Screenwriting : What is the function of the First Draft?? by Shaunda Young

Shaunda Young

What is the function of the First Draft??

Do you agree or disagree?

Richard Gustason

I agree with this. The first draft is just that, the first draft. Your first draft is there to figure out how to use techniques to write your story. The drafts after that are used to tell your story in the most entertaining way. Great saying you posted Shaundra. Thanks.

William Martell

Disagree - the function of the outline is to figure out your story. Why? Because once it's on paper it's really difficult to throw it all away if it doesn't work, so writers tend to stick with the terrible version of the story and just rewrite it. Better to figure out the story in outline, then have the first draft be the clean up version of the working story... Guy with a bunch of Oscars: "Your first draft is dangerously important. Don’t ever kid yourself into thinking, “It’s okay, it’s just the first draft.” Beware of that thought, because it’s ten times more difficult to go in a certain direction once you’ve already gone in another direction. The longer you can hold off putting a word down on paper, the better you are. Rewriting is largely cleaning up things that aren’t clear to you, or trying to shorten a scene that’s too long, or realizing now that you’ve written scenes at the end of the story, maybe the scenes at the beginning should be a little different to help set up a scene that comes at the end."—Ernest Lehman, Screenwriter of Sweet Smell of Success, North by Northwest, West Side Story, The Sound of Music, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Owen Mowatt

Not only disagree, it's not true. Certainly not Tony Gilroy's method of writing, and I'd take his opinion over anyone.

Wal Friman

I make up my mind of exactly how I want the movie to look like before starting to write, so I don't get to enjoy more than one draft in the process, he-he.

Andrew Martin Smith

I kind of agree - in that although I work out a detailed beat sheet before hitting the key board - the story seriously begins to evolve when I chunk out the first draft. After that - well it all comes down to how the director/producer want the story to develop. That first draft is your creative en-devour. After that - it's the creative en-devour of the whole pre-production team and how well you can defend your corner. Although - you're doing all the writing!

Christopher Binder

The first draft you write with your heart. The second draft, you rewrite with your head.

Bill Costantini

I love Darcy Pattison, and have seen her speak. She's a great writer and a great teacher. I do agree with William Martell/Ernest Lehman. The outline/beat sheet helps me figure things out. My first drafts are pretty good, and I already have the story figured out before I write them. My subsequent revisions make my first drafts better - mostly polishing dialogues and action lines; maybe extending/adding some parts; and maybe trimming/deleting some parts.

Aray Brown

The first draft is your foundation. The second draft is reconstruction

Andrew Martin Smith

Hmm - pondering on what William Martell has written has got me thinking. I suspect that most writers would agree that after you have done your writing apprenticeship and chunked out the obligatory first five screenplays - you begin to understand that simple, horrible, brutal truth that once you are committed to a certain direction - having committed your soul to that first draft - as the great Lehman points out - it is an absolute bitch to scrap everything and start all over again. So on we charge, drafts to the left, drafts to the right down into the valley of rejected screenplays. Sometimes it's easier to walk away from the idea - work on another project and if the idea still lures you back with a sirens call, atleast you're going to be starting again from a fresh perspective. Which does tend to underline the need to ponder hard and deeply on your beat sheat.

Tivoli Silas

I agree with William Martell somewhat. I always feel that I get a grasp of what my story is while outlining by writing detailed summaries that read easily. But when I get to the first draft, what one of my creative writing teachers in college calls a "shitty draft," there are many things that need adjusting and it can still dramatically change from what was originally intended, but the heart of the original story can still remain.

Benjamin Pearce

Agreed.

Hakim Kisakye

this is true and i agree with you, the first draft is subjective to several changes.

Erik Grossman

Whatever works for you is what's best... that said I wish writers would stop pitching their first draft.

Nelle Nelle

The first draft is so hard because we want to make it perfect. But it's not going to be. Ever. Just get it out. Then the real writing can begin.

Stephen Barber

The first rule of being a writer is, WE DO NOT TALK ABOUT THE FIRST DRAFT!

Dan Guardino

I only write two or three drafts at the most so my first one is pretty close to my last one.

Regina Lee

Gary Ross believes in outlining, and he calls the outline his "road map." Ideally, you have your road map charted out BEFORE you start your road trip. I agree with that. But if you're new, I think it does take writing a first draft to figure out your story. As you become more experienced, hopefully you can have your road map in place BEFORE first draft.

