You wrote a script! That’s great news and a big deal.
The bad news is: you’re just getting started. There is so much more work to do now. After all, “writing is rewriting”. Every writer knows that. Unfortunately not everyone knows how important to the screenwriting process the second draft really is. It’s a lot more than just the draft between your first and your final draft. It’s your first step towards a journey that may or may not end. Did you hear about the guy who took over 8 years just to get his script to the final draft stage? I’m sure your script won’t take you that long to finish but if it’s starting to feel that way here are a few tips from a few experts.
Step 1. Mental Space
“When you’ve finished your first draft put it away in a drawer. Don’t look at it. Don’t look at it. Not once. The aim is to get your imagination out of it back to a neutral place so that you can have a fresh set of eyes. Wait one month. Wait another two weeks. [That’s] six weeks in all. Use the time to start working on your next project.”
Step 2. Set a Deadline
“A reasonable one. Not too tight, but not so far out that it’s meaningless. Tomorrow is too soon, and 2038 is probably when we’ll all be dead from GLOBAL HEAT DEATH, so, give yourself a proper window. I don’t know you, but for me, it’s a month, maybe two, maybe three.”
Step 3. The Fresh Read
“Make sure you’ve got an hour in which you won’t be interrupted. The ability to go right through the script in one go at this point is vital, so do try to find the single block of time. Get the script out of the drawer. Sit in a comfortable chair, make sure you can’t be disturbed, and read it through, armed with a red pen. Slash across the page, or star in the margin, every time you see something you don’t like – but don’t stop to think about it. You’re trying to recreate the experience of a fresh read. If you’ve managed not to look at the script for the six weeks, you will be amazed at what you will find. When you’ve done that, go back through, and fill out each of the notes with a bit more detail so you don’t forget what you were thinking.”
Step 4. Never rewrite without a goal
“Rather than feeling like you’re trying to juggle a million deadly chainsaws that you simply have to fix in your script all at the same time, you can devote all your focus to the one thing that is most important for the draft you’re working on right now… In early drafts, or early phases of your career, it may be hard to identify what the most important thing to focus on might be, or to separate the many conflicting things you’ve been told to do from the ones that really matter to you. Trust your instincts, or seek out the advice of a mentor you trust.”
Step 5. Turn on Track Changes
“It is very, very helpful to be able to go back through and see how you molested and mutilated your poor first draft. I turn track changes on, but I leave them hidden until I’m done. Also, I make liberal use of comments to myself and any potential editors or readers who might be going along on this cuckoo bananapants journey with me.”
“Entering into a revisions on a second draft, I am both lazy and timid. I pick and fritter and wince. I rarely make any motions right away that would startle the beast — I’m basically doing the equivalent of poking a teddy bear in its soft, round tummy. I don’t just scoop up low-hanging fruit; I look for the rotten stuff on the ground that’s already acting as a buffet for hungry bees.”
Step 7. When in Doubt, Cut it Out
“Many writers make the mistake of thinking that rewriting is primarily about finding that ‘something missing’ in your scene, adding that perfect line of dialogue or discovering that perfect image to take your script to the next level. And it’s true that these are major parts of rewriting. But oftentimes the best (and easiest) rewrites begin not by adding anything at all, but simply by stripping away the stuff that’s obscuring the real heart of the scene… Ask yourself ‘what is this scene really about?’ And then see what happens if you cut away anything that doesn’t work to serve that primary intention.”
“In some ways, this is almost more difficult than the first draft because it represents a lot of grunt work, all the while knowing that there may still be story problems lying in wait. This is where I call upon another writing mantra: ‘The only way out is through.’ If I allow myself to get caught up in the enormity of the process, that can paralyze me. And so I focus on this scene, this page, and even this side of dialogue. Once I start the actual page-writing part of the rewrite, it typically takes around 4-6 weeks to get to FADE OUT. Obviously, that can vary, but I want to make sure to take enough time to iron out the big story problems.
Step 9. Request Feedback
The second draft is the draft you want to send out to your trusted readers. I recommend at least three types of readers: Onefellow screenwriter, one filmmaker (preferably someone who has some production experience), and one friend or family member who just likes to watch films and has nothing to do with the industry. These readers represent the three different viewpoints you want covered in your film.
a) Writing: Your fellow screenwriter friend will be able to point out errors in structure, character development, plot holes, dialogue, etc.
b) Production value and feasibility: Your filmmaker friend will read your script and tell you if this scene or that can even be done. If you’re a writer/director type, this is very important feedback. You need to know how big a budget you’re gonna need.
c) Audience and Marketability: Your movie-goer friend will tell you whether or not your film has an audience. Possibly even what type of audience. I know you think you know who you want your audience to be, but often times you’ll find that once the script is out of your head it can cater to a completely different one you never would have expected.
Step 10. Take Time Off… Again
“Once I finish the second draft, I like to take off a few days. Probably a good idea to try to stretch it to a week to get some distance from the material, but typically I’m pretty excited about getting to my favorite part of the process: the third draft.”
Now that you have a better idea of how to start the rewriting process, it’s time to get to work. Try not to take any shortcuts. But mostly, have fun doing it. Because if your passion is filmmaking, why shouldn’t it be?