repost seemingly every scrap of Star Wars content out there. More than one site was regularly building stories around fan theories that originated on Reddit! It felt like nothing was too ridiculous to be spotlit and that was when I hatched my plan.

The final thing that motivated this prank was when I saw several geek sites devote space to the totally nothing story of a guy trying to crowdfund the cost of billboards to promote his WAYNE'S WORLD 3 spec script. I've blogged about my part in spreading that story before. If you Google "wayne's world 3 gofundme" you can see exactly how far this story spread, branching out from a tweet from Geoff LaTulippe after I tipped him off to this campaign. I go into more details in my older post, but for me, the spreading of this story was just a sad comment how a completely irrelevant story got spread just so the phrase "WAYNE'S WORLD 3" could provoke some clicks.

In a way, I guess I wanted to prove how easily an empty-content story could be spread, even if it was clearly some kind of troll or goof. It seemed completely doable that we could get at least a few of these sites to post about The Making of Star Wars: Episode VIII.

I sent an email to Brian Scully with the pitch: I'd seen a growing genre on the Black List in recent years - scripts about the "making of" famous films. It seemed ripe for parody, and merging it with my April Fool's idea gave me the notion to do a script about the making of Star Wars: Episode VIII. Because of the ridiculousness of such a script, I insisted that if nothing else, we needed to have fun writing it.

At this point, there were less than two months before April Fools. I pitched to Brian that we would not break out the plot or work from any kind of outline. Instead, we could take turns writing each day. I would write at least three pages, then send it to him and he'd have a day to think about it and get me back at least three pages of his own.

I'd done this sort of "write the other guy into a corner" approach back when I was running a TV show in college, and though I'm a meticulous outliner usually, a few years back I wrote a comedy script entirely by coming up with the high concept hook and just going where the story took me. I found it to be a refreshing exercise because each day started with "What's the most obvious choice? Great - now let's do the opposite of that and see where it takes us." Obviously, that was just for the vomit draft, and I later went back and refined the script.

But Scully and I were both coming off of several very dark feature scripts, so this seemed like a wacky palate cleanser for both of us. Before I go any further, I want to stress how FUN the writing of this script was. Every time my inbox revealed new pages from Scully it was like getting a gift. I couldn't wait to see where he'd taken the story and figure out how to pick things up. It was the most creatively reinvigorating thing I'd done in years. It felt like a great low-stakes way to warm up the writing muscles before getting back in the game on a real spec.

In practice, we ended up not sticking to the trading-pages-every-day thing. Real life got in the way, and soon it was clear we should bump our deadline from April 1st to May the 4th. Even then, as weeks slipped by and Scully and I found our time consumed by day jobs and other projects, we started writing in longer, less-frequent bursts. So when you read the script, don't assume that the writing changes hands every three pages because that's not at all accurate.

We occasionally traded a few emails about future directions, but most of it was on the order of "I've got an idea for Mark, so if you want to set this up..." or "Here's what George Lucas should be up to." Some of my favorite bits in the script came up on the fly, though. Fairly frequently, we not only would advance the script, but go back and rewrite earlier pages as well. There are a couple scenes that are clearly just me or just Scully, but also a lot that are a hybrid of our efforts.

While we made our deadline and turned out a script that - while a bit loose - still is a lot of fun to read, we were only partly successful in our bid. It was easy enough to get Screenwriting Twitter to talk about it, chastising this attention-seeking as unprofessional, all while giving this trolling the attention we wanted. Seeing friends say "Don't do this," all while spreading word of the stunt, it reminded me of my resolve in recent years to not give undue attention to people pulling these stunts. Having said that, I know it's VERY temping when faced with an annoying clueless newbie to make a spectacle out of their lack of tact.

Alas, the conversation on Twitter never broke out in a way that inspired any of the geek journalists to write about it, even in a "laugh at the idiot" sort of spirit that motivated their WAYNE'S WORLD 3 stories. In that sense, my main objective failed I guess I have to give them props for not being completely without integrity, especially since I specifically targeted people who I thought would be easy marks, given that they were the first to post about WAYNE'S WORLD 3. I suppose we could have planned a more elaborate rollout and fake website, ala BALLS OUT, but that seemed like the point where we were going too far and putting too much effort into it. The actual writing was fun. Making a website? That would have been work.

But even if that didn't work as well as we hoped, Scully and I both had fun writing it and seeing the reaction from people who did venture into the script. It got me using some writing muscles that I hadn't flexed in a while, and has made me more energized to dive into new scripts. Maybe we don't give enough credit to just allowing ourselves to be silly sometimes. The next time you're stuck while writing, maybe try something like this... though it probably is more efficient to just write a short film rather than a full-length screenplay.

There doesn't seem to be any reason to maintain the subterfuge anymore, and if you're interested in seeing the result of our insanity, you can find the script online here, and also on The Black List here.

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