Screenplay Rewrites: And/Or Hell For Screenwriters

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Screenplay Rewrites: And/Or Hell For Screenwriters

Rewriting your screenplay sucks. It’s painful, exhausting work. You, as the screenwriter, already know what your movie should be. You’ve seen it in your head. You know what the final film should feel like, and you’ve put the roadmap on paper so other people can see it, too.

The problems start because, unfortunately, other people reading your screenplay aren’t in your head. The challenge of rewriting is really a challenge of communication. How can you effectively communicate your inspiration, so the reading audience has the same experience on their end that you’ve already had?

Rewriting is boring. You’ve already spent so much time building this thing, and now you must tear it down. It’s like someone constructing a house, and then lobbing a grenade into the second story window because a neighbor walking his dog said the third act was anticlimactic.

It’s very tempting to stop rewriting early. “They’ll get the general idea,” you might say to yourself. Most writers stop rewriting early.

Here are some of the ones who didn’t:

Peter Shaffer – Peter spent four months in a Connecticut farmhouse with Milos Forman, endlessly rewriting AMADEUS (which he’d already written as a stage play). He won the Best Adapted Screenplay Academy Award. Milos Forman won Best Director. And the film won Best Picture.

Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola – Puzo was hired to write THE GODFATHER adaptation (from his own novel) in April of 1970. The final screenplay (written in tandem with Coppola after he was hired to direct) was finished in March of 1971.

Michael Arndt – Michael wrote 100 drafts of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE. It won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. Michael was later nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay for TOY STORY 3.

Shaffer hated rewriting AMADEUS. He’s been quoted in interviews (both written and filmed) declaring how awful a time he had doing the rewrites with Milos Forman. But it’s an undisputed classic that has stood the test of time.

Rewriting sucks… but the reward for sticking through it can be epic.

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