Rewriting is Where the Work Is: One More Draft After the Other
By Writers Boot Camp Founder Jeffrey Gordon (revised from the 2019 Career Progress Notebook)
Considering how few spec feature films or pilots are bought or produced, most scripts are potential writing samples. As we have discussed prior, the likelihood of newer writers selling or even optioning early scripts is reduced by lack of conceptual vetting due to inexperience, incomplete ideation, lack of understanding of structure and cursory approach to rewriting.
While great ideas and productivity are a powerful combination, rewriting proficiency (the Pro in Pro Membership could stand for Proficiency in Rewriting) is how writers make their breaks, get paid and, ultimately, make their living.
Here’s how rewriting applies to the career:
–A spec doesn’t become special without significant and less conventional rewriting; the key to rewriting is layering and bringing enough material to a draft to fulfill the promise of the fresh entertainment inherent in the idea. Most new writers work too linearly and text-driven too early in the process and are overly concerned with the script making sense for submission prematurely. This leads to project burnout because writers try to do too much with the first or second rewrite due to impatience.
–If there’s mild interest in your feature spec or pilot spec, early fans of your work will more than likely ask you to rewrite on spec (without getting paid or a formal deal) as a method of hip-pocketing the opportunity, and they’ll gradually lose interest if the rewrites don’t wow them.
–If there’s a higher level of excitement, there may be some nominal option money for you, though the project will most likely stall if their third-party submissions, the bigger fish (financiers) don’t bite, which means nothing much will happen if you don’t rewrite or reconceive via the insight you may receive.
–If a producer does have some discretionary capital (development funding), or a rare financing/studio/network deal, you may win the right for the first rewrite, yet even an option could be extended, the project winding up in turnaround and then back on the shelf—until you decide to dust it off for another rewrite.
–If it does get the greenlight and your early rewrite is well-received, you may be paid again for a subsequent rewrite; if a new director or actor is attached, then that may trigger another rewrite.
Note: Between 2011-2017, after movies started picking up again, at least 60 movies were produced that were written by Writers Boot Camp alumni—and in most cases they stayed on as the writer of subsequent drafts, which means they got paid.
–On a development deal, you’ll often create your take on another writer’s work; your pitch in that manner—not necessarily the performance in the room but your vision for how to enhance or fix the existing script/story—will mesh with the producer or executive’s creative goals for the project.
–On a television series staff, your input in the room may help break the story and enhance the work of other writers, possibly making you vital on the team.
–As a show runner, you’ll tend to rewrite everyone to sustain the conceits of the show, its voice and characterization.
–In prose writing—whether books, novels, short stories, essays or blogging—there can be the heavy burden of matching your prose style and streamlining. The rewriting stages for a long-form book will require many more hours per stage. When your tense and POV have not been established early on, it can be extremely challenging to avoid editing prematurely. That’s why editors often play a strong role at publishing houses. Still, rewriting is the real process.
So, let it be stated and overstated here that the writing business is about rewriting. And being open and capable of seeing your own work more clearly.
Writers and filmmakers interested in writing multiple scripts and learning rewriting can become Pro Members by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.