Because here’s the thing: you can’t take ANYTHING away from an in-development draft of a script, and I’m going to give you reasons why.
First of all, even though you might think you have “Draft four” of the script or “Draft twelve” of the script, you never really know.
Why? Here’s the first question: is it a draft for producers or is it a draft for the studio? Those can be and often are two different things.
When you’re doing drafts for producers, how you work on those drafts depends on the writer’s process and the producers’ demands.
So what might be one draft on the studio level could be five, six, twelve smaller or microdrafts for producers.
So let’s say you’ve written and sold a script with XYZ producers. Before it’s gone out, you’ve already done a few drafts.
When you finally get it into a place that you’re ready to take it out and it sells, THIS is, for all intents and purposes, Draft One.
OK, so now the studio has it! Big shit! They give you some notes (often extensive at this point), you powwow with the producers, and go!
You write that draft. You turn it into producers. They have notes. You do some tweaks. Then there are more notes, and some changing ideas.
In this phase, you might rewrite scenes or sections of the script JUST TO FIGURE OUT WHAT WORKS BEST. Pure experimentation sometimes.
Eventually – two, five, nine smaller drafts later – you now have something to turn into the studio again! YES! This draft…is Draft Two.
Meanwhile, it might be Draft Seven or Draft Twenty-six, but no: it’s fucking Draft Two.
You do several more microdrafts, and hand it back into the studio. This is now Draft Three. You’re closer to production than ever!
This is when you’re replaced with another writer, a near-100% probability if you’re working on a comedy or a tentpole.
No, seriously – you’ve done great work, but they want to go in a different direction, or bring in a new voice, or…WAIT!
Did a director come onto the project before this? An actor? Another producer? Sorry: before you’re fired, you have to address their notes!
So OK: now you’re working with producers, the studio, and a director and/or an actor(s) and/or more producers! That’s Draft Four!!!!
Have I mentioned yet how eternally lucky you are to be the only writer on the project in Draft Four (Draft 46?)? You’re a fucking unicorn.
OK: notes addressed. Draft Four turned in. Old producers, director, actors, new producers taken into account. Whew. NOW you’re fired.
So off your script goes to another writer or, more than likely, a couple more writers (again, especially in comedy/tentpoles).
There are so many fucking cooks now. SO MANY COOKS. Dare I say…Too Many Cooks? (Toooooooooooo many co-hoooks…)
But here’s the thing: while all those other writers are addressing more and more notes, YOUR NAME IS STILL ON THE SCRIPT.
Sometimes – SOMETIMES – there will be a little note at the bottom that’s like “Current revisions by Writer B”. Sure, why not?
But your name is still under “Written by”. Guess what? It’s now Draft Five. DRAFT. FIVE.
THIS IS ASSUMING THAT NO OTHER EXECS, PRODUCERS, DIRECTORS OR ACTORS COME ONTO OR LEAVE THE PROJECT.
If they do, start multiplying in-between drafts exponentially. Start multiplying studio drafts by one.
I haven’t even gone over all the things that can or do happen in the midst of all this that affects the writing. There is MUCH more.
But hopefully you get the point now. Producer draft? Studio draft? From which writer? For which producers, director(s) or actor(s)?
Was this the official Studio Draft Four? Or are you reading Producer Draft Twenty-Six, where you were trying out that thing that DIDNT work?
Now: soak ALL of that in, and try to tell me if you can REALLY get any sense of what the finished film is going to be. Can you?
You can? GREAT! Because now we’re going to talk about constant on-set revisions and reshoots!!!!!!!!!
Just kidding. We’re not going to talk about those. That would be overkill. I think you get the point.
And it’s not just unfinished – it’s still in a nascent state. You’re trying everything, good bad or ugly, to find the story’s right shape.
That can take a long, long, long time. And most of the time it never even gets to a point where you can shoot it.
Hell, most of the time, it gets so overdeveloped that it’s not WORTH shooting. But that doesn’t mean you don’t try. Because some make it.
GHOSTBUSTERS is happening, and it’s happening with a kick-ass cast. But that script ain’t NEAR finished, whatever version is out there.
So if you see someone claiming a script sucks or a script is great or it’s just running in place, it doesn’t matter. It’s in-between.
It can go from any level to and other level of quality, and then it can go in the complete opposite direction once it’s filmed.
So take any script reviews – even those from “finished” scripts – with a MASSIVE grain of salt. People who “get” movies know this process.
BTW, all that shit I just described? I think I speak for most writers when I say we’d go through it infinitely if we had to.
Because screenwriting for a living is, seriously, the coolest fucking thing on the planet, and even with the headaches, we’re lucky as shit.
Hence Geoff’s rant. Takeaways:
* If the thought of someone rewriting your story gives you virtual shingles, you probably want to focus on writing novels or plays. Because in Hollywood, everybody gets rewritten.
* If you think “Writing is rewriting” is a cute little phrase emerging from the Land of Hyperbole, wrong. What Geoff described is what writers expect going into every project. Unless the project’s director is Clint Eastwood and he intones, “We’ll shoot it as written.”
* Don’t critique scripts in development. Don’t support sites that engage in this type of activity. I have heard from writers who have told me a project of theirs has been deep-sixed by some negative buzz online about a script in development. Sadly many people who work in development are Weather Vanes, they blow with the virtual wind. It doesn’t take much for them to lose confidence in a project if some derisive comments emerge online about the script. As Geoff points out, they are works in progress, not reflective of the final product.
You should follow Geoff on Twitter: @DrGMLaTulippe.