‘Writing a Masterpiece’ — My Experience Rewriting AIRPLANE! (pt. 1)

A WEEKEND PROJECT

As per usual, I was perusing Reddit this past week when I had a moment of inspiration. I’ve mentioned before the story (perhaps apocryphal) that Hunter S. Thompson rewrote the entirety of Great Gatsby, word for word, just to see what it felt like to write a masterpiece. When someone on Reddit mentioned doing the same for a screenplay, the idea stuck with me, and I turned it into my weekend project.

It ended up taking much, much longer.

Jammin’ in the AIRPLANE! cockpit

THE BEST SCRIPT EVER

As an aspiring comedy writer (which should be obvious since it’s plastered on top of every page of this blog), I went to my repository of favorite comedy scripts — AIRPLANE! was at the top of the list. I wasn’t able to find a pdf of the script, but I was able to find a copy entirely in HTML, which you can find here.

So now my mission was twofold — I would rewrite the script so that I could get the experience of crafting a masterpiece, as well as so I could have a nice, neat, clean, shareable PDF of the AIRPLANE! script, something I couldn’t find anywhere online.

But holy shit, is this a process.

HUNKER DOWN

Thus far I’ve put in about five hours of retyping effort, and have only made it through 30 of the 75 pages of the Zucker, Abrahams, and Zucker script. One interesting note is that formatting was a tad different when it was written back in ’79, such as dialogue being given more page space per line. My retype of the script is at page 44, which means the final script will probably clock in at around ~110 pages.

WHAT I’VE LEARNED

A couple of things have jumped out at me.

  1. You’re really forced to examine the structural minutiae of the script. I know I spend a lot of my time worrying at the macro level, so it’s enlightening to notice exactly how ZAZ structured their interesting visual gags, or how often they cut away to show the exterior of the plane for emphasis.
  2. Everything is less sexy than in the movie. This one may seem minor, but it was big to me. The final product of AIRPLANE! is so hilarious, both linguistically and visually, but a lot of that doesn’t come through in the script. The dialogue is funny, yes, but the iconic delivery is what gave it such staying power. The visual gags in particular are harder to translate. This sort of thing works much better for writer/directors, who don’t need to translate their ideas as fully onto the script, since their vision is the final product anyhoo.

  3. I don’t feel much different…yet. As something to fill the time and feel productive, I’ve found this to be a good exercise, but as of yet I haven’t noticed any drastic change. I expect — like with most things — that doing something like this enough will basically result in creative osmosis that will start manifesting once you’re writing.

THE REST OF THE FLIGHT

I’ll keep updating as I continue to soldier through the script re-type. Hopefully I come across some more nuggets of wisdom to share. Worst case scenario, I’ll have hit a cool milestone, as well as have a PDF copy of AIRPLANE! that I’ll upload on here.

What script would you re-write?

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