Screenwriting : Industry Standard Timeframes for First Drafts by Martin Reese

Martin Reese

Industry Standard Timeframes for First Drafts

There are a lot of discussions regarding the basics for putting together a screenplay. Let's assume you have all that down and now you want to work as a screenwriter. If someone hires you to write the first draft of a feature length screenplay what is a realistic turnaround time? What is the realistic turnaround time for a TV pilot?

Stephen Floyd

Talking strictly first drafts, I can write a half-hour pilot in a week and a feature in about six weeks. But that says nothing about industry standards. Some boast being able to crank out a feature in a weekend. IHMO, don’t try to be as fast as possible, be as thorough as possible.

Dan MaxXx

industry standard means union labor rules.

The WGA's website list

CJ Walley

Stephen Floyd, it's easy to talk in ideals but life isn't like that. I recently finished a strong first draft in three weeks because we need to hit the floor running. I had to work night and day. We just spent a further week refining it. When you're trying to fight your way up, that's how it is.

Stephen Floyd

Why do you assume real life has not informed my opinion? There’s no medal for finishing a screenplay early. Make the most of all the time you’re allotted to ensure you deliver a consummate product. Besides, if they give you 3 weeks and you finish it in 2, they’ll only give you 2 weeks next time.

CJ Walley

Well, they just gave me six on the next one, but thanks for the advice. Your profile suggests you're a student looking to work in the industry so that's what I'm basing any assumptions on.

Stephen Floyd

You could just ask. I’m a student of a program whose curriculum is project-based. While I’d like a job in the industry, that hasn’t stopped me from getting a number of films under my belt in the mean time, both in and out of school. Gleaning advice from others, particularly on Stage32, has also been enlightening.

Martin Reese

Thanks all. Very helpful.

CJ Walley

Stephen, just add your credentials to your profile and nobody needs to ask. That's one of the great things about Stage 32. You can judge the advice you're given in context of the person giving it. I've found essential to progressing.

I'd also look at the dysfunctional relationship you have with those you're working with. Assuming your team members are going to abuse your willingness to meet deadlines is not healthy.

Stephen Floyd

The solution is even simpler: don’t be so judgy.

CJ Walley

No. Sorry. I've had enough of this. We've got too many people hiding behind this excuse and it got way too validated recently. We now literally have a member fabricating the opinions of a highly influential industry member in another thread because they've been allowed to portray a standing within the industry without question - because apparently interrogating them on their credentials is somehow unfair while they use their delusions of grandeur to punch downward on a daily basis.

Don't enter a conversation about the industry with expecting to be questioned on your place within it or where you're sourcing your advice from. Get used to it now because it's going to come up outside of the comfort zone of a forum.

Integrity matters. People are looking for career advice that's going to define the course of their lives. You're damn right I'm judge people who throw in their opinions with seemingly no experience or dubious credentials.

Stage 32 have gone to a lot of effort to facilitate the creation of detailed bio pages and constantly advise they should be filled in and kept up to date. Just because some of you feel you don't need to do this or want to keep things vague doesn't wash with me. You either stand by who you are and what you've done or you don't.

Stephen Floyd

You’re simply wrong. Don’t judge input here based on profiles that could be very easily fabricated. (I’m the president of CBS, by the way, so watch your mouth.) Test it in the field and, if it doesn’t work, you know better.

CJ Walley

Don't be ridiculous. It's easy to back up a member's claims if they are over the top. Yes, we've had people (even mods) try to dismiss some of the ways of doing so but it's complete BS that people are hiding behind and look where it's got us - it literally brought Stage 32 into disrepute yesterday.

If you're going to advise people on their careers, put your credentials on the table so people can do their due diligence. It's not a big ask. Stop hiding it. Stop thinking it's okay to hide it. Stop making excuses to hide it. Certainly stop making ambiguous claims like you "have a number of films under your belt" because that's a meaningless wank without context.

I hate to be so curt about this but it's the truth and I'm tired of people being mollycoddling and exposed to posers because I'm watching peers go nowhere year after year due to being exposed to terrible advice from people willing to mislead.

I did five years on here as that writer with a fews shorts to his name. There's no shame in that.

Dan Guardino

To answer the posters question I did a few first drafts on assignment and they will normally give you 90 to 120 days. I don't know what the time frame would be for a TV project because I never did one.

Martin Reese

Thanks Dan Guardino. That answer was helplful. The purpose of my question in the first place was that sometime it seems you can be working a pet project forever, but that is unrealistic if you want to be a working writer. You have to have goals.

CJ Walley

Kay Luke, regarding on-set work, feel free to check out my article Surviving on Set as a Screenwriter

As for the rest of your comments. You're right, I don't think there's anything I could say that would make you look any worse than you've just managed to make yourself look.

If you're going to continually attack me, feel free to do so in one of my threads rather than nuke one of some innocent bystander's.

Out of respect for everyone else, I will not engage further with you here.

Doug Nelson

Martin, I don't think there is a 'standard' for anything in the film industry. I'm gradually working on a FL first draft more than 5 years now (obviously it's a spec). I've worked in the Writer's Room on a few tv series where the turn time was measured in hours. I've worked on rewrites (mostly dialog) on FL scripts and the turn time was 'reasonable' - whatever that was.

C.J. - thanx, I think Kay's just having a bad hair day.

David Whelan

I worked on an indie film recently and I was given two weeks, then a month to redraft after a few notes. I ain't a professional though so I can't give you an honest answer but this was just my experience and bare in mind that it was a micro-budget project by mostly people trying to make it in the industry just like me.

Phil Parker

All of my assignments have been 5-step deals over 90-120 days, i.e. an outline, treatment, first draft, and two polishes.

William Martell

Standards depends on the situation. For an assignment with no fixed start date - 6 to 8 weeks. Maybe even 12 weeks. For an assignment with a start date - whatever time frame gets the script done on time. The standard for me (HBO World Premiere Movies, Showtime, some cable network films) has been 3 weeks for a great first draft that goes out to talent. But on 3 films I had 2 weeks for that first draft that went out to talent because our airdate was right around the corner. One of those 2 week scripts signed an Oscar nominated actor for less than her quote. I had a 9 day deadline on a Roger Corman script - again, it went out to talent and they were paying as little as possible. If you are still on the film during production, you can have insane deadlines. One of my HBO films lost the location for much of Act 3, and I had to rewrite the script overnight (literally) for the new location. Because scenes are shot out of order, I had to write about 20 pages before dawn, so they could be copied and scheduled and then shot beginning at 8am. This is a business of speed and accuracy.

Martin Reese

Wow William Martell. Very insightful.

Dan Guardino

I once had a 30 day deadline and the stupid movie didn't get made. I'd never do that again.

Stephen Floyd

Dan, did you at least get paid?

Dan Guardino

I got paid.

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