What I learned about rewrites this week

For the past six months, I’ve been working on a biopic project with a writing partner and the attached director.

We’ve now reached the point where there are meetings scheduled and the script is about to be sent out. The script is 90% there and there is a tight, career-defining deadline. This has been my primary work for the past fortnight and last night I finished the rewrite. It is just a tidy-up away from going to the director. So, the second I had the rewrite done, I emailed it to my partner for his notes.

Whilst I wait for his feedback, this seems like a good point to share the two big things I’ve learned on this rewrite.

The deeper the problem the more pages have to be rewritten.

Not all rewrite problems are the same. If the improvement needs to be in the cinematic storytelling, it may be that scenes will just need to be altered rather than rewritten.

One layer deeper (a plot or character issue) will require more writing and bigger changes. Scenes will have to come out and new scenes written. In fact, every scene that occurs after a plot-point alteration needs to be written from scratch. So, if your alteration is at page 50, you have 40-60 new pages to write. You can’t pull a plot-point out and expect to change that one scene… and then just paper over the cracks in the following scenes!

If the rewrite issue is a level lower, so it’s an alteration of the central character, the theme or a shift in the concept, then you are looking at a blank page rewrite.

Rewrites are supposed to make the script better. It’s not enough to just fix the problem

Often notes are expressed as problems to be solved.

In this rewrite, the director didn’t like a mechanical plot-point that was used to move the central characters towards the final conflict. He asked me to ditch it and do something else.

This particular plot-point was the 2nd Act break! So, I already knew the entire 3rd Act was going to be rewritten. What I know about rewriting is that it requires writers to do two things… to dig deeper into the story (not the plot, the story!) to find the answers, and writers need to see the rewrite as an opportunity to create something astounding. Not to just fix the script but to transform it.

During this rewrite, I have written two scene that are some of my best work… and which I never would have found without this opportunity to rewrite.

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