Rewrites

I always try to do my rewrites in the outlining phase of the creative process.  When you start rewriting the actual script something happens that I call a cascade. What I mean by cascade is that one change on page 62 can cause a ton of issues that need rewrites before and after. Most of my rewrites on the actual script are dialogue and word selections. If I need to change a plot point I generally find that I end up rewriting the entire script. That isn’t a rewrite that is a do-over. I know a lot of writers work that way but most writers don’t like to outline and do pre-plotting.

A great script is a puzzle. Each piece fits into a specific spot you can’t connect the piece into the right spot if you don’t have the story outlined.  This is why I love the one page summary. The longline. The beat sheet. And most of all the index cards of 40 scenes. You can easily rewrite those elements. Then I put together a treatment. My treatment is usually 40 paragraphs one per scene. Each paragraph has a beginning middle and an end. I rewrite that treatment. Lots of times it ends up being about 8 pages long. It’s a lot easier to rewrite 8 pages than it is to rewrite a 120 page script.

The other thing about my treatment being one scene per paragraph is that it’s easy to find the scene I want to rewrite in the treatment. It’s easy to isolate plot issues. It’s easier to isolate hero’s journey issues.

If I feel like there is an aspect of the story that I’m not clear on. Not clear as in I can’t visualize the entire scene in my mind I have a solution. I sit down and come up with 20 elements that could happen or details about that scene. I might not use any of them. It might just be a prop or one line. It might be a shot. If the characters are fighting do they get in each others face or do they stand in opposite ends of a room in the door way, already three steps emotionally out the door. What is the purpose of the scene. How does the scene move the story forward? What does the scene tell us about the characters. How do the events or actions in the scene enlighten us to the characters motivations, wants and needs? If you have these elements all figured out in that one paragraph. And you have done it for all 40 scenes in your movie then when you start writing the script. You won’t need to do heavy rewrites.

When I write a script if I have done the outlining process properly. I write about 5 pages per hour. This means that a 100 page movie script will take me no more than 20 hours to complete. That is half a week’s work. In fact it’s possible to do it in one day. One really long day. I have done it before. Imagine being able to crank out a first draft of your feature movie script in one day.  I wouldn’t want anyone to read that version. There will be numerous typos. The dialogue might be clunky at some places. But I did it. I like to pat myself on the back. Many people dream of writing a movie script and fewer people even start but don’t finish writing a movie script. I have done it in one day.

I was only able to write a script in one day because I did my home work. I sat down everyday for one hour. Usually not more than an hour. I have ADD so I waste too much time if I go longer. I don’t get on social media. I don’t take phone calls. I usually sit in the corner of the awful coffee shop across the street from my house. I hate the place. The coffee is worst than starbucks and there are flies. But I go in there everyday for one hour. Have my cup of coffee and I don’t do anything but visit with my story. I usually start by looking at yesterdays notes. Than I’ll look at my log line. Did yesterdays new stuff affect the longline. Sometimes I’ll rewrite the longline. Generally I’ll have a list of 20 versions of the log line by the end of the outlining process. It’s a tool to stay on message. Stay focused one what the story is supposed to be about. It’s also your most powerful marketing weapon. The director will us it when casting the actors. The producer will use it to convince the crew to sign on to the project and for investors to invest. It’s the key element of the pitch. But most importantly the log line is for the writer to stay focused on what the story is about. A good log line implies the theme. It implies the audience. It implies the genre and budget.

I revisit the log line almost daily. At the very least three times a week. This implies that I am spending one hour per day writing. I visit the log line after I write the beat sheet. After the treatment, and one page summary. I revisit the beat sheet between rewrites. I use it sometimes to figure out the intensity of a scene when I’m brain storming. The scene outline should overlap perfectly with your beat sheet. I know a lot of writers feel like they are doing add libs by using a beat sheet but I disagree. There is a certain way humans digest story. Those beats are essential to getting the story right. You can struggle with a script and do a million rewrites and still feel like something is off or you can start with a beat sheet from the beginning. I went back and looked at a script I wrote before Blake published his book Save the Cat. Guess what? I had all the beats in that script. I remember struggling with that script for a year until I felt it was right. A few years ago I even went back to it and tried to do a rewrite. I wanted to make it more current. It was ten years old. And guess what the changes I made had nothing to do with the beat sheet. I took out some of the subplots and expanded the main themes a little and added a little more pace to the story. Then I liked it so much I submitted it to Sun Dance. Didn’t get accepted. But they never read the entire story. The strength of the story was the plot and how it progressed. Well the concept was great also. Or it’s still great. The point I want to make is that those beats existed then. They existed during the rewrite. And that was before a beat sheet was ever talked about. Those beats are universal.

