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The right kind of rewriting

Some years ago, I listened to a talk on screenwriting given by the British screenwriter and novelist Frank Cottrell Boyce at the British Film Institute on London’s South Bank.

Frank said that for him, a first draft of a script is just a way to fill 90 pages. No more. Virtual ink on FD pages. For him, in rewriting that first draft script, the screenwriting then begins.

John Truby explains the pitfalls of this approach - for mere mortals - in this video:

In this video, Truby talks about the concretion of a first draft screenplay in the screenwriter’s head. This concretion - or solidifying - prevents the screenwriter performing an effective script rewrite. Truby observes that often, the second draft of the screenplay is actually worse than the first draft. I have experienced exactly this when I have been hired to cover (write a script report of) a resubmitted film script. It was remarkable just how much worse the script had become.

When I’m hired to write a film or TV screenplay, my intention is that the first draft of the script will be ready for production. That’s my goal. I get near it. Usually I’ll go back a week or two later and tweak. That’s about it. My rewriting process is built into my first draft. Only a huge amount of practise of screenwriting and script consulting can make this possible.

I have been deeply enriched as a film screenwriter by writing over 150 script reports. I have learnt a lot. And I mean a lot. Working as a script consultant enables a film or TV screenwriter to take the best of a various scripts, and accrete them into a screenwriting style and technique in the brain. These insights are then put into practice when writing a screenplay.

What Truby is saying when he says that most screenwriters can’t rewrite their scripts is that their subjectivity is lost. They need the objectivity of fresh eyes. This objectivity is gold dust. That’s why you hire a script consultant to cover your first draft – and perhaps rewrite it. You – the original screenwriter – will be enriched by the script consultant’s objectivity. It’s a win-win. That’s why it’s so remarkable that so many screenplays lose.

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