I’ve been asked in a couple of emails to describe the writing process for ‘Shankman’s.’ Here’s the warning label: I’m not a member of the Writers Guild of America. I’ve not sold a script to Hollywood, Bollywood, or Nollywood. I’m not a regular writer on your favorite TV show, or any TV show for that matter. I don’t currently have a web series on YouTube. There’s no development deal floating in the ether. I’m a guy working a day job, hustling his creative ass, and keeping his fingers crossed it pays off.
In other words, I’m one of you.
‘Shankman’s’ was conceived April, 2011 at a table in the Media Arts Lounge at Long Island University in Brooklyn (don’t ask -- Manhattan College is in The Bronx, Long Island University is in Brooklyn. I’m guessing maps weren’t really a thing when they came up these names). Fellow students Michael Paul and Patrick Coker are native New Yorkers, and like myself, wanted to work on a project that expressed our observations about the ongoing gentrification of the city by what appeared to be an endless horde of art school dropouts, Eurotrash, and passive/aggressive yuppies. The basic premise of ‘gentrifiers-as-cannibals’ was hashed out in that one sitting.
Over the summer, the director, the producer and I sat down and wrestled with the main cast, their motives, their personal arcs, and where we wanted them to end up. That was literally 12 weeks of emails, sit-downs, text messages, Twitter, crayon drawings, and screaming before we ever named any of the characters. The protagonist changed about six times. But by September 2011, I had a one page treatment, somewhat detailed character sketches, and a rough outline of ‘Shankman’s’ dramatic structure.
I refer to the month that followed as ‘The Great Bloodletting’ because Michael, Patrick and I spent it tearing apart the original outline and upending many of our assumptions about the characters. A lot of the original ideas we’d spent the summer coming up with were great in a vacuum, but once we started a scene-by-scene breakdown, just didn’t work.
October 18th. I got the first first draft done sitting in Dekalb Market, an outdoor bazaar across the street from LIU in downtown Brooykln. By the 19th, I had the first round of notes, which were surprisingly less brutal than I’d expected. By the 30th, there was a completed 2nd draft. November saw version 2.5. By December, we were on version 3.0. That went through 5 more iterations. Then the producer started breaking down the script, and we realized we needed to move some parts around. That necessitated version 4.0. Then we finally started getting our locations. And casting. And budget. That called for more re-writes. Shooting starts next week; I turned in the ‘final’ script last week. And once the shoot starts, we may need changes on the spot.
That’s one year and a total of twelve drafts.
And that’s with friends in the producer and director’s chairs. In a studio process, I wouldn’t likely have direct access to any of these guys. And somehow, we survived the process and have made it to the actual production without killing each other.
And that, as they say, is history. Any time any of this seems daunting, and you’re wrestling with yourself about the value of trying to get your project off the ground, remember this: I’m one of you. If I can do it, so can you.