(Spec) Script Writing Process

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  • (Spec) Script Writing Process

    Hi - There are several topics across various DD threads that talk about the art of story telling - Concept, Acts/Structure, Story elements (pace, plot devices, conflicts, journey, empathy, etc.).

    Question - What is your definition of done & the script is ready for primetime? Below is the process I follow before I say, Done. Keep in mind that not all scripts make it to #8. Several have choked at #4.

    1. Logline.
    2. Outline.
    3. First Draft. Includes basic etiquettes of writing (Formatting, Spell Check, Grammar, Choice of words, etc.) plus extensive use of Visualization while reviewing a scene in my head - Sound design, Music, Variety of shots/angles (Dolly Zoom versus Push-In versus Zoom, Wide versus XCU, Camera on Crane, Dolly or Sticks).
    4. Recorded Table Read (virtually impossible to skip this step for dialogue sanity check, IMHO).
    5. Revisionsv1. Feedback from Table Readers.
    6. Revisionsv2. Based on feedback from friends, peers.
    7. Revisionsv3. Based on feedback professional readers.
    8. Final Read.
    9. WGA Registration.

    Curious to hear thoughts...

    -- fallen

  • #2
    Impressive. Question: who do you recruit for table reads?

    Oops. Posted before I answered the question. I don't ever feel I'm done. It's more like coming to a point where I decide I've done all I can.

    That's when I set it aside to simmer. I need space from a piece of work then come back and look at it with fresh eyes.

    I rewrite as I go. So I don't have definite revisions 1, 2 or 3. It's my process. I can't move forward if I'm not reasonably satisfied with the latest scene I've written.
    Last edited by sc111; 02-02-2021, 11:50 AM.
    Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

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    • #3
      Question: who do you recruit for table reads?
      Aspiring Actors. Some cities (Austin, NYC, LA to name a few) have a very strong actor network you can tap into. Post your ask as if it was a casting call. Outside of those, every reasonably sized city has film acting coaches. Reach out to them for recommendations. Most table reads last 3 hours and would cost you a couple of Large Pizzas. Libraries (conf. room) or Local Community centers are ideal location that'll cost you nothing. Actors get an opportunity to get in the character and read, which helps hone their dialogue delivery skills. A win-win situation. PM if you need more info...

      I don't ever feel I'm done.
      Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 02-02-2021, 02:25 PM.

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      • #4
        Thanks. Interesting.
        Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

        Comment


        • #5
          I like to break the story early in the process. Where are we 25% of the way in? 50%? 75%? What is the ending? Once I have a gist of the pacing then I tell myself the story in narrative form. I write four paragraphs one for each 25% section of the story. Then I'll expand on each paragraph. Jotting down the emotions I want the characters carrying in the scenes. Jotting down scene ideas. Once I've worked on this enough I start filling in a tentative outline around the key story events. For me, my outline changes all the time. I find once I start writing I get more ideas, I get deeper into character and their wants and how they'd go about getting them and I have better ideas for scenes so I need to go back to the outline and scratch it and start over. I'll do this a few times. I always have a few false starts but they aren't useless. I usually come up with some good plot movements during them. It sucks when you get 40 - 50 pages into a false start and you gotta start over but that's how it works for me. I needed to write that 50 pages to see over the horizon and see what that second half of act 2 was all about and now that I know the first 50 need to be handled a little bit differently. Plus the deeper I get into the script the deeper I understand the character and what their dilemma is. Once I attain that deep understanding I need to go back and rewrite the earlier pages with the same deep understanding about my character.

          I try and stay as flexible as possible until I have that full picture cemented in stone.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by fallenangel View Post
            Question - What is your definition of done & the script is ready for primetime? Below is the process I follow before I say, Done.
            Impressive. Most writers are more impatient than you. Mine is simpler:

            1. Idea/logline. (This can take months or more - it's tough coming up with one I believe in!)
            2. Test idea on as many people as humanly possible. If I can't pitch it simply and have it interest people, it's not worth writing.
            3. First draft - I tend to rewrite as I go, often starting on page one every day and reading into it, tweaking along the way.
            4. Get a few reads from trusted people. Probably around three or four people on average.
            5. Rewrite based on notes - I only do ones I agree with, obviously.
            6. Send it out.

            Steps 1 and 2 are the ones where most projects die - I probably have one idea a year that makes it past that.

            I think writing half a script or a whole script and tossing it is a really bad use of time. I need an idea that people want to read when they hear it.

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            • #7

              So, this has been my process for the last couple years. The technical aspects go back further, but the "fun" stuff is a little new for me.

              1. Idea / Logline - I'm not sure what this says about my approach in comparison to Jeff, but I typically know what I'm writing next within two weeks of finishing the spec before it if not beforehand.

              2. I try to pitch the idea to those closest to me, but I'm not exactly surrounded by the most supportive bunch, so I am typically met with an indifferent "Okay" or I am told that I am stupid. Whatever.

              3. I call it the "gestation phase". I'll spend a couple weeks just going on walks while trying to come up with as many potentially interesting scenes and jokes that fit the concept as well as figuring out the tone, appropriate character arcs, how I plan to structure it, and what a fitting end will be for it.

              4. My version of outlining. I basically skip any sort of outline for act 1 aside from how the script will open and what the inciting incident will be and jump to act 2. All I really do is throw the best scene ideas I can come up with into a notebook that can be divided into two sections, beats that come before the mid-point and beats that come after. There is no planned sequential order to these beats outside of that. It's purely non-linear.

              5. I start writing by mostly just winging the first act. Simply putting in whatever is necessary to keep the story going at a proper pace until the first act break. The most important element of this is whatever character interactions I use to make the first act work end up laying a foundation of running gags and character quirks that fuel the dynamics of the act 2 scenes in my outline.

              6. Second act. I use my act 2 outline as a puzzle, picking out the scenes and reordering them in a way that results in the best story flow as it relates to character arcs and escalation of circumstances, tying them together as I go with what I call "segue scenes", which are often some of my best scenes. After every ten pages or so, I do mathematical calculations to figure out on average how long each of the remaining beats has to be to fit all my beats in by page 85. When that number starts to get low, I'll begin to eliminate the beats that I think would add to the story least or consider if they would make sense to fit in the third act.

              7. This isn't necessarily step 7, but I do rewrite as I go. If I have an idea for a better line or character action or whatever, I'll go back to the page it is on and change it, then I will also go to any pages impacted by that change and change those pages as well.

              8. Once I reach the end of the second act, I go back to page one and cut out as much length as possible so I know exactly how many pages I have to work with until I hit my page max of 109, or in an absolute worst case scenario, page 115. Page 115 has only happened once for me.

              9. Write a fast paced, action packed act 3, and end it with the most satisfying and logical conclusion to what my characters did in act 2. Sometimes this deviates from my original imagined ending somewhat.

              10. Send it out to my trusted readers for feedback.

              11. They tell me that they're busy, so to give them a few months to get around to it when they finally get some free time. Three months later, they tell me they never got around to it because they decided to do other things with their free time. They then tell me that they're going to be super busy for the next six months, but they promise they'll read it by the end of next summer.

              12. I grumble in annoyance.

              13. I bite the bullet and give it to the only person who I can convince to read my script in a somewhat timely manner that actually knows how to read a screenplay, my girlfriend who is romantically obligated to read it because I occasionally feed her. She HATES comedy and genre movies (which I write), even the ones written by legendary writers that are geniuses in their craft, so this does not go well. It does not help that she thinks the proper way to give a critique to an author's face is with the same aggressive malice that you'd mock a Michael Bay movie to your friends after watching it because you were high and already watched all the good movies on Netflix. This brutal critique usually ends with the phrase, "You're such a boy". This does wonders for my confidence. She'll also say I should query with it, which sends mixed messages.

              14. I make the changes that I can based on her feedback with the mindset that this feedback is not coming from my target audience. These are usually finer details that focus on realism, like a character mentioning that they pay real estate taxes on their home or center around punchlines that she found too offensive that may or may not end with the phrase "Hot, jizzy bacon".

              15. I send the revised version out to the people that I know are more accepting of comedy and genre flicks, and therefore my writing style, and are able to tell me what in the script works, what jokes land, etc. as opposed to simply how much they hate it.

              16. I await further feedback.

              17. I never get further feedback.

              18. I grumble in annoyance.

              19. By this point, I'm usually already done with the next script, so I put the old script on ice, never to go out with it because I think the new one might have a better chance, repeating the vicious cycle.
              Last edited by Prezzy; 02-03-2021, 09:42 AM.

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              • #8
                1. Think of great idea
                2. Waste time not writing it (weeks to years)
                3. Eventually write it. (days to weeks to months)
                4. Show it to people (time stops)
                5. Hope for good news (never ending hell)

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                • #9
                  I always start with an image or scene, then build a story around that. I don't outline per se. I kind of just take notes after letting it ruminate for a bit. I have a general idea of the story and character arcs when I actually start writing. This will sound corny, but I genuinely feel the story reveals itself to me while writing. I don't think about loglines and titles until I've finished the first draft. And I usually step away from a finished first draft for at least a month before coming back for the second draft.

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                  • #10
                    What do I really do? This last one...

                    -- Rep said he wanted "this type of idea" for a comedy movie. I loved that world.

                    -- I pitched ideas, passed on a few, and then found one he loved.

                    -- Wrote mini treatment that went from 2 to 4 to 6 to 9 pages. Slowly built it out.

                    -- Rep called after and said maybe this is the wrong way to go with the idea. I forgot why now as been like a year (before pandemic). Maybe not enough heart. Or the structure was bad. Something. So I took some time to think about how to fix what he saw.

                    -- I pitched him a new take -- not the idea itself -- but the setup. I said we should use the structure of a popular 80s movie as our guide. And he thought that was a much better take.

                    So I fixed a huge issue in treatment land -- and saved a ton of time before writing the spec. Finding this "mistake" before I wrote a spec my rep hated was huge. Basically it went from leads already being buddies to a more classic 2 hander where the 2 leads meet along the way. Helped with the growth and heart.

                    - Rewrote treatment with new take on same idea -- eventually to 16-18 pages when all was said and done. Slowly built Act I - II - III out.

                    -- Wrote spec in chunks and showed him along the way. 30 pages here. 60 pages here. He offered intense notes.

                    -- Eventually wrote like a 150 page draft using everything in treatment. He never read that version.

                    -- Turned in "first draft" around 110 pages. Intense notes.

                    -- Lots of notes. And did fixes. And then I turned in "second draft" the ballooned up to 121 pages I think.

                    I can't remember when now, but at some point I nailed the structure. But even if wtih all the planning, I still had to figure it out some stuff while in spec land. It's not perfect process. Basically scenes and chunks were boring or slow and it just wasn't' working. I cut like 50 pages out of the spec, moved stuff around, added new scenes and got it right.

                    I know we argue about page numbers and the like, but it was very helpful to think, well I want that scene to happen around page 50 and not page 75. So just knowing where some scenes had to land helped me find the structure as I went.

                    -- Then rep and I did our own private read through on the phone. Took more than 1 call. And we would read a scene out loud and discuss what was working, he's give thoughts. At first, I didn't like it, but I started to get into it and enjoyed the process. For one it helped a lot of jokes I wrote that he didn't get or were not that funny on the page. I'd read them the way I heard them and he'd laugh. So you do learn good lessons on that. Talked a lot about making lead characters sound a certain way. And some jokes just die on paper and in real life. If he didn't get a joke -- I'd let well that stinks -- but I'd think of a new one. Trying to please me and rep.

                    -- So after that "phone table read" I went to work and rewrote the script based on that.

                    -- Then there were more notes.

                    -- And as time went on we got more specific and specific. Soon down to 5-10 lines that were not working.

                    -- Eventually he was ready to say this spec is done and ready to show people.

                    This was a new process for me. Not all of it, but other reps barely had any notes. So this was more intense, but rewarding as the spec turned out well. Be better story if I make money off it one day.





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                    • #11
                      Eventually he was ready to say this spec is done and ready to show people
                      Priceless.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Bono View Post
                        What do I really do? This last one...

                        -- Rep said he wanted "this type of idea" for a comedy movie. I loved that world.

                        -- I pitched ideas, passed on a few, and then found one he loved.

                        -- Wrote mini treatment that went from 2 to 4 to 6 to 9 pages. Slowly built it out.

                        -- Rep called after and said maybe this is the wrong way to go with the idea. I forgot why now as been like a year (before pandemic). Maybe not enough heart. Or the structure was bad. Something. So I took some time to think about how to fix what he saw.

                        -- I pitched him a new take -- not the idea itself -- but the setup. I said we should use the structure of a popular 80s movie as our guide. And he thought that was a much better take.

                        So I fixed a huge issue in treatment land -- and saved a ton of time before writing the spec. Finding this "mistake" before I wrote a spec my rep hated was huge. Basically it went from leads already being buddies to a more classic 2 hander where the 2 leads meet along the way. Helped with the growth and heart.

                        - Rewrote treatment with new take on same idea -- eventually to 16-18 pages when all was said and done. Slowly built Act I - II - III out.

                        -- Wrote spec in chunks and showed him along the way. 30 pages here. 60 pages here. He offered intense notes.

                        -- Eventually wrote like a 150 page draft using everything in treatment. He never read that version.

                        -- Turned in "first draft" around 110 pages. Intense notes.

                        -- Lots of notes. And did fixes. And then I turned in "second draft" the ballooned up to 121 pages I think.

                        I can't remember when now, but at some point I nailed the structure. But even if wtih all the planning, I still had to figure it out some stuff while in spec land. It's not perfect process. Basically scenes and chunks were boring or slow and it just wasn't' working. I cut like 50 pages out of the spec, moved stuff around, added new scenes and got it right.

                        I know we argue about page numbers and the like, but it was very helpful to think, well I want that scene to happen around page 50 and not page 75. So just knowing where some scenes had to land helped me find the structure as I went.

                        -- Then rep and I did our own private read through on the phone. Took more than 1 call. And we would read a scene out loud and discuss what was working, he's give thoughts. At first, I didn't like it, but I started to get into it and enjoyed the process. For one it helped a lot of jokes I wrote that he didn't get or were not that funny on the page. I'd read them the way I heard them and he'd laugh. So you do learn good lessons on that. Talked a lot about making lead characters sound a certain way. And some jokes just die on paper and in real life. If he didn't get a joke -- I'd let well that stinks -- but I'd think of a new one. Trying to please me and rep.

                        -- So after that "phone table read" I went to work and rewrote the script based on that.

                        -- Then there were more notes.

                        -- And as time went on we got