Screenwriting : How many re-writes? by Ann Burr

Ann Burr

How many re-writes?

I write and write. Then I think of something different and change something again. When should I just stop writing and leave it alone?

James Gale

I was told it's like having kids. At some point you have to let them go out on their own. Let someone else read your script - someone who will give an honest opinion. If they think the story works then let it go. If they have serious issues with it - keep rewriting.

David Rountree

No need to rewrite, just make a copy. (paraphrased from comedian Mitch Hedberg) For a writer, the work will probably never be done. There will always be things you will want to tweak. I have written 5 scripts that have been made and I continually wanted to tweak along the way. My suggestion is get to the point where you feel that your script is solid, then try to get people interested. In most cases, a production will work with you to change certain things and the director will want to make it his own as well. If you continue to tweak before you are "done," no one will ever see it. I just read a script that was given to my company for consideration. The script was pretty good, but I had a few notes that I felt would strengthen the story. The response back was that there was an earlier draft that was just like what my suggestions were inferring, but he was not even sure what was in this version any more. Don't overthink your work.

Kerry Douglas Dye

Ha. @David, that story isn't about me, but I could have been. I've definitely been there: "wait, I can't remember, does Joe die in this draft?" Nothing to add to the advice above, with which I agree.

David Rountree

Hopefully Joe doesn't die in your draft, but your forgot and gave him a scene or two later.

William Martell

Once you have the changing down, time to think about the improving.

F. Aaron Franklin

Leaving it alone is the hardest part of it all. I've made knee jerk after knee jerk, and next next thing I know, I've completely gutted what was once perfect, at least in my eyes. One word of advice; when you feel as though you've completed a project, be sure to save it somewhere, because there will come a time where you gut it and start from scratch, and later wish for the original.

CJ Walley

I think you need to try and develop an objectivity, or at least a sound subjective platform to try and establish what works and what doesn't. So I feel you need to be looking at what you are writing and either thinking, this works because of a, b, and c or thinking this works because I passionately believe it should be x, y, and z. Again, this applies to any feedback you get. Is the source someone who's giving a subjective reaction or a well practiced objective analysis.

CJ Walley

This is one of the reasons Scrivener is such a good development tool. You can create snapshots of scrivens/scenes and view them whenever you want to.

F. Aaron Franklin

To elaborate on the saving, I use Celtx, the most basic of the paid versions. One thing that it offers, is a history option. So even if you completely gut your script, you can restore from any recorded save. Believe me, that option has saved me plenty.

Jaime Klein

The only thing that will stop you from changing and improving your writing is a deadline. I saw a screening of Some Like It Hot with Billy Wilder speaking after. Someone asked what it was like watching the movie with an audience. He said he couldn't watch it... be cause this shot should have been tighter, that line didn't quite work, etc. He couldn't stop directing/rewriting. The only thing that stopped him was a release date! Take comfort in that. If you really want to get it out there, give yourself an artificial deadline... and just stop. Be content with what you have on that date and send it out in the world... there will be PLENTY of opportunities to rewrite once you start getting notes from your agent, producers, directors, actors, studio execs and friends. Right now, celebrate that you share the same creative impulses for change as Billy Wilder.

Brian Shell

An Ann Arbor radio DJ/band manager said on his Sunday show: "A record is never done. You just decide to stop working on it." Same with everything in Life. Put a 4th of July fork in it and serve that puppy up al dente of course

F. Aaron Franklin

I have to disagree with Alle. I can be more than happy with a script one day, and the next, think of a way to make it better. This can be anything from a single scene to something that effects the entire script. Scripts are living breathing things, and until signed and sealed, they are subject to evolve for no other reason than just because.

Kent Altman

There's this meme floating around out there right now that goes something like this: The creative process: 1. This is Awesome! 2. This is alright. 3. This might be crap. 4. This is definitely crap. 5. This might be alright. 6. This is Awesome! I would say that, even though it's completely nerve wracking, it's probably the most satisfying to work and work and work until you can get to "this might be alright" and then let somebody else tell you that it's awesome. Just make sure you don't have any typos! :)

William Martell

Until people who hate you and want you to fail are happy with it. (I can be easily pleased by my own work sometimes.)

CJ Walley

"Writing a book is an adventure. To begin with it is a toy and an amusement. Then it becomes a mistress, then it becomes a master, then it becomes a tyrant. The last phase is that just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude, you kill the monster and fling him to the public.” - Winston Churchill Also applies to screenplay writing in my opinion.

F. Aaron Franklin

That sums it up perfectly.

Georgia Hilton

A good Author finishes a work. A great author abandons it. Screenplays are never written, they are simply re-written ... over and over and...

Byron Scot

I finish the first draft of a script, then go back over it once. I then let it percolate a couple of days, then go back over it again and see how it strikes me. My instincts tend to take over and let me know if what I'm doing works, or not. Then I have my wife (a wonderful reader and editor) who knows me and my work VERY well. Just keep in mind that , there's a very good chance that changes will need to be made if it picked up by a producer. A script I had recently optioned was rewritten ten times, with each draft actually being an improvement. If a power player likes the gist of your story, they'll run with that and hand you notes on what more (or less) of what they want to see. Hope this helps answer your question.

Georgia Hilton

I've made changes as a director in pre-pro, in production, in post, hell we've made dialogue changes in some of the projects i've worked on in the Dubstage while I was mixing. Actors take lines and change them as they go as well. Did a project about 4 years ago.. a couple of markets wanted dialogue changes... and this was AFTER delivery. so Brian is correct... it never ends...