Deenur E Gill

The first draft is just that- first draft. I wouldn't expect that a first draft is ever the completed version.

Dan Guardino

Regina. There is no right answer here. Most people do use an outline while there are people like me that prefer to just sit in front of my computer and start writing. I am not recommending that people do it my way but I can't manage to sit down and write an outline because scenes come to me as write.

Landon J. Morrell

My first draft is getting the story written per my outline. I put it away for a couple of weeks and then comeback to it with a fresh outlook. I flush out what doesn't work and add what does. After a few flushes and adds I then send off for notes. Once the notes come back I do a rewrite. I then send for more notes if I think I need it.

Regina Lee

Yes, Dan. I said "I agree [with Gary Ross]." I didn't say "everyone must agree." :-)

Dan Guardino

My mistake Regina.:)

Robert Smith

Sure, one function of the first draft is to get the basic story down; however, hitting the beats, developing character, setting up subplots and all other elements of a movie are important as well. Subsequent revisions often change the story, modify characters and add subplots. Revisions also develop characters, subplots, imagery, sounds, and define scene sequences to build tension toward the climax. Tension/release sequences are essential in writing great scripts!

Eric Christopherson

I've outlined extensively in the past, but now I write with very thin outlines with just the major three or four plot points known, and sometimes less than that, because the result, I find, is a more organic product, characters and situations I believe in more.

Jody Ellis

My outlines are mostly in my head. As I've gained more experience writing screenplays, I've found that I usually have something decent by the third draft.

Dan MaxXx

I know TV writing, Bosses want to see outlines before script writing. Writers on feature film assignments usually turn in a treatment/outline before they write a script, yes or no?

Jody Ellis

To my understanding, tv writing is usually a collaborative effort with several writers on staff for a show. So yes, they probably come up with some kind of outline. I don't think there are any tv staff writers here at the moment, so I think it's kind of moot. For a spec pilot, I've seen writers do a pilot script or a bible. Most do one or the other, only going further if there is genuine interest by a producer or other exec. I've yet to have a producer ask to see my outline on any spec script, tv or feature. They want to see your finished product, I don't think they care too much how you got there. A writer hired for a specific feature may be required to do an outline. Often they are hired to rewrite a terrible script so it may be more a matter of discussion rather than an actual outline. But I don't know how that works so maybe not.

Regina Lee

If you sell a TV pitch to a network/studio, an outline step is usually a step in the writer's contract. There may be a pre-outline step called a "Story Area" document to clarify the pilot story even before the team is commenced to go to outline. The reductive reason why is that the fate of a new TV project is usually decided within one development cycle. The pilot/series is either picked up or passed on during a single development cycle, so there's usually only one chance to "get it right" by the network's standards, and that's why the network execs need to be involved at pre-outline or outline stage. They want to help the team create a pilot that can get on the air. Who knows best what can get on the air at FOX or HBO that year? The execs who work in that office, right? If you sell a Feature pitch to a studio, an outline step is usually NOT a step in the contract. The reductive reason why is that the fate of a new film project is usually NOT decided within a specific timeframe. I'm talking about contractual steps in this post. Whether the producers or studio execs would prefer to see a non-contractual outline prior to script is another question, and like all things, depends on the situation.

Regina Lee

The above was to try to respond to Dan M's post, which I thought made a great point. :-)

Dan Guardino

Dan M. For feature films it depends on the producer and the writers relationship with the producer.

David Levy

I've recently gotten into the habit of writing an outline before my first draft. For a while, I would keep the entire story in my head and just write. I am almost done with the first draft on a pilo now. Even though I have my outline, I veered from it. Sometimes it all develops organically, takes over and what you are thinking at that moment is better than what you have in the outline, and at times, makes more sense. What I put into the first draft is a helluva lot more compelling than what I had in the outline. To each their own I guess. Whatever works best for the writer.

Richard Gustason

^^^^ I'm like David. I do an outline first before I go into dialogue. For me, this helps me what my characters will say in the setting. It also help me stay on course with the story. And like he said, whatever works best for the writer will be fine.

Eric Christopherson

A polar opposite view from Tim's, coming from a produced screenwriter and Columbia University screenwriting prof (recently deceased): http://bit.ly/2bpL9dA Writers IMO need to experiment with approaches to find out what works for them.

