You just typed “FADE OUT – THE END”… now what?

January 15, 2015 § 2 Comments

completing a scriptThere is no better creative high than when you finish your screenplay. The moment you type “FADE OUT—THE END” it starts a new journey of notes, criticism and rewrites. Embrace it all because it’s part of the long haul screenwriting journey. First on your list, print a copy of your script, put it away and go out and celebrate your victory. We must celebrate the big and little successes along the way, and if you completed a screenplay, you are farther along on the journey than most writers because you’ve actually completed a screenplay.

I find far too many “screenwriters” talk about their writing, and how great their latest screenplay is coming along, and the excruciating minutia of the process—all as they procrastinate from the actual writing. When you come into contact with these types, it certainly sounds like they are writing, but when you check in a few months later, they’ll still boast to you, “I’m on page 30.” You pause for a beat and quickly remember they mentioned the same thing to you three months ago. Talking about writing certainly doesn’t get the job done. It’s not magic that fills the blank pages—it’s a passion for the craft, followed by an ass in a seat, staring at a screen, using the discipline and techniques to churn out pages.

When you finish the work, as productive screenwriters, we always need to celebrate our accomplishments with regards to work actually produced with words on a page. Under no circumstances do you give your first draft to anyone for a read—even if they beg you— and certainly not to any producer or Hollywood industry type. You and the material are too fragile and you need to digest what you’ve written without any outside criticism. This is the precious time needed between a screenwriter and his or her script to form an opinion. What you thought was genius will be crap and what you thought was crap will be genius.

After a week, take the script out from the drawer and go read it alone somewhere using my “20 Steps to use after you type FADE OUT—THE END. I prefer my local coffee-house with a nice large cup of java. Read it through once just to see if the entire script flows. You will find that it’s different from you might have remembered while you were actually writing it. Time away from a script allows you to redefine the story in your head and upon your first read, you will immediately notice things that work or do not work.

script pageNext, take a pen and read through again making your notes. I always find a million small changes to the wording of a scene and the dialogue. Once you’re done, go back to your computer and make the chances into your second draft. Now, if you feel confident about it, take this draft and give it to those people you trust to give a read. I am lucky to have a small circle of fellow writers whom I trust and we always send our latest scripts back and forth to each other for notes. I trust them to give me constructive criticism that will help in my next draft. We’re lucky to share a special esprit de corps in our ranks, each member rooting for the other and striving to make each other better writers.

Writers are known for trying to get away with easy or lazy writing and fellow writers will always bust you if you’ve tried the easy way out in your script. These notes are invaluable as they are coming from a story point of view and not from a producer’s point of view. My fellow writers let me know if my project is effective for what I was trying to do, not give me notes on the way “they would have written it.” There’s a big difference. I only want notes at this stage to tell me if I was successful in my attempt at telling my particular story. I don’t want notes to tell me how to change it to be another story. Those type of notes will surely come from a producer in due time.

Once I have my writer’s circle notes, I head back to do yet another pass and hopefully the script is pretty solid at this point so it’s just a true polish and not a complete rewrite. Now, I’m talking about my spec (speculation) scripts with regards to my choice to receive my writer’s circle notes. If I am working on my script assignments for producers, the only notes I care about during that process are the ones the producer (my boss) has to give me. On an assignment job, I’m hired to write the script the producer wants, and the producer’s notes are the only ones that matter because he or she is dealing with the investors or the network who have their requirements too. As writers, we definitely want to please our bosses the producers who have hired us and believe that we are the right person for the job.

A reader of my blog, screenwriter/filmmaker Claire Duffy (@chilldivine) from Sweden (her blog: www.watchovermemovie.com) shared with me some great advice, she’s been finding lately that actors are an under utilized resource for feedback. Just as with writer friends they have to be picked carefully, but a lot her actor friends are auditioning constantly and so regularly reading soon-to-be-produced scripts. This can be useful to get their take on how your latest spec measures up. Great idea, Claire.

If your script is at a stage where you feel confident in giving it to a professional to read, don’t ever call them a week later and say you have a “new draft” and that you hope they didn’t read the copy you gave them. If a professional gives you their time, respect it by giving them the best possible version of the script that you have. If your script is not ready, that’s okay.  Take the time to get it to a place where you are completely confident with your writing and choices, and then set it free and let the chips fall as they may. Never send out a script that isn’t the best possible draft for it will harm your ability to get others to read your next script if you cut corners on this one.

You’ll always need to make sure the script you send out is the best possible draft, as you only get one chance to make the right impression with your writing. If you need to feel more confident about your script, it’s a good idea to seek the safety of professional feedback and analysis before you unleash it upon Hollywood. It might be a good idea to invest in hiring a script consultant. Either way, only send out your best work because you and your script live or die by what’s on the page.

Keep filling your blank pages because if you stop you’ll never have any shot at success.

Scriptcat out!

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 “…Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing and desire—desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer?  Am I an artist?” Chances are you are.  The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”—Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

“Deliberate practice, by its nature, must be hard. When you want to get good at something, how you spend your time practicing is far more important than the amount of time you spend. Regular practice simply isn’t enough. To improve, we must watch ourselves fail, and learn from our mistakes.”—Florida State University’s Anders Ericsson

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”—Ray Bradbury

“People really are afraid to find out just how much hardship and poverty they can stand. They are afraid to find out how tough they are. Nothing can destroy the good writer. The only thing that can alter the good writer is death. Good ones don’t have time to bother with success or getting rich.”—William Faulkner

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§ 2 Responses to You just typed “FADE OUT – THE END”… now what?

  • Claire says:

    Really useful, thank you! Though you left out the all important “done dance” – the details of which are down to each writer, but must be performed upon typing Fade Out 😉

    Also, I’ve been finding lately that actors are an under-utilised resource for feedback. Just as with writer friends they have to be picked carefully, but a lot of my actor friends are auditioning constantly and so regularly reading soon-to-be-produced scripts – it can be useful to get their take on how my latest spec measures up.

    • scriptcat says:

      Thank you, Claire for the kind words. Yes, the “done dance” or the “Done bottle of scotch” – ooop! Yes, that’s a terrific point about using actors as a source of feedback. I don’t have that luxury in my screenplay assignments as the actors only come when they’re hired by the producer/director, but yes, actors who are on the front lines, in the trenches, can be invaluable. I will add that to the mix and thanks for sharing that tidbit.

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