a pro script reader ponders movies, reading, writing and the occasional personal flashback

Friday, September 08, 2006

It's Usually A Marathon, But Sometimes It's A Sprint

An important thing for all aspiring screenwriters to understand is that good screenwriting doesn't come overnight. There really aren't all that many examples of people who have written (and then sold) a great script off the bat, and usually those stories have some other hook to them; it turns out that the writer had written a bunch of shorts, or cut his teeth on something else.

This business is a marathon. It's not really a business for the "I just wrote my first script, who do I sell it to" people, though lord knows they are out there.

It's about writing, and writing regularly, and learning through writing (and reading, and watching movies).

But sometimes, in the midst of the marathon, there are sprints.

I find myself in a strange place right now. As a Nicholl semifinalist, suddenly I have a little cachet. Aside from my Nicholl script, and my frozen time script, I have a supernatural thriller that I'm polishing up. I have a lot of ammo to go out and get an agent.

Yet oddly, at this very moment, there's this weird lull in my entire life.

My supernatural thriller is out to my most trusted readers, to get notes on, but who knows when those notes will trickle in (nag, nag). My very-low-paid rewrite is still in the hands of the producer, and I'd be perfectly happy not to see that for a while. I was working on a horror script, but as I mentioned in the last post, I'm tired of killing people every 10 pages.

But the Hollywood lull continues. I literally have no paid work to do.

So last weekend, I came up with an idea for a comedy, and I did some early brainstorming with my wife as we drove around the Valley (she even came up with one good story idea for it). Sunday and Monday I jotted down notes, and all week I've been pounding them into a 6-page "Blueprint" (which is a lot messier and less polished than a treatment).

Yesterday, I even went online and did (yes! no!) some actual research.

The result isn't fully realized, but it's coming together. At first, the point of it was just to get all these ideas out of my head and into a rough treatment form, so that at some future date I could pick it up and be able to run with it, or at least have something to pitch.

But then last night -- still with nothing to do workwise, and wanting to keep the whole writing momentum thing going -- I mustered my discipline, sat at my laptop, and knocked out the first 11 pages, in a little over 2 hours.

They're rough, and I've already thought of ways to rework parts of them, though I'm trying to be more of a get-the-first-draft-on-paper guy and less a fiddle-with-the-first-draft-and-get-stuck-in-act-one-forever guy (though both are better than the find-the-story-as-I-go-along guy I used to be).

But it feels good to create; I've been doing much too much rewriting of my own (and others') stuff recently, and just not enough pure creation.

I think my record for pounding out a draft of something is 8 days, though that was a page 1 rewrite, turning my vampire script into a werewolf script; I wound up changing 98% of the stuff in the script, though. The result wasn't great, but it wasn't bad for 8 days.

In terms of pure creation, I think I did the first draft of my frozen time script in just 10 days of actual typing time, though I had completely roughed out the story beforehand, though that itself was a process that occurred shockingly quickly.

But now I'm back in the sprint. I know that soon work is going to come crashing down on me (which is good; we need the money), but until that wave breaks I'm going to pound away at this script as much as I can. And hopefully I'll get myself in a groove where I can continue to devote an hour or two to it at night, every night, and wind up with another script in my arsenal for the big agent hunt.

I'm going back to it now.

For the screenwriters out there, what's the fastest you ever knocked out a first draft?


At 11:55 AM, Blogger Julie O. said...

I have a draft of EROTIC MUSINGS OF AN AMERICAN HOUSEWIFE saved as "The Original 8-day Vomit Draft."

It's aptly named.

Nose-to-the-grindstone gets words on paper, though and it's a foundation to build on. (The strongest foundations, of course, follow a blueprint.)

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Abe Burnett said...

Six days, 181 pages. It was pure shit, but it was done. It was my cherry-popper (first one).

At 12:17 PM, Anonymous Aaron said...

The draft of SLF that you read, Scott, took a month. I thought I was going to beat that record on a new script but I stepped away to direct a short film.

At 12:44 PM, Blogger Cathy Krasnianski said...

I am not a speedy writer. I tend to edit as I go. That said, I once did 22 pages in only two days. I was - needless to say - quite proud of myself.

At 12:52 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I am tallying my own process on my Blog, but I tend to do a lot of planning before writing.

And when I write I average 5 or more pages a day and end up with a draft in under a month. This is on two or three hours of writing time per writing day.

I have yet to try any marathon sessions.

At 12:53 PM, Blogger Thomas Crymes said...

I could have turned your Vampire script into a Werewolf script in no time flat.

Search and Replace "Vampire" with "Werewolf"


Print it out, send it to Producers, and wait for money.

At 1:03 PM, Blogger Chesher Cat said...

11 pages in two hours?

Is that why your script is filled with lines like:

He'll me what's on them go.


I woke up this morning with my keyboard imprinted on my forehead. When I looked at the screen I had 30 pages of:
All work and no play makes Chesher Cat a dull girl.

But don't worry...last week I locked up all my axes. Hmmm, if I could only remember where I hid the key.

At 1:26 PM, Blogger Brett said...

In college, I pretty much wrote an entire comedy in 12 days.

It stunk (the gags were funny, the story was garbage), but it was fun to just run naked at speed through the grass of creation.

Meanwhile and anywhooooo... I decided to do a weird thing this past week and set aside the rom-com (which I am STILL working on and will finish ASAP) in order to give some attention to an idea that had been sorta sitting on its hands in teh back row of my mind. I ran across a cool idea for "the hook"—the thing that allows me to hang my characters and story onto something of emotional resonance and relevance— and suddenly It All Made Perfect Sense.

Ten pages of notes and ideas, 6 pages of initial draft, the bulk of a workable outline, oads of exciting cool story moments and dialog flourishes I can;t wait to get to.

