What Am I? Exploring Screenwriting

February or March, 2011 I read a screenplay. In many ways it's a whim. The writer said, "I love getting feedback," and I said, "I love giving feedback." So I read it, and after a few weeks - since I was deep in my final semester of Hamline's MFA - the writer finally said, "So where's my feedback already?!?"

Uncharacteristically, I sat down and wrote out an email in response. I put very little time or thought into it, largely because I'd already put a lot of thought into the script. I wrote something like:

I really love this and this and this.
I don't think this and this and this are working because of why and why.
I suggest doing this and this because of why and why, to enhance that and fix this and that.

The writer responded with something like: "OMG WOW. Can I hire you to help me with my screenplay?" I told him I'd help him for free. He insisted on a contract. I caved. And it's a good thing.

All of April we Skyped daily, back and forth on scenes, structure, dialogue. I made suggestions but didn't write much, and the few things I did write, as "examples" of what I meant, he'd often take and spin in his own way. One of my MFA packets was Very Late (sorry Kelly), and my house became Very Messy. But after a month, we had a stronger structure. I also like to blame the existence of Rowdy on the process. She was, ahem, inspired during that busy April.

Since then the writer and I have gone over the script several more times. The process of taking this script from words to WOW is much like parenting - holding a toddler's tiny hands as she takes her first steps. Every time through the script we hone it just a bit more: fix a scene here, replace a sequence there. This is opposite to my usual revision technique. I like to do the major surgery only once or twice. Lop off an arm, a leg, stitch on new ones. Then finesse individual sentences and words to make it all sparkle. But I enjoy working in different ways, discovering that there's more than one way to "skin a cat."

Over the past year I've finished the MFA, but I've also given myself an informal education in screenwriting. I've discovered it's not much different from writing fiction. Show don't tell, write to the eye, specific and unique. Although authors of screenwriting manuals like Save the Cat or Story or How Not to Write a Screenplay would like to think otherwise, all their rules, tips, moments of "brilliance" have been written before, many long before film was even invented. Still, it's always best to know the rules specific to the medium. Else it's not much fun breaking them!

After so much work, I finally decided to do a bit of research on what I've actually done. The screenwriting world is still foreign to me. Am I a Story Editor? A Script Consultant? A Script Editor? Or just a Brain-for-Hire?

This article, and This one set up the distinction.