Jeff Lyons

First draft is for the readers/gatekeepers, 2nd draft is for talent/packaging, 3rd draft is for distributors/sales, 4 draft is shooting script. First draft needs to be written as a piece of prose, for people who read. You have to produce a great piece of writing to get past the gatekeepers. Tim is write ... development is where you figure out your story hopefully BEFORE you start writing. my 2 cents. http://www.jefflyonsbooks.com/the-greatest-screenwriting-secret-i-ever-l...

Andrew Martin Smith

Eric - I can see where Guy Gallo is coming from and for an experienced writer hoofing it is going to produce a fresh lively screenplay - but for an amateur writer (as Tim has said) it is more likely to be a narrative disaster.

Dan Guardino

Jeff is right. All screenplays that aren’t in development or production are considered First Drafts no matter how many times the screenwriter rewrites them. So all spec screenplays are First Drafts.

Eric Christopherson

Andrew, I don't disagree with you because you said "more likely" and my whole point is that what works for one person won't for another, and that there's more than one best way to write a screenplay whether you're an old hand or just starting out. Ask Charlie Kaufman how much outlining he's done, for example. (Answer: zilch.)

Stuart Aston

Disagree. Script/Draft. If the story is good, it produces more stories, one good idea that as never been used, is what you need. Compare whats out there, if its not been produced, its on its way.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

To me the script is like a living thing. Keep working on it for the rest of your life if you have time. However, I'v gone with several first drafts to get someone interested in my work, particularly when I had time constraints. Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Junior (wrote about 15 major films together) had this to say about rewrites: "Usually, we'd get about three pages done each day, and those pages are finished pages. We'd polish them as we go, over and over again, doing our revising as we proceed. So when we're finished, we're really finished. We very seldom do any revising."

Robert Smith

A script is a blueprint. If you're lucky enough to get one produced it will be taken apart and rebuilt by the director and producers, tweaked to get the most out of available talent, twisted to get it under budget, tainted on the set because of a thousand reasons; then finally, after all the other creative minds have had their go at your precious story, the editors remake the movie post. So don't kid yourselves, writers. A script is the first step in a long line of production and post realities that take your idea across the finish line. If you want a hobby, that's OK. Writing can be very therapeutic, until it leaves the nest.

Phillip "The Genuine Article" Hardy

Robert: Wise words indeed. I just went through three rewrites with a director and it's completely different than original draft. Furthermore, if you read big budget writer's drafts of screenplays, they often go through many changes before coming to the screen. Good examples I've read would be the recent film "The Revenant". Also Spartacus by Dalton Trumbo and Tombstone draft by Kevin Jarre are very different from the feature films that were released.

Robert Smith

Thanks Phillip. As an example of my work: I sketched a bare outline last winter to work out the concept, drafted a 118-page script in the Spring, sent it out to readers for feedback, wrote notes all Summer, plan to revise the script this month and do preproduction this Winter. I'm hoping to crowd fund the thing and shoot it next Summer if we can gather enough cash.

Bill Costantini

Nice insights on the Blue Print Concept, Robert, and good luck with your project. I was watching True Romance last night, and remembered how Cinema God Quentin Tarantino originally wrote Clarence to die at the end. Cinema God Tony Scott, the director of the film, said "no effing way", and the ending was changed. Mr. Tarantino also had the story fashioned in a non-linear way, and Mr. Scott said "no effing way" again. What a great film, and what great lovers and makers of brilliant cinema Quentin Tarantino is and Tony Scott was. RIP, Tony Scott, and Happy Labor Day to Everyone!

Bill Costantini

Damien: you left out "betrayal" and "bewitched". I think you are the reincarnation of James Joyce. I promise to get you happy drunk and dance-floor crazy happy the next time you come to Las Vegas! Much Writer's Love and Best Wishes to you. And RIP, Brian Friel and James Joyce. To All: Damien has one of the coolest Last Supper photos on his profile that you will ever see. Check it out if you haven't seen it.

Dan MaxXx

well I dont want to kill dreams but the function of any draft is to show your ability to tell a story with pictures.

Bill Costantini

Aye-yah....Dan MaxXx....Dream-Killer to the Aspiring Mass of Writers. You sure ruined what was promising to be a day of strawberry fields forever with unlimited unicorn rides, Mr. Reality.

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