“First drafts are learning what your novel or story is about. Revision is working with that knowledge to enlarge or enhance an idea, or reform it.”– Thomas Wolfe
In the Fall of 2016, we were excited to announce that we’d completed the screenplay and were looking forward to the next phases of development. Well… we soon realized that there was more work to be done. My co-writer (producer/director John Lewis) and I felt that there were far too many issues that specifically affect our community to ignore. The challenge was to incorporate the new subject matter into the screenplay, while maintaining the essence and tone of the original story.
We didn’t really give ourselves a solid deadline to have this new draft completed, but we estimated it might take about a month. There was research to be done and we had to travel to DC to get it done right. We came back to LA, ready to wrap things up, but within a few weeks, I was off to the UK to work on a Netflix show and John was editing a documentary.
We got back to work in mid-December, finished the draft and had a table read right away. The actors who participated did an amazing job at bringing our characters to life and allowed us to immediately pick up on what worked and what didn’t. Probably the best and most productive part of the evening occurred after the reading. Many of the actors stayed and shared their thoughts on the hits and misses of the current iteration of When Autumn Leaves. That feedback session was extremely fruitful and encouraging, but some of the questions raised needed to be addressed. There was still more work to do.
With the holidays right around the corner, John and I stepped away from the writing process for a while. Before we could reconvene in January, pilot season had begun for me and I was soon cast in a pilot for a new show. At the same time, John was making plans to move back to Los Angeles from Oakland. We agreed that the best time to attempt to complete the rewrite would be after I was finished shooting and John was settled in LA. So, that’s what we did.
In March, we put our heads together and began work on this latest edit. We hadn’t planned on spending so much time away from the script, but it actually worked in our favor. It enabled us to look at the script with fresh eyes and as a result, address some things that had escaped us before.
It’s now early May, we have completed the rewrite and are very happy with the results. The process wasn’t an easy one. In an effort to keep the page count down and ensure that the story moved at a good pace, we had to say goodbye to some bits of dialogue and aspects of the story that we were once very happy with. What made those cuts easier was the knowledge that the screenplay was becoming stronger as a result. And now, we’re anxious to move forward with a screenplay that we are truly excited about.
We’ve also got a few other things in the works that we look forward to sharing in the very near future so follow the When Autumn Leaves Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook accounts to see what we’re up to. Also, if you haven’t already, join our community and stay up to date more exciting developments by signing up for the When Autumn Leaves Newsletter.
So I’m currently in Whitchurch, a small town in Shropshire, England. I’m working (in front of the camera) on a show entitled “Hat Hair” that’ll premiere on Netflix next year. I’ll be in here for a month and although there is an excitement to see another part of the world and a gratitude to be able to get work as an actor, there has been one downside as it pertains to When Autumn Leaves. This trip has slowed down the rewriting process of the screenplay.
Please understand, I’m not complaining at all. I had a goal to complete the rewrite by the end of October, but I was presented with a great opportunity. I just have to adjust the timeline and do what I can to keep the momentum moving forward.
I had the day off today so I set a goal for myself. I was going to spend the day in my hotel room and rewrite an important scene for the film’s main character, Bryce. I woke up early, worked out, ate breakfast, and got settled in the room. John Coltrane was playing in the background, the laptop was on top of my lap, the sun looked like it was finally going to fight its way though the clouds and… the words wouldn’t come.
I sat there for maybe two hours. Occasionally, I’d type a sentence or two, but they never led anywhere. The music continued to play and nobody, not Frank McComb, Lalah Hathaway, Robert Glasper, Meshell Ndegeocello or the legendary Coltrane was able to help me make any progress on this scene.
So I decided to take a walk.
The payoff began immediately. As the name of the screenplay suggests, the story takes place in Autumn and Shropshire, England instantly put me in the mindset of Autumn on the East Coast. The leaves have begun to change and the 58 degree temperature reminded me of what DC probably feels like at this time of the year.
I’d been walking for a few minutes when I came to a clearing and I saw this one tree that was set apart from the other trees. It was the only one with colorful leaves that had begun to fall off of its branches. The sun had come out and I was initially just struck by how picturesque the scene was when it hit me.
That tree was Bryce, the character I’d been trying to write for all morning! Before you think I’m crazy, let me explain.
Bryce had a tough upbringing and experienced a lot of isolation. As he got older, he coped by detaching from people and situations. However, despite the detachment, he is extremely creative and tends to paint imagery that reflects life as he wishes it to be, full of warmth and hope and vibrancy. Unfortunately, with the latest bad hand that he’s been dealt, it seems that the ability to create in that way has fallen away from him. See the connection? I’m not crazy!
When that realization hit me, I finally had what I needed to write the scene. I guess seeing that tree helped me understand, in a visual way, who this character was and how he might respond in a particular situation.
A major takeaway from this experience for me is the reminder that sometimes, a critical part of the creative or problem-solving process is walking away for a little while. When faced with a block of some sort, the natural inclination is to fight through it. If that doesn’t work, there’s nothing wrong with getting up and allowing your mind to refresh itself.
Whether it’s to listen to music, take a walk, meditate, whatever. A short time away from the project might just do the trick. In my case, I was able to find inspiration in an unexpected place.
Hopefully, this post will find someone out there who’s struggling with that next piece of the puzzle. When you find yourself hitting that wall, don’t put so much on it. Put down that mouse, paintbrush, pen or pencil and take a break. Open yourself up to unexpected inspiration and trust the process.
Note to self: Remember to take my own advice.
Keep an eye on the When Autumn Leaves Instagram and Facebook accounts to see what we’re up to in the Nation’s Capital. Also, if you haven’t already, join our community and stay up to date with all of the exciting developments by signing up for the When Autumn Leaves Newsletter.