The 5 Steps to Rewriting

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by Elliot Grove


Retweet ThisAn extract from his book Raindance Writers' Lab: Write + Sell the Hot Screenplay. Focal Press 2008

Just as writing your screenplay requires a method plus creative thought, so too does the task of marketing your screenplay. Try to market your screenplay without a plan, and plan to be confused.   So see if you can follow the marketing plan.

Preparation

There are two things that writers hate – writers hate writing and writers really hate selling.

Unless you master the art of selling, you will never be a professional
screenwriter – no one will pay you for your work. And selling your work need not be a painful and dreaded experience. In fact, it can be a lot of fun, if you have a plan of attack.

These next chapters are designed to help writers who hate selling, sell their script. But you have to follow my little system. Let’s assume you have finished your script and are asking ‘Now what?’

1. Let it rest

Raindance Writters Lab Put your screenplay aside for at least two weeks. I like to let mine rest for a month. You want to leave it long enough so you forget it – so it seems fresh when you see it again.

Perhaps you will start working on your next project, or simply try to catch up on seeing as many films as you can. This is a sweet moment. You have actually written your screenplay. You still don’t want to show it to anyone, but at least you can announce that you are finished.

If you have done your homework and made a detailed plan, your first draft will be built on a solid foundation. Then determine exactly what the theme of the piece is. Make sure all scenes focus toward the theme. Ask yourself if there is a bolder, fresher, quicker way to say the same thing. Cut, cut, cut. Fix the dialogue last.


Hint: Rewriting is a crucial part of the writing process, but is often
approached incorrectly.


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2. Character rewrite


Go through the script with a fine tooth comb and set aside anything that does not directly pertain to the goal of the main character.

When you read the script again, you will be amazed at how much energy it has. Look at your script and see if there is anything new you can add to the script, or perhaps you can retrieve and recycle some of the material you set aside earlier. Maybe that scene you thought was a great set-up to the page forty-five scene would work better as the page seventy-five scene, and so on.

3. Table reading – the dialogue rewrite

When you have got the script as good as you can on your own, try a table reading.

A table reading with actors (from a local theatre group, or acting school) is a great way for your piece to come to life. Actors would not normally expect to be paid, although it is polite to offer some refreshments, or help with transportation costs.

Spend some time and cast the script as close to the characters you had in mind. Then gather everyone around a table and read the piece. You may have the actors read it as a stage play – dialogue only. Or you may have the actors alternate in reading the black stuff as well.

Tape-record the performance. Actors are trained to read dialogue. There may be phrases that just are hard for an actor to say, or others which do not make sense. Often the actors will make suggestions about the phrasing, or question the purpose of a particular line.

Writers experiencing a table reading of their work for the first time marvel at the experience. The sound of actors’ voices helps them visualize their work for the first time, and gives them a huge boost of confidence. It is the first stage in making a screenplay become real.

Make the appropriate notes, and consider them in your next revision.
You are probably so tired of your script now that you might not be able to make it any better. There is probably a little voice inside you nagging away and what you really want to know is what someone else thinks about your script.

Now you are ready for feedback.

4. Your first reader

Make ten copies of your script and give it to nine acquaintances. Tell them to read the script and to scribble down any comments, observations, and even flattery, in the margins. Tell them you want their honest reaction. I always give the tenth script to my mother, because I know she won’t lie.

Your first observation should be in noting how long it takes each person to read and return your screenplay. If they call you back the very next morning and say what a terrific screenplay you have – that is good. They have taken it home that evening, and opened the first page, started to read it and became so absorbed that they couldn’t put it down. And they couldn’t wait to tell you about it.

If you bump into them on the street a few days later and ask them ‘How are you?’ and they say ‘Fine, oh yes, almost forgot to tell you – I started reading your screenplay last night and got about a quarter of the way through.’ That is bad. They have started reading your script and you failed totally to grab their attention.

A good script is always a page-turner and will never take more than forty-five minutes to read.

Once all the scripts and comments are back, tabulate the results of the readers’ comments and see if there are any worthwhile comments you can incorporate into your next revision. If everyone is saying ‘I don’t get it’ – then you must have a fundamental flaw with the storyline. Fix it.

5. Professional reader’s report

Certain individuals and organizations provide a script reading service. The quality of the reports vary, but at least you know that the person who has read your script has read quite a few, and their comments will be measured against other scripts currently in circulation.

Fees for this service are about £100 in the UK and $100- $150 in the US. Expect to get four to five pages of written notes on plot, structure, characterization, dialogue, visual appeal and commercial viability. Experts, such as Michael Hague, Syd Field and John Truby, charge up to $5,000 to read your screenplay. You are buying their considerable experience when you pay this kind of money, and personally, knowing Michael and John as I do, would save the cost of this level of critique for the production company to bear.

Again, incorporate the appropriate comments into your next revision.

At the point, when you feel you are satisfied with the script, you are
ready to start the direct marketing of this script.

And don’t forget! The day after you finish your first script is the day that you start working on your second. Your second script will be much easier, because you will have a system to follow. You are learning how to run your screenwriting business.


Hint If you were a reader for Miramax and read my script and thought it was good, would you recommend it? What would make you recommend a script? If I were reading for Miramax, I would only recommend a script if I thought it made me look good – because I would be looking for a promotion. Thus I would never recommend a good script. I would only recommend a great screenplay – I want to be known as the reader who recommended the next Chinatown or the next Crying Game.

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About The Author


Elliot GroveElliot Grove founded Raindance Film Festival in 1993, the British Independent Film Awards in 1998, and Raindance.TV in 2007.

He has produced over 150 short films, and 5 feature films. He has written eight scripts, one of which is currently in pre-production. His first feature film, TABLE 5 was shot on 35mm and completed for a total of £278.38. He teaches writers and producers in the UK, Europe. Japan and America.

He has written three books which have become industry standards: RAINDANCE WRITERS LAB 2nd Edition (Focal Press 2008),  RAINDANCE PRODUCERS LAB (Focal Press 2004) and 130 PROJECTS TO GET YOU INTO FILMMAKING (Barrons 2009). His first novel THE BANDIT QUEEN is scheduled for publication in 2011.

Open University awarded Elliot and Honourary Doctorate for services to film education in 2009.

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Screenplay Steps To Rewriting

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