There are broad stages in the life of a screenplay: There is the selling script and the shooting script.
A selling script can be a beautiful thing to behold, every word precise, the balance of black ink to white space pleasing to the eye, the flow of dialogue to action crafted just so, all a reflection of a screenwriter’s incessant drive to create an entertaining story that makes for a good read. Something like this:
Evelyn is trembling. EVELYN I'll tell you the truth... Gittes smiles. GITTES That's good. Now what's her name? EVELYN Katherine. GITTES Katherine?... Katherine who? EVELYN She's my daughter. Gittes stares at her. He's been charged with anger and when Evelyn says this it explodes. He hits her full in the face. Evelyn stares back at him. The blow has forced tears from her eyes, but she makes no move, not even to defend herself. GITTES I said the truth! EVELYN She's my sister. Gittes slaps her again. EVELYN She's my daughter. Gittes slaps her again. EVELYN My sister. He hits her again. EVELYN My daughter, my sister. He belts her finally, knocking her into a cheap Chinese vase which shatters and she collapses on the sofa, sobbing. GITTES I said I want the truth. EVELYN (almost screaming it) She's my sister and my daughter!
Then there is the shooting script which can look like this:
Scene numbers. Omitted scenes. Multiple colored pages. Shit crossed out. Which can lead to this:
Honestly that can be a thing of beauty, too, because it means your movie is getting produced. But once it reaches this stage, your beautiful words can be reduced by production necessities to one big to-do list.
So the first takeaway is this: As you read scripts, which is something you should be doing, you will inevitably run across shooting scripts (also known as production drafts). Do not look to them for style tips. At that stage, style points don’t count.
The other takeaway is this. You may think of a selling script as being a spec script. Certainly that is true, you write a spec with the hopes of selling it. Therefore you put in endless hours to ensure it is a great read, every page, every line fine tuned.
But let’s say you do, in fact, sell that script. Your selling does not end there. In fact, every draft of the script you may write up to the point it goes into production is in effect a selling script.
Even after a studio, financier or production company has bought it? Yes.
Because you still have to do the following:
* Attract a director.
* Attract actors.
* Sometimes attract financing.
* Excite everyone who reads the script.
Your script, no matter how much you revise it, should continue to be as entertaining as possible all the way along to sustain people’s passion for it.
So as you go about fixing story issues raised by the Powers That Be such as trimming scenes to fit budgetary considerations, retooling characters to match with possible casting, shifting scenes to fit with potential selected locations, always remember: You are writing a selling script.
Continue to write pages that sell your cinematic dream.
The Business of Screenwriting is a weekly series of GITS posts based upon my experiences as a complete Hollywood outsider who sold a spec script for a lot of money, parlayed that into a screenwriting career during which time I’ve made some good choices, some okay decisions, and some really stupid ones. Hopefully you’ll be the wiser for what you learn here.