If triple digits is how many it takes…

math lesson
“So you see, Billy, if you edited out 5 pages from the previous draft, that would put your new midpoint around page 54.”

I recently read in an interview with screenwriter Eric Heisserer that included him being asked how many drafts he wrote for ARRIVAL.

“Over one hundred.”

Sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? Keep in mind that this was also spread out over time, not all concentrated in one specific period. And that a new draft doesn’t necessarily mean a complete rewrite. It could be anything from that to a few words changed on pages 33, 52, and 88 through 89.

And ARRIVAL was also nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay at the Academy Awards, so looks like all those drafts Eric went through were worth it.

About two years ago, I had lunch with a writer friend. He was familiar with my western, and liked it very much. When I mentioned I was considering returning to it to work on it some more, he said “I think it’s fine how it is. If you keep messing with it, you run the risk of making it worse.”

At the time, I really took that to heart. I didn’t want to mess up the script, but deep down I also knew it could still be better.

As you probably already guessed, I eventually ignored his advice and dove back in. I got a few more rounds of feedback from trusted colleagues and professional consultants, always tweaking and fine-tuning with every draft.

There’s no way I could say exactly how many drafts I went through to get to where it is now, but it’s probably safe to say it’s at least over one hundred. That is definitely a lot, but reading the script now, the results of all that work are evident on the page.

Plus, all the notes and all the rewriting have combined to make a really positive impact on my writing. While the overall challenge of putting a script together is still pretty daunting, the whole process seems to move forward in a much smoother manner. And, to be honest, maybe a little faster too.

Even though someone may tell you your script is “good enough as it is”, the final product is all on you. Keep working on it as long as you think you need to, with as many drafts as it takes.

You might not get an Oscar nomination, but getting your script to where you want it to be will definitely make you feel like a winner. Yes, that’s a sappy and corny thing to say, but it’s still true.

My scripts won’t win Oscars

Nate D. Sanders Auctions Collection Of Academy Award Oscar Statuettes Set To Be Auctioned
“And the Oscar goes to…not me”

The Academy Awards are this weekend, and as is our usual custom, we’ll be watching it on TV while enjoying Chinese takeout from the place up the street.

Naturally, as a writer, the categories that interest me the most are about the screenplays; Best Original and Best Adapted. No slight against the rest of it, but let’s be honest. Movies start with an idea written down on paper.

What aspirational screenwriter doesn’t imagine that scenario where their script is the one they announce as taking the top prize? No doubt the number is legion of those who have given their acceptance speech to the imaginary crowd represented by the bathroom mirror.

Oscar-winning scripts are often held up as examples of HOW IT SHOULD BE DONE, so those are the ones we devour, studying them, picking them over, straining to get every ounce of help for our writing out of them as we can.

As entertaining and informative as these scripts are, I’ve also come to the conclusion that the kind of stuff I write – escapist adventure fare – isn’t exactly on the same wavelength as what the Academy appreciates.

Some writers want to write compelling tales about the human condition. Me, I want to spin ripping yarns involving the amazing and fantastic. Last I checked, those kinds of stories don’t usually win a statue of a little gold man.

And that’s quite okay by me. I just really like telling these kinds of stories. They may not be everybody’s cup of tea, but play to your strengths, right? You can’t please everybody.

Don’t get me wrong, being forever known as an “Academy Award-winning screenwriter” would be utterly amazing (and finally give me a good reason to want to go to my high school reunion), but that’s not what this is all about.

If I ever have the incredibly good fortune to establish a career as a working screenwriter who’s even more fortunate in being able to see their work up on the big screen, then just that in itself I would consider winning the biggest prize of them all.