Start your rewriting from the first time you put a beat sheet together. I usually have ten versions of my beat sheet by the time I’m finished with a script. Note I use the 20 beat version so I have a few extra beats for the third act. Not just a conclusion and closing image. Opening and closing images are the least useful but it does help the creative process to get you thinking about theme from the beginning.

How long does a rewrite take? Think about it like this. If a movie script is 40 scenes. and each day you rewrite one scene. That alone would take you over a month of rewrites. How long does it take to write the treatment? How long does it take to rewrite the beat sheet 10x?

One thing I don’t do a lot of is rewriting character bios. I let character bios be fluid. These change as the scenes are created so the heroes journey fits into places. I would rewrite the stages of the journey before the actual bios. Bios are just brain storming tools for me.

I also like to brain storm lists of possible things than can happen. If I ever sit down and get writers block I stop. I make a list of possible things that can happen. A list that I define as 20 items. That would be my session. Just 20 possible things that could happen or have happened before or after my story. I never go back and rewrite the brain storm lists. I create numerous lists. These are not bible elements of the story but brain storming ideas. Some get used some do not. Some ideas just fit in to the puzzle.

Hopefully this blog post helps give you some ideas of how to do rewrites. Don’t rewrite the script. Rewrite before you start the script. Rewrite the outline. Rewrite the beat sheet. Rewrite the log line. Rewrite the hero journey. Rewrite your treatment (AKA scene outline) Once that is done. Rewrite again. Once I get my treatment in a way I’m happy with it. I get three friends to read it and give me feedback. It’s a lot easier to get someone to read 8 pages than a full screen play. Then while I wait for them to get back to me on feedback. I rewrite the treatment three more times. Then if the feedback brings up issues I didn’t see, I’ll do more rewrites. And that means I’ll revisit the longline, beat sheet and one page summary. Rewrite those elements and then go back and rewrite the treatment. This is all before and pages of the script have been done.

I think now you can see how possible it is to actually write a feature film script in one day. The story has to already be done before you ever type EXT. or INT.

One Page Summary

I started doing this when I submitted a script to the Sun Dance Writers Lab. One of their requirements was to submit a one page treatment of the story under 500 words. I noticed that it helps if you do this right before you actually start writing the script. Just like a log line it’s nice to have an overview of what the story is. At the point in the creative process that I have a beginning middle and end this is something that I start working with.

I actually like to do this a few times. It’s only one page so it doesn’t take long. I always rewrite it after I come up with the scene list and at the end after the first draft is done. I find that it helps iron out what the rewrites should focus on. It also helps me iron out the beet sheet a little better. If you write a one page summary of the movie you can tell if you got the beat sheet right or not.

This is also a very useful tool to have. If someone likes your log line then you have a one page write up that they can read. Most people don’t want to invest more time or will never get around to reading an entire script even if they intend to life happens. People are busy. Respect their time. Give them a one page treatment that outlines out your complete story from beginning to end.

Here is the format I always use. Give it a try. I think it’s a very helpful tool.


How To Write A 1-Page Synopsis

1. Opening image

An image/setting/concept that sets the stage for the story to come.

Long ago, in a galaxy far away, a controlling government called the Empire takes control of planets, systems, and people. Anyone who resists is obliterated.

2. Protagonist Intro

Who is the main character? Give 1-2 descriptive words and say what he/she wants.

Luke Skywalker, a naïve farm boy with a knack for robotics, dreams of one day escaping his desert homeland.

