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.