Notes on Craft – (Part 6 of 6): Rewriting & Polishing

PART 1: Premise & Concept

PART 2: Structure

PART 3: Character

PART 4: The First 20 Pages

PART 5: Dialogue & Scene

PART 6: Rewriting & Polishing

Audrey Wells (Under the Tuscan Sun, George of the Jungle, Shall We Dance)

– “When I write, I rewrite as I go.”

– “The more pain I put my main character through the better it is.”

– “I never let a studio read a working draft.”

– “I don’t outline (confessed not enjoying the writing process).”

– “I always write backwards.  I have to know the ending first.  Then I write the scenes in order of interest, no matter where they are in the story.”

– “When writers go for tone the story always suffers.”

– “Characters are what they do.  You can’t have story unless you have characters who would make those decisions.”

– “For beginning writers, write something low-budget and direct it yourself.  Don’t wait for Hollywood to fulfill your dreams.”

– “Don’t protect your work.  Show it to people.  Get feedback.”

– “If you’re stuck in a rewrite with a 2-person scene, for instance, try writing a 3rd person into the scene; anything to shake it up.”

– “Whenever you’re stuck, brainstorm 10 ideas before deciding.  Then another 10 if you’re still unsure.”

Sheldon Turner (Up in the Air, X-Men:First Class, Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning)

– “I edit as I go along, starting from the beginning.”

– “Write a first draft when you’re feeling manic.  Edit when you’re feeling depressed.”

– “I always fill up two legal pads before I start writing the script.”

– “Studios are usually good at out the problems but not articulating the solution.”

– “I come up with dumb questions for studio execs that they can answer so they feel like they came up with something.”

– “Just write.  Don’t underline certain things you love.  Stupid people won’t get them.  Smart people will hate you for pointing them out.”

– “I wrote 12 scripts before showing one to anyone.”

Wesley Strick (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Cape Fear, Arachnophobia)

– “I just try to finish the first draft as fast as possible.  Like climbing up a mountain, I want to get to the top as fast as possible.”

– “Set a deadline.  6 weeks for the first draft.  Make sure after each week you’re hitting your mark.”

– “Often younger writers can’t define what they’re writing about.”

– “I’m driven by plot.  Twists, turns, turning expectation.”

– “When I get notes in email form I write responses to each one, whether I’m acknowledging what the studio suggests or defending why I think something is valid.  (That way you can keep everyone on the same page).”

– “They say you have to write 10 scripts before you’ll sell your first one.”

Scott Frank (Minority Report, Out of Sight, Get Shorty)

– “I rewrite constantly; often rewriting several times as I go.  OCD-like.  Then later on I have less rewrites to do.”

– “My first drafts usually run about 140-160 pages.”

– “I write draft 1 in scene order, but do rewrites out of order.”

– “Newer writers don’t know how to write characters.”

– “I always work deeply in character bios: what are they afraid of, their histories, etc.”

– “Listen- if you want to have a great writing career, write great characters!”

– “It takes me…

  • 10 weeks before I ever write the title page.
  • 4 months to write an outline.
  • 1 year for a first draft”

– “Ignore studio criticism in notes but decipher what they’re trying to say.”

– “When receiving notes from the studio, I just sit there writing- not always what they’re telling me- but something, in over to take my mind off of it.  Try to be the dumbest person in the room.”

– “Be clear about why you’re writing.  I would rather read a script that a writer spent 8 years working on than a writer who had 1 of 8 scripts to choose from.”

– “90% of the rewrites I do are because of character flaws.”

– “Every scene you write think about what is interesting about it.”


– What style of writer outlines vs one who doesn’t?   What do you do?

– After you write a first draft of your script are you disciplined enough to go back and outline before trying again?

– When you receive notes are you able to remain cool and hear what they’re trying to tell you?