3. Inciting incident

What event/decision/change prompts the main character to take initial action.

When he buys two robots, he finds one has a message on it—a message from a princess begging for help. She has plans to defeat the Empire, and she begs someone to deliver these plans to a distant planet. Luke goes to his friend and mentor, the loner Ben Kenobi, for help.

4. Plot point 1

What is the first turning point? What action does the MC take or what decision does he/she make that changes the book’s direction? Once he/she crossed this line, there’s no going back.

Ben tells Luke about a world where the Empire rules and Rebels fight back, where Jedi Knights wield a magic called the Force, and how Luke must face Darth Vader – the man who killed Luke’s father and now seeks to destroy Luke too. Luke refuses, but when he goes back to his farm, he finds his family has been killed. He has no choice but to join Ben.

5. Conflicts & character encounters

Now in a new life, the MC meets new people, experiences a new life, and meets the antagonist/villain.

To escape the desert planet, Ben and Luke hire a low-life pilot and the pilot’s hairy, alien friend. Luke, Ben, Luke’s robots, the pilot, and the hairy friend leave the planet and fly to the Death Star, Darth Vader’s home and the Empire’s main base.

6. Midpoint

What is the middle turning point? What happens that causes the MC to make a 180 degree change in direction/change in emotion/change in anything? Again, once he/she has crossed this line, there’s no going back.

Once on board the Death Star, Luke discovers the princess is being held as a hostage. He and the group set out to find the princess, while Ben sets out to find a way for them to escape the base.

7. Winning seems imminent, but…

What happens that makes the MC think he/she will win? She seems to have the upper hand, but then oh no! The antagonist defeats her and rushes off more powerful than ever before.

After rescuing the princess, Luke and the group try to escape. Ben sacrifices himself so they can flee, and Darth Vader kills Ben. The group flees the Death Star on their own ship.

8. Black moment

The MC is lower than low, and he/she must fight through the blackness of his/her emotions to find the strength for the final battle. What happens here?

Luke is devastated over Ben’s death, and he is more determined to fight Darth Vader and help the Rebels defeat the Empire. Luke joins the Rebel army, and helps them plan an attack on the Death Star’s only weakness.

9. Climax

What happens in the final blow-out between the MC and the antagonist?

The Death Star arrives in space near the Rebels, and the attack begins. Luke joins the assault team of fighter ships. The Rebels suffer heavy losses, and soon Luke is one of the few remaining pilots and ships. He takes his chance and initiates the final attack. Guided by Ben’s voice and the Force, he manages to fire the single, critical shot to explode the Death Star.

10. Resolution

Does everyone live happily ever after? Yes? No? What happens to tie up all the loose ends?

With the Death Star destroyed and the Empire severely damaged, the Rebels hold a grand ceremony to honor Luke and his friends. The princess awards them with medals for heroism.

11. Final image

What is the final image you want to leave your reader with? Has the MC succumbed to his/her own demons or has he/she built a new life?

Though Luke is still sad over the loss of Ben and his family, he has found a place among the Rebels, and with them, he will continue to fight the Empire.

How To Start Writing Your Movie Script

The first thing I always do when I have a concept I want to write is start with the ending. If I don’t have a great ending then there isn’t a story there. If I don’t know where I’m going I don’t know how to compose a road map to get there.

Why You Need A Great Ending

Let me explain the road map in more detail. Every plot point and scene in your story should more you closer to that ending. You do this be either enlightening the audience to the characters and their journey AKA motivations or you move the plot forward. If a scene doesn’t do that then it’s doesn’t sure a purpose and should be eliminated.

Once you have that great ending then you need a beginning. There is a ton of information on writing the first 10 pages. I like to keep the idea of Indiana Jone in mind. Think about the first sequence in Raiders of the Lost Arc. That mini adventure told you everything you need to know about the story. It was Indiana in his ordinary world as an adventurer and archeologist in the field. That’s a great introduction. Usually on about page fifteen something very important happens. This is one of the plot points you want to start with. They call this the inciting incident. This is the plot point that starts the story or puts it in motion. It happens usually midway into the first act.

