FADE OUT. THE END. Now the real work begins…

August 30, 2011 § 4 Comments

It’s work anyway you look at it. You just typed FADE OUT.  THE END.  If you are typing these familiar words — congratulations, Grasshopper!  There’s never a better feeling for a screenwriter.  Well, maybe it ranks in the top three of feelings after 1) being paid to write a script, 2) having your script produced, and  3) having your film distributed.  I recently stepped up to my 26th time at the plate and I have a good feeling about this latest script.  Now is the time for my first read through and then my polish.  Sometimes the beginning is not as strong as the middle or end because by the time you leap over the half way point, you’ve spent more time with your characters and the story.  Armed with a jumbo cup of coffee and a black pen, I scour the screenplay for punctuation mistakes, typos, widow words and format issues.  Every period and space is important to me as I want the script visually perfect.  It must “read” and read well.  I then make a second pass and analyze the story and see if the motivations track for the characters.  Do I have false beats?  Did I force events to happen because I needed to follow the story?  Does it feel organic and natural?  A first draft is just the beginning and now the real work begins.

I was recently a guest speaker at a high school filmmaking class and told them producers can look at the cover page of your script and know if you are a professional or if it’s just “amateur hour.”  I tried to convey how important it is to have respect for any of the crafts they want to pursue.  A good friend and fellow writer used to make elaborate cover pages for his scripts with colored card stock, 72 point type, and graphics or logos.  The cover page resembled a Broadway show marquee.  His scripts were also far north of 150 pages and I’d joke they were “the size of the Los Angeles city phone book.”  I can only imagine the producer’s face at the sight of this mammoth tome and how quickly it ended up as a doorstop or in the recycle bin of broken dreams.

I’m all about format and the way a script reads.  Flowery language will not get your script sold, but solid storytelling and staying out-of-the-way of the story will.  Less is more on a page.  The fewer words to tell the story the better.  Every word  needs to move your story forward.  We all fall in love with our words and the key is to stay removed.  I once read a quote from a famous writer who said, “consider if someone gave you a hundred dollars for every word that you cut out of your script.”  Makes you think, right?

Producers like to see script pages mostly white, as they don’t like to read.  Whenever people tell me that I laugh and think, “how can people in a business of words not like to read?”  I understand it now.  They just don’t like to read crap and scripts that are not in proper format or peppered with typos. The lazy writer is being disrespectful of the reader’s time.  We all have a limited amount of time in this mortal coil and on my deathbed, I don’t want to regret those precious hours spent reading some half-baked nonsense where the writer didn’t have the decency or respect to at least have the script in proper format.

Do not let your script out of your hands until it’s ready.  Read that again and burn it into your mind.  Trust me, I’ve been in situations where someone is eager to read my material and their interest alone motivates me to hand it over before its time.  Take a deep breath, center your mind and have patience.   You’ll get one shot and you will ruin your chances if you send out a script that is not completely ready.  How do you know when it is ready?

Here’s how: Put your script away for a week and read it again.  There’s a romantic feeling to finishing a script and it often sweeps unsuspecting writers into falling in love with every word.  Allowing the script to settle and giving yourself time away brings a fresh perspective.  Also find people you trust and let them read it.  Not friends or your mother who may have never read a script, but fellow screenwriters.  I am lucky to have a small core group of fellow screenwriters whom I trust and we always circulate our latest material to each other for feedback.  You’ll know when your script is ready when “you’re written out” and you feel that you can’t possibly make it better.  Then it’s time to let the material stand on its own without excuses.

The worst thing to do is to ask someone to read your script and then half way through you call them and say that you hope they haven’t started because you have a new draft.  It shows a complete disrespect of the reader’s time.  I’ve been the victim of this and it really sours my overall experience with the writer.  It’s a very amateur move and you always want to act like a professional.  Respect other people’s time as it’s precious, especially when they are doing you a favor.  It shows others how seriously you take yourself as a writer and that you are a professional in action and manner.

Okay, back to work.  This is only the first draft and the fun is just beginning.  I’ve worked on some projects where I had to do eight drafts and polishes and some with only two.  One time I received back twelve pages of notes from a production executive.  Ouch!  I never saw that coming because we all agreed on every major beat in the treatment.  You never know what feedback you’ll receive from the producer.  Many times producers want new changes that weren’t in the treatment, but it’s your job to make those changes and press on to get the script to the level of attracting financing and talent.

Keep up the hard work and remember it does pay off.

Scriptcat out!

Did you just complete your latest screenplay? Congrats! Time for in-depth consultation/analysis/editing? Check out my services by clicking on the blue icon below for the link to my website. You never get a second chance to make a first great impression with your script. Make the time to get it right.

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“The professional tackles the project that will make him stretch.  He takes on the assignment that will bear him into uncharted waters, compel him to explore unconscious parts of himself. Is he scared?  Hell, yes.  He’s petrified.” — Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Talent in cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.” —Stephen King

“The professional respects Resistance.  He knows it he caves today, no matter how plausible the pretext, he’ll be twice likely to cave in tomorrow.  The professional knows Resistance is like a telemarketer; if you so much as say hello, you’re finished.  The pro doesn’t even pick up the phone.  He stays at work.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”


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§ 4 Responses to FADE OUT. THE END. Now the real work begins…

  • Hilary says:

    How do you know? I just finished a short (54 page) screenplay today. I see it as a TV play. And I’m all excited and wahey! And then you write this. It isn’t the first time you’ve said exactly what I need to hear when I need to hear it.

    Seriously, thank you for this. Oh, and we watched Silent Venom last night. Liked it very much. Kept us hooked. Thought you’d like to know that.

    • scriptcat says:

      Ah, congrats on your script, HM! That is about the length of an hour episodic show. Thanks for sitting through Silent Venom. It’s not Citizen Kane, but it’s what the producers wanted and that’s my job. I always love to hear that folks get to watch something overseas that I wrote. It just aired here again in the US on SYFY too last week.

  • Hilary says:

    Doesn’t matter if it wasn’t Citizen Kane, it was entertaining. Normally, my son, Steve, watches TV AND plays on his DS. He put his DS down to concentrate on your movie, and that is praise indeed. He wouldn’t do that for Citizen Kane, I can tell you.

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