Updated: May 8
I know, I know. You read that title and think, “What?! I’m not getting rewritten! My script is great and ready to be filmed right now in all its glory!”
You might be right. It may be good enough to option or sell for a five-figure, six-figure, or maybe *fingers crossed* even a coveted seven-figure deal!
It’s still going to get rewritten. Even the rewrites get rewritten – like when I was the third writer on a project, only to get rewritten by someone else!
This is such an across-the-board, universal truth in screenwriting that in my book --
“365: A Year of Screenwriting Tips” – there’s actually two tips about it:
Tip #342: You Will Be Rewritten
Tip #343: You Will Get to Rewrite Others
I’m sure you’ve heard that a screenplay is a blueprint for a movie. Using that metaphor, what do you do when you buy a house? You make it your own, right? You repaint it, maybe add some wallpaper. You might change the tiles in the bathroom or the cabinet doors in the kitchen. You add furniture and decorations to give the home a bit of your own personal flare. You make it yours.
So, if a script is a blueprint for a movie, guess what? The producers who buy it want to add their own personal flare! So do the director who gets brought in, the actors playing the characters you’ve created, the cinematographer, the editor, the sound mixer, etc.
It takes a village. You’ve heard that, right? Well, it’s true. Because once you sell your script, it’s no longer your baby. It’s now out in the world with an all-new family poking, prodding, and nudging it into something wonderful and new and more than you could ever hope it could be. At least in theory. [Sell your script through Premium Membership]
Obviously, you may disagree. You may hate the direction the producers want to take it. You might think the director is a hack who’s creating an entirely different story that’s only loosely based on your original. And who gave these actors the right to change the dialogue that took months of your life to perfect?! Don’t they realize your genius?
First, let me say congratulations if you’ve even gotten far enough that someone wants to rewrite your script. It means someone is paying you money for your material and wants to get it turned into a film (or show). That’s huge! That means you’ve officially made it as a professional screenwriter. Take a moment to reflect on the journey that brought you here. Take a breath.
Now, let’s look at this objectively.
Hopefully, your contract gives you at least the first rewrite. If it does, great! You might not like changing your script to suit the needs of the producers/director/etc, but at least you’re the one doing it instead of someone else, right? You can take the notes you’re given (and there will be lots of notes) and make the best of it. Figure out how to use those notes to make changes you’re happy with and knock it out of the park. Let everyone know you’re a team player and know how to play the game.
If you don’t have any rewrites in your contract, try not to think about everything they’re about to do to your baby.
I’ve got a script optioned right now where they need to have an Australian writer due to the incentive requirements of the producers’ country. That’s not me. Thankfully, the sale price on the script is enough to make me shut up and look the other way. I have no idea who they’ll hire to do the rewrites or what sort of changes they’ll make.
It’s best to not think about it and just move on with my life and work on other projects, crossing my fingers that everything works out and I get rewarded with a nice paycheck. You should do the same.
On the flip side, you might get a contract where you have to do all the rewrites! This can be a curse and a blessing. Hopefully, you’re getting paid a bit for each draft, but in the world of indie films that may not be the case. But being in charge of the rewrites means finding the best way to address each note and still make the script something you’re happy with. Of course, it also means that you’ll be stuck making changes repeatedly, wondering why they can’t just figure out what they want! Like that time I was forced to rewrite the same scenes over and over, doing a new draft every day for two weeks while the film was in production!
[Checkout our Job Board for PAID re-writing gigs: www.screenwritingstaffing.com/screenwriting-jobs-script-searches]
Why can’t they just make the movie exactly as you wrote it? After all, they’re paying money for it – why change it all? Well, there could be lots of reasons. Here are some of the more frequent ones I’ve come across in my career so far:
The need to attract bigger stars. Actors sell movies, and the way to get bigger-name actors is to have better parts. This may require tweaking a character to make them seem “cooler”. It might mean giving more lines to someone. I’ve even had to bring a character back to life – someone I’d initially killed off now needed to survive until the film's final moments so it’s more than just a “bit part”.
The need to make things cheaper. Movies cost a lot of money to make. So if there’s any way to make things cost less, producers want to do that. This could mean combining or cutting locations, combining or cutting characters, turning a chase scene into a conversation in a coffee shop, or even rewriting the entire movie from a totally different perspective.
The ending doesn’t work (or doesn’t work anymore). You’ve spent months crafting the perfect script from top to bottom. But someone doesn’t like how it ends. Maybe that’s always been the case, maybe that only became the case after some rewrites – whatever the reason the ending needs to be re-broken and re-written. HINT: This will likely require changing other scenes to set-up the new ending.
The need to elevate. Sometimes they want the opposite of the “cheaper” rewrite – they want more excitement, faster pacing, and more interesting set pieces. Sometimes it means they need deeper characterization or cooler-sounding dialogue. Sometimes it means writing an entirely new story, using the original script as a suggestion for a guideline.
The director’s vision. A director gets brought on to make the movie… and they may have a very different idea of where the story should go. Most directors get a “director’s polish”, which often, unfortunately, turns into them doing a page-one rewrite.
Even the big-named, highly paid Hollywood writers of your favorite movies are subjected to notes and rewrites. In fact, rewriting is the number one source of income for screenwriters – it may not have a hefty flashy price tag that makes it in the trades for a major sale, but it’s steady income that’s often in the high-five/low-six-figure range… per draft!
Everyone gets rewritten. You need to accept it, get used to it, cash your check, and cross your fingers that you can still enjoy the final movie when it comes out.
Need to hire a screenwriter for a re-write? www.screenwritingstaffing.com/search-for-screenwriter
Get your query letter sent to the decision-makers: https://www.screenwritingstaffing.com/query-letter-blast
Need your script translated? www.screenwritingstaffing.com/screenplay-translation
Travis Seppala is a produced screenwriter who's also placed in over 40 contests, been hired to write both TV and film, and is repped by The Muraviov Company. Projects produced from his scripts have been publicized in Deadline, Fangoria, Movieweb, and a variety of other movie news sites. You may have also seen interviews with him on Film Courage's Youtube page. His book "365: A Year of Screenwriting Tips" is available on Amazon as both a paperback and e-book..
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