MAKING A SAFFERLAND SKETCH – WRITING
You’ve got your award-winning, world changing and, naturally, comedic concept but unless you’re able to communicate it in a coherent form you may as well just tell it to your mate in the pub and leave it there. And even that would require at least some level of coherency. So now you see just how important writing is.
Once we think we have a good idea, we usually brainstorm it further to try and knock out the major story beats that’ll make up the beginning, middle and end of the sketch. This is by far the most enjoyable part of the writing process. It’s as if the solid idea has given us a ticket to ride a particular flight of fancy, and we usually discover all kinds of wondrous comedy gems along the way. In the case of writing a new episode of Sandton Survival Guide, we’re usually happy if we have rough outlines for at least 5 funny scenes based on the original idea, the order of which will help determined the overall narrative. Writing Dr Gert is a different process. His comedy is based on stream-of-consciousness thinking so we just start with the idea and see where it/he takes us in real time.
There’s no rule regarding how long the first draft should take, but for a five minute sketch we think that more than 20 hours of actual writing time is pushing it. The first draft is always the hardest, made easier if our rough outline already has a semblance of good structure. Writing the first draft is the first real moment of focussed distillation and synergy of all the ideas that have been thrown on the table thus far. If at least 50% of the ideas make it in to the first draft then we’re off to a good start.
The second draft is usually only attempted after 3 days of completing the first, to give us the time off we need to approach the script with fresh eyes and a different mindset. Usually that mindset is one of ‘So this writer thinks he’s funny- We’ll see about that!’ Sometimes it’s just ‘What a shit day I’ve had. This had better f**king cheer me up.’ Or even ‘Comedy is f**ken pointless!’ We need to be ruthless, and we are. The online audiences’ attention span seems to get shorter every week (editor’s note: this is actually NOT a good thing for the human race- should we tell someone about this?) and there are no second chances if the sketch labours or misses its mark. There have been a few occasions where the ruthless editors we become for the second draft have actually rejected an entire first draft, in which case it’s back to the drawing board, and our writer selves begin again feeling a little dejected and less confident. (Yeah, we already have fully-developed fictitious characters in our heads and we haven’t even started acting yet.)
Every Safferland script that makes it to the shoot has been through an average of 4 drafts. I think our record is 8 drafts on a Dr Gert script. The actor who plays Dr Gert, Jose Domingos, is a talented writer himself, and in this case just wasn’t feeling that we’d cracked the right balance between comedy, story and actually- relevance. So yeah, pretty much everything. Some scripts just take longer to write than others. I think that’s as scientific about it as we can get.