Throughout each year, dozens upon dozens of screenplays die a quiet death, eventually castoff into my 'Backburner' folder. As a writer, it is typically a struggle to get past the first page when writing a screenplay. It's not for a lack of ideas, but for a lack of direction in a specified way. If this turbulence happens to a story I'm in love with, then I go back to the beginning before page one.
My creative journey usually begins with an image or a section of dialogue that's vivid inside my head. If I do revisit this, I ask myself "What makes this vivid?" Both vivid elements where the case with 'When We Were' (2015).
The image below was stuck in my mind before page one, scene one. I could see that there was a high school-age character that had a decision to make: continue on with their day or turn the corner and begin the film's journey. That lead to a spark of rhythmic banter between the two characters (Lauren Mae and Colver Allen) that appeared in random spurts of dialogue. Tapping back into the inspiration after a failed attempt to develop 'When We Were' as a feature re-injected vitality into the project's bloodstream.
Once the inspiration comes, then structure and form jump out back into the forefront. Does my current ending work? What planned out scenes are meaningful? What scenes are useless? Is the length of the story justified? All of these evaluating questions (and more) become the main focus. When I was initially developing 'Under the Trees' (2015), I was on a roll until page one. I knew what to write, but I really didn't know what to write. I went back to the tack-board, evaluated all of my scenes and re-injected clarity into the main plot. After all of that, I was able to write the film beyond page one.
Sometimes with the first page of the script, I'm able to get to the heart of the story right away. With 'When We Were' (2015) we get to the key decision right away:
"Colver Allen walks down the hall and...sees [Lauren Mae] sitting by herself."
Although in other cases, I've be known to meander. For example, in 'Bloom & Wither' (2013) we're technically introduced to the main characters in page one, but we don't first see them until the 1:27 mark because an over-extension of visual and auditory exposition.
In addition, sometimes projects are stuck in logistically limbo due to outside elements. Whenever I've revisited something that's ready to go but has been unable to get made after multiple attempts, I usually bring in another creative mind to help freshen the script. With 'Alarm' (2019), the attachment between the script and whoever plays the protagonist was pivotal. When I approached Kaz (Taylar Phillips) for the project, I wanted to get her involvement on the script's pages before I even saw her act. She gracefully latched onto the writing and the character, fulfilling the project's necessity.
After the turbulence ends and a film is ready to be produced, I always go back to the first page to get confirmation on whether this is something JN Films should make or not. I don't always answer 'yes', but earlier this year I was gratefully able to make one of my most enthusiastic 'yes's.