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?



  1. I really enjoyed this series – loved seeing the points that were mutually affirmed, and the ones that were contradicted. My major takeaway was the emphasis on knowing exactly how it all ends and working back from there.

    Nicely done Jesse.

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