The next important plot point is the middle. This is important because something happens that changes the reality that our characters know and they face new conflict.The second act is twice as long as the other acts and notoriously tough to write. In the words of Syd Field “An important scene in the middle of the script, often a reversal of fortune or revelation that changes the direction of the story.” Field suggests that driving the story towards the Midpoint keeps the second act from sagging. Blake Snyder of Save The Cat Fame says this is the key to cracking any story. He recommends raising the stakes at this point or installing a time clock. Oh yes the great ticking time bomb that Alfred Hitchcock talks about. See how all this stuff fits together.

MIDPONT

Let’s look at a great example of a midpoint from one of my favorite science fiction stories. I know mostly panned by reviewers but I love it and it did make over $300 million in the box office. Passengers the story of getting trapped on a deserted space ship for the rest of ones life. Think Roberson Crusoe but you are never going to leave this island. You woke up too early and you can’t go back to hibernation to survive the journey. Great movie with Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt. The midpoint of this story is when it is revealed that Chris Pratt woke her up because he was lonely. She will never forgive him for taking away her dream of being the first journalist to document humanities life on a new world. See how that raises the stakes and changes the reality that our character thought they knew. It moves the story in a new direction. IT’s a major revelation that changes the direction of the story.

LOG LINE

So now that you have a beginning middle and an end. You want to lock down the concept. I  do this by coming up with a log line. This is one or two sentences that tell you what the story is about. This is the elevator pitch. You want to get it out before the door closes on the elevator and you need to capture someones interest so they stick their foot in the door, wanting more. You want them to say give me the pitch. Normally I revisit the log line a few times during development. I start by writing ten versions of the log line. Tweaking a word here or there until I get one I really like.

According to Blake Snyder a logline needs to do three things.

  1. Irony – antagonist sets out to do something until confronted with X. This sets up the conflict of the story.
  2. Audience – the longline should give a clear picture of who the story is for and what kind of budget the film would require
  3. Promise – a longline tells the entire story and promises big things in the story. Promise lots of valuable entertainment

A GREAT TITLE

The the other thing you need to do is have an amazing Title. The title should be built into the concept and say a lot about what the story is about.  Star Wars is a war in the stars. Or passengers is about getting trapped as a passenger on a 200 year voyage. Or Pretty Women is about a hooker that finds her soul mate. I include that one because the title itself implies irony. Let’s look at a great low budget indie film that won Sundance. Fruitville station. That is the story of a police shooting that took place in Fruitville station.

Introduction

I have been an amateur writer of movie scripts for over a decade. When I was a freshmen in college I entered as an engineering major. It was aerospace to be exact. After going to each class once I realized I was in over my head. I got back to the dorm stressed and tired from lugging around a hundred pounds of books all day. I turned around and went right to the book store and returned all the books. Then I marched over to make an appointment with an advisor. I explained that I picked a major because I loved star trek. But let’s be honest. Space travel was never going to exist like that in my life time. What I had a passion for was the film industry. The university didn’t have a film program so I was encouraged to major in business because we all know the film industry is one of the few multibillion dollar businesses that doesn’t get any government assistance. Technically that’s not true at least not anymore. Lots of cities offer tax incentives to encourage film production in their city. After college I started taking any courses I could find on the movie business. I should have probably transferred to a school with a film program. I went through the hollywood film institute, I took weekend courses on movie script writing at UCLA and one in Sedona. I read books and I started writing. Dov convinced me at the hollywood film institute that you needed a story and you needed to make it great.

I moved to Hollywood. And got a job on a film production. Then we setup shop in Santa Monica. We got a listing in the Hollywood 411 and a few letters of reference which allowed us to place ads in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter looking for scripts to produce. We had a stack of scripts that went from the floor to the ceiling and we read them all. Out of that we found three that we thought might work. We wanted a small production that told a great story. Needless to say none of those three ever got made. We tried to option them but the writers had outrageous requests to make a deal. So I started writing my own stuff. Two of them I even attempted to film. I learned a lot along the way and I want to share it with you.