Been rewriting Families At War, the pilot for a continuing TV drama series I devised and scripted as the final project for my MA screenwriting course last summer. Back then it was 60 pages long in screenplay format, something of a bloated behemoth when you consider most soaps run half an hour [and often less than 23 minutes on commercial channels like ITV].
First of all, I went through the script, looking for places to tighten it up. An assistant script editor at one series who had read the 60 page version felt the storylines were muddled and some of the dialogue was on the nose. [By way of contrast, an assistant script editor at another series who read the same script praised the characterisation and dialogue, saying it had them gripped - go figure.] Anyway, I found ten pages of cuts through simple nicks and tucks.
Next I sent the 50 page version to a professional script reader. Their verdict? Too many characters, too many storylines, not a strong enough focus on the core characters and concept. Couldn't argue with any of those criticisms. Families At War was supposed to focus on two feuding families - one Scottish Protestants, the other Italian Catholic immigrants - in Glasgow during the Second World War. But I overloaded the script with extraneous characters and subplots.
Within two hours I'd identified and removed most of the superfluous material. If I'd any doubts about how inessential those elements were to the script, they were dismissed by the ease with which I could cut them. In no time at all my 60 page version was down to 32 pages. Two more polishes sneaked the page count down to 28, but that included some new material I added to enhance the visual storytelling. Soaps are often dialogue-led, but a few great images speak volumes.
One particular criticism arose from the reader that made me smile. They found a twist at the end of the story strained credibility beyond breaking point. But that twist is based on historical fact. Indeed, it was that fact which first inspired me to write the script. Every story has an internal logic. Just because something happens in real life, doesn't make it credible in a fictional narrative. For example, coincidences are commonplace in life, but less acceptable in drama.
In truth, it wasn't the historical fact that strained credulity, but the context in which I presented it. So I took greater care over the relevant scenes, stripping out a few elements that preceded so twist to make it less unlikely. I also gave myself a little insurance policy, adding four words to the front of the script: Inspired by true events. Families At War is based on carefully researched historical fact, it doesn't hurt to acknowledge that right up front.