Very exciting.
have tangent/will skitter B

At 1:37 PM, Blogger S. A. Petrich said...

The fastest I've ever written a draft was in twelve days -- one hundred and forty pages of purest garbage. Now, in the midst of the seventh re-write (yikes) of the same script, at 110 pages, it finally looks like something I'd pay to see.

But I digress.

I write in a very unusual way. I can write up to twenty-five (complete pages in a single day, and than not touch that script in three months. After these three months pass I generally start with re-writing these 25 pages and adding fifteen more. Repeat process another two months later.

I guess that makes me a proper sprinter, right?

At 1:45 PM, Blogger s.warren said...

The fastest that I've ever knocked out a script is in 7 days. It wasn't that great, but I had the structure pretty much nailed down, even though the rest needed a serious reworking.

I've been knocking them out pretty quickly, but I've been trying to get away from slamming through the pages and taking my time to work on things. I find that I'm still making decent progress, just not managing 10 - 20 pages a day.

At 2:48 PM, Blogger glassblowerscat said...

One night of plot development followed by six nights of work: 137 pages. Not good, but I've done worse.

At 5:27 PM, Blogger deepstructure said...

wow. i can't write a script anywhere near as quickly as the rest of you. i think the fastest was a page one rewrite of someone else's script that took three months, including a two-week every day slugfest during christmas vacation.

normally it takes me about a year or so. i've got one script i've been rewriting on and off for 20 years. literally. i started it when i was 19 with a friend and i still work on it. in fact i just stole it's setting for my newest script (which i've been working on since dec 04).

At 5:41 PM, Blogger Chris said...

Only having two scripts, (the first of which I wrote in fits and starts over several years), I wrote my second spec this summer in about two months. If I include the month or so it took me to rough out the story ahead of time in synopsis form, then three months is my best time to date.

At 7:53 PM, Blogger Ryan Rasmussen said...

My wife and I wrote a script called HELP WANTED in less than three weeks. We needed it alright.

At 8:40 PM, Blogger Ryan said...

I spend so much time before I sit down and write plotting, outlining, whatnot that when I start on an actual draft, it tends to go very quickly.

My fastest was two days. I've done seven days two different times. I would say that the average is probably three weeks.

This year alone I've had both extremes. One done in seven days and one that took roughly four months.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Averyslave said...

Four days, but good googely-moogely did it stink. I had a rough treatment that I took into a writing marathon, and I wish I had it back. The rewriting I'll have to do to salvage the thing will be more work than if I had taken the proper time to hammer the kinks out of the treatment first. Ah, well.

At 9:33 PM, Blogger Patrick J. Rodio said...

4 Days. Not a bad script either, got me my first agent back in 1998.

Never sold it though, but it did place in some competions. Nowadays I'd say it takes 1-2 months.

Most pages in 1 sitting - 26, probably took 5 hours.

Back in my high-output days (1998-2000) I wrote about 15 scripts (!) in that span. A couple I never went back to, but some I did (3 were optioned). This year I'll likely have written 4 original screenplays completed.

Speaking of, I'm about to finish one right now! Gotta go!

At 10:24 PM, Blogger wcdixon said...

fast script AND good? Working in tv I've had to page one rewrite one hours with a 1-2 day window...but starting more or less at square one - a one hour in 5 days so it could begin prep, with rewriting and improving/fixing continuing throughout prep...not much fun, but it got shot - mostly because it had to.

At 11:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nowadays, nailing down story and outline is what takes me months. The actual script shows up a lot faster.
But Scott, dare I suggest that you, as a N-word semifinalist, should consider spending your lull flogging yourself to prodcos/agents as a real live could-be-a-Fellow kinda guy? Bear in mind I'm no expert, but is now the time to expose your (externally validated) talent to your contacts?
Let the vampires be vampires for a couple more weeks.
(Well, no; you didn't ask my advice. But it's a blog, right?)

At 11:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Most pages I ever did in a day was about 20 (and those remain pretty much untouched to this day -- in my Nicholl script of all places). A different script was my quickest first draft -- horror script... a skimpy 97 pages in 7 days. And boy did my readers tear those pages apart. They never recovered, and I "rewrote" (pretty much a different script) as a period horror. That took much longer.


At 7:07 AM, Blogger Scott the Reader said...

Anonymous -- As soon as my supernatural thriller is ready to go, I'll be out there flogging myself. I have an advantage in that because of my job, I have contacts in the industry who know agents, so hopefully I'll get repped in the next few months.

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Systemaddict said...

1 in 7 days, and one in 8 days.

Months and months of twittling my thumbs with rewrites followed. But I've gotten better with it.

I just started something fresh that I had been outlining, first act is done, 4 days. I don't much feel like sprinting, I just don't want to get caught up with anything else before I finish.

Bang it out Scotty, the caress'll be fine.

At 8:07 AM, Anonymous argo said...

1 week. Without a word written, pitched an idea on a Sunday then went home and wrote non-stop at nights and finished it in the next Sunday. That draft landed me a manager and, after a few rewrites, is now optioned.

At 8:52 AM, Blogger Piers said...

A month plotting on the corkboard, and a month writing.

All of this fitting around the dayjob, mind. So in terms of yer actual hours spent at keyboard, 40 hours, plus another 40 on the board beforehand.

At 10:33 AM, Blogger MaryAn Batchellor said...

We've had this "marathon" discussion before, Scott, and I agree that "marathon" is not necessarily a negative term as runners are a testimony to endurance and refusal to accept mediocrity.

Craig Mazin says screenwriting is NOT a marathon and that if it feels like one, you flaws in your script or have no business screenwriting.

I think if it feels like sprint, then you're probably sloppy, avoid outlining and your ideas are not well developed.

However, the longer I write, the more I realize that I really don't know anything.


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