Tim Prescott


Trey Wickwire

So far I tend to have a dozen versions, give or take a couple, before I'm satisfied. But I only version up when I cut stuff rather than every time I make a change. If I'm adding material or making small tweaks I don't bother creating a new version. As soon as you start cutting chunks out of scenes or whole scenes its best to version up so that its easy to go back and look at how it look before the cutting. Not sure how that process translates to a number of rewrites but its the process that works well for me. You'll never be completely done but there does come a time to accept what you have and move on. There is no formula for when that is, it will be different for each person.

John Radtke

I was told by a screenwriter currently working in the business that rewriting is very important. But, there is no perfect script. You're better off outlining your story and planning out exactly what the characters are going to act like, that way it helps you with the constant rewriting.

Erik Linthorst

I'd add that if the feedback keeps getting better, then keep rewriting. When you start to get several, "I liked the last draft better", then it might be time to put down the pen. There's also value in taking a break from a project, and then revisiting it after you've worked on a thing or two. Fresh eyes.

Art Thomas

Done is better than perfect. Screenwriting IS re-writing. We typically write the first few drafts then have it polished by industry professionals.

Lloyd M. Brock

I write a script and then I rewrite. Every time I read it, I change something. You will always see something that could be better, so after the fourth rewrite, I don't look at it again. From that point on, I let the feedback of professionals drive any further rewrites.

Jeffrey Paul McMahon

I read from a producer from many years ago that 'all art is knowing when to stop'. Then there's the old adage: 'never let perfect get in the way of good'.

Michael Anthony Yates

Ann, I think Cassie and Lloyd are certainly on the right track. I've found the feedback from a professional dramaturg or other writer will tell you what they think is working well and challenge you by pointing out possibilities you may not have thought of but need to make your story better. At the heart of it all, if your structure isn't right, the story will never work. Good luck. Mike

Gail Clifford

You know that old saying.... "a screenplay is never finished, only abandoned." I think Lloyd has a great idea. Other point: you don't only want to write one thing your entire career - get onto the next project.... have a stable of great scripts. Best of luck!

Gordon Olivea

Robert Towne wrote "Chinatown", and Roman Polanski made about ten pages of changes, including taking one scene out entirely, and had the balls to change the ending. Even the best get rewritten.

William Martell

William Goldman's MARATHON MAN script, based on his novel, was rewritten by Towne. Most movies have a half dozen writers on them, even if only one is credited.

Jeffrey Paul McMahon

I stand corrected. (and I feel a fool)

William Lee

That's a tough one to answer Ann. It's often too soon or too long when the writer tries to judge for themselves. Having an objective and experienced professional or professional colleague or friend take a look and give honest feedback is the best way to figure out if it's ready. Someone once said of painting that also plies to writing is that 'a painting is never finished, it's only abandoned. I believe Jennifer Lee rewrite Frozen over forty times. Here's a link to a brief article by John August on his website which has a lot of useful info from someone on the front lines of screenwriting: Good luck. And here's comments from a few novelists on rewriting : - The main thing I try to do is write as clearly as I can. I rewrite a good deal to make it clear. (E.B. White, The New York Times, August 3, 1942) - There's no reason you shouldn't, as a writer, not be aware of the necessity to revise yourself constantly. More than a half, maybe as much as two-thirds of my life as a writer is rewriting. I wouldn't say I have a talent that's special. It strikes me that I have an unusual kind of stamina. I can rewrite sentences over and over again, and I do. . . . - And I think what I've always recognized about writing is that I don't put much value in so-called inspiration. The value is in how many times you can redo something. (John Irving, National Book Award Interview, June 3, 2005) - If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. (Elmore Leonard, Newsweek, April 22, 1985) - I have rewritten--often several times--every word I have ever published. My pencils outlast their erasers." (Vladimir Nabokov, Speak, Memory, Random House, 1966) - I work extremely hard so that [my editor] will not have to work extremely hard. I write and rewrite and rewrite and write and like to turn in what I think is finished work. (Gay Talese, "Birnbaum v. Gay Talese," The Morning News, July 6, 2006)

Deryn Warren

Send it to a script doctor and listen to their advice. You can send it out and still keep changing it. Read what I do at

Michael Savage Aka Sirtony's need to WATCH the top 100 films of all time...EXPERIENCE what is the BEST...and make sure you use the DETAILS to know what WORKS...and in your Films make sure you too create a story that has the Impact that these classics have had on you and the WORLD...long after the filmmakers are's simple...a great film will teach you to know what it is that always take that Journey and then do your own original story knowing the road that great films take...yes...Inspiration and Hope...and overcoming the odds... and words that you know will leave a legacy...AMEN

Matthew Swartz

To me it's not just writing that matters, but re-writing. I've never rewritten or changed something in my scripts that didn't make it better. Read movie reviews (Roger Ebert) to learn what to do and what not to do; don't just watch the best movies, but read books about the making of those movies to see how those films turned out as good as they did (Scenes From A Revolution, Mad as Hell: The Making of Network, Live Fast, Die Young: The Making of Rebel Without a Cause, The Nashville Chronicles, Easy Riders Raging Bulls, and Vanity Fair's Tales of Hollywood, just to name a few of the best)

Deryn Warren

You stop writing after you have sent it out to friends in the industry and a script doctor (me) and they say it is terrific. Although everyone will have a different opinion. Everyone! SO you have to be the final judge.

F. Aaron Franklin

What I'm doing currently is rewriting a script as I finish the current draft. With Celtx, I can make a copy of a script, and work on both separately. So while I'm very happy with the current draft, I have alternate ideas, which I like as well. So I'm essentially working on two drafts at once to decide which one world better when all's said and done.

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