There are probably two different kinds of screenwriters. The kind who start with a blank sheet of paper and just bull through to the end of the thing, and the expanders, like me.
People like me work as if they’re applying coats of paint to the same surface. The only blank sheet of paper is the original premise document. When it comes to writing the outline, I paste the original premise document into a new file and start writing over the top of it: expanding it, rewording it, moving scenes around. And when it comes to the screenplay, I paste the outline into a new document, and start writing over the top of it.
It lets me control the shape of the thing exactly — which is vital when you’re working to a hard runtime, as we are with CASTLEVANIA. Stops me getting too extemporaneous, and it also lets me see where I’m running short and might be able to lengthen a scene after all. (The trick to this kind of writing is entering a scene as late as possible and getting out as quickly as possible, which involves killing a lot of your darlings, as they say. So it’s nice to be able to see where you might be able to bring one or two back from the dead.)
So, at the top of the outline, there is the line:
1475: DR LISA FARENHEIGHTS is working in her keep on the edge of WALLACHIA’s CAPITAL CITY.
The outline goes straight from there to activation of the plot. But that’s not how you write a story. For one thing, the top of a film is the only point at which you have time. You’ve got five minutes of the audience’s indulgence, so you can take a little bit to look around. For another, story is not plot. Even the most superficial reading of Shakespeare will show you the characters doing things unrelated to the needs of the plot, talking, being people, being real, before they get around to activating their bit of plot.
So I start with that line, and I start making notes. This isn’t screenplay. I put myself through two drafts of the official First Draft — I nail down the rough action and dialogue in note form, and then rewrite as I go back and convert everything into screenplay format. So that one line turned into a few pages of notes that started like this:
on rolling storm clouds, dark and evil.
We push down through them, emerging into rain over EUROPE.
We drop down with the rain, down over Eastern Europe, the dark forested territories of Wallachia.
LIGHTNING crashes down past us, filling our POV with a WHITE-OUT:
Our vision returning as we find ourselves in front of LISA TEPES’ HOUSE, a wooden structure outside a village. We see the rooves of the village in the mid-distance beyond the house, lit up by a lightning strike on a day twilit by heavy cloud. The rain drizzles down on the carefully-tended herb and vegetable garden at the front of the house.
You stay right there, Mrs ***. I’m just going to get something for your cough.
SUPER denotes text superimposed on the screen, and O.S. denotes a voice issuing from off-screen.
How much of this survives to the screenplay? Well, despite the requests of people in the comments sections, I’m not going to be posting the screenplay to this production blog. As ever with this blog, we’re just giving you a look at the process. And this is how a screenplay starts.