The Rewrite

Written by Ali Laventhol

You’ve just typed “FADE OUT” at the end of Draft 1. Time to celebrate, right?! Yes… and no.

The truth is, the work has only just begun. Any experienced tv or feature writer will tell you that rewriting is like death or taxes—a guarantee.

Sometimes the heart of a story is found in the rewriting, as Tony Kushner pointed out: the whole point of putting something down on paper is that you write it and then you read what you’ve written and start to pick up little breadcrumb traces in what you’re actually after.”

That is one way to look at it.

But at Script Anatomy, we believe that the time, energy and thought a writer puts into the tool work up front while developing a project will prevent the need for excessive rewriting on the back end. We’ve seen plenty of evidence that this approach works.

rewriting is guaranteed

However, rewriting cannot be avoided. Whether it’s your own spec, an episode of the show you’re staffed on, a project you’ve been hired to write… you will be rewriting, probably more than once and often against your best judgment!

In fact, most development contracts are designed in steps with rewriting in mind. The steps might be something like: Outline, first draft, second draft, third draft, polish. Each is a required deliverable and associated with a stage of payment. If you’re staffed, here’s a look at the typical steps for each episode. Take note of how much rewriting is automatically built in:

DRAMA/SINGLE CAM COMEDY:

1) story area (sometimes shows skip this step)

2) write outline

3) address showrunner/EP notes on outline

4) address studio notes on outline

5) address network/streamer notes on outline

4) write draft

5) address showrunner/EP notes on draft

6) address studio notes on draft

7) address network/streamer notes on draft

8) address production/director notes during prep

9) table read

10) address table read notes

11) on set, depending on the show, there may be more rewriting “on the day”.

 

MULTI-CAM COMEDY:

1) story area

2) outline

3) rewrite the outline

4) draft

5) rewrite the draft in the room

6) studio gives notes on the draft

7) writer or the room does the draft rewrite

8) table read

9) the room implements notes from the table read

10) producer’s run through (just for the writers)

11) room rewrite after the run through

12) studio/network run through

13) room rewrites based on studio/network notes—(This is your SHOOTING DRAFT!)

14) on set there is more rewriting, mostly lines and jokes.

strike a balance

The hope is that the episode improves through the process, but story is subjective and everyone has an opinion. Sometimes the changes don’t make things better, just different. Sometimes there are practical reasons for the rewrite, an issue with cast or budget, say.

So when you’re on a show, it’s important to strike the balance between passionately advocating for the integrity of your episode, and remaining open to making changes without letting it kill your soul. Not easy!

Adaptation

rewrite from the ground up

If your only focus is to elevate the script, I suggest starting from the top down and isolating each category.

First, look at your conceit – are there enough set-pieces to prove your conceit? Then look at your structure to make sure the core structural beats are working, and landing in the right place.

From there, isolate your main character and do a pass to ensure their flaw, goal, etc., are sharp. Then move to secondary characters.

After that, get more granular and take a look at your scene work. Things like transitions and dialogue. Do a pass for character voices. Don’t forget theme – is it being expressed in clear but elegant ways?

If you want to learn more about rewriting, Script Anatomy’s Rewrite Labs (both tv and features) go deep into the process and offer a place to dive into your rewrite with deadlines, and peer and instructor feedback. Check out the class calendar for more details!


Ali Laventhol

Ali Laventhol has been Tawnya‘s writing partner for over a decade, most recently as the Co-Executive Producer for My Life With The Walter Boys (Netflix), and Bel-Air (Peacock), as well as several Lifetime movies. She is a long time Script Anatomy instructor.

 

 

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