Sleep On It Before You Kill Yourself

By Leroy James King · April 9, 2010

The rewrite is finished for script #1. Finally. The relief I feel right now is beyond belief – as my father would say, it’s like I just experienced a 10 ton bowel release. Siiiigh, poetry.  

Specifically as it relates to the rewrite of someone else’s material, it’s easy to constantly second guess yourself.

“Am I totally changing the overall story?”

“Am I negating the original voice and draw the script had in the first place?”

“Am I making changes based on things I want to see, or am I actually making the script better?”

“Should I just put a gun to my head and splatter my blood all over the script, and let them find it a few weeks from now when the cops need someone to ID the body?”

The best way to alleviate these anxieties: PROOF THE SHIT OUT OF THE SCRIPT AS YOU GO.

Now again, this is as it relates to the rewrite of someone else’s stuff. If it’s your own original work, I say just spew it out as you go – don’t scrutinize it until you (inevitably) rehash everything.

BUT for someone else’s, the best way to maintain sanity is to constantly reread; to see if what you’re doing is actually changing the material for the better. There’s a few strategies I use to make this less stressful than it sounds:

1) Get ALL drafts of the scripts you’re doing the rewrites on. Find out which one the director/producer likes the BEST. DEMAND THIS INFORMATION – more times than not you’re going to get wishy washy info from whoever is commissioning your services from you.

2) Read the BEST version of the script straight through – don’t make any notes, just “enjoy” it, if at all possible. Read it as a spectator. Then sleep on it.

3) Reread the BEST version of the script. As you reread, write a brief scene summary for each and every scene of the script (it helps to number these, obviously). Also, write a character description of EVERY character in the script, whether they have a speaking part or not.

4) During the reread, make notes as you go within each scene description you write. When you’re done, sleep on it.

5) Now, read the other versions of the scripts. Don’t mark these up like a madman, as it’ll be a waste of time. Reading the other versions is more so you can pick out the parts of them that WORK. Don’t be afraid to steal from the other versions, even if they’re not the “best” ones. Sleep on it.

6) Write out a tentative list of changes you think need to be made. Connect with the producer/director to see if your ideas align with theirs. Sleep on it.

7) Start the rewrite. As you go, it’s best to have a hard copy of each script in front of you. As you write, have each script opened up to where you’re at in the rewrite. This simply makes it easier for you to “steal” the parts that work from the other versions.

The biggest note I can give you about this process is not to feel totally married to the director’s and producer’s notes. Yeah, address the major issues that they want fixed, but the script is inevitably going to changesomewhat significantly when you start putting your stamp on it. DON’T LET THIS FREAK YOU OUT. Remember, these guys hired you to do this for them – they want you to inject yourself into the material. GO WITH YOUR GUT.

Actually, the BIGGEST note from the process I’ve outlined is to SLEEP ON IT. You’re likely going to be bouncing between waaaay too many versions of the script, so you NEED to let yourself digest the material, otherwise you’ll have suicidal fantasies and chronic anxiety. Seriously.

The final HUGE note: If you’re asked to do a ridiculously fast turnaround that seems unrealistic…IT IS. Also, once your deadline has been established and you’ve been working diligently, ask for more time if you’re not going to be able to do THE BEST rewrite possible. It’s useless to turn in something you’re not proud of. Getting the material a little late is a better price for your employers to pay, as opposed to getting something that’s not 100% there. Plus, you’re a writer – you’re really wielding the real power here, and they know that. Make sure THEY KNOW that you also know that.

So now I’m about to start in on yet another rewrite…and suddenly there’s 2 more on the back burner. I’m sure I’ll contradict everything I’ve outlined above on this one. Whatever.

A final general note: Never be afraid to take on projects you don’t feel well suited for. Have faith that you can adapt to different formats. I mean if someone’s approaching you for something that you have no experience with, then they probably know what’s required and obviously see that you have what it takes. It’s so important to breach outside your comfort zone, so in the fledgling stages of your writing endeavors, never turn anything down (alright, not NEVER, but at least consider all potential work that comes your way). Because on the Word Farm, the more divergent work you do, the more animals you’ll have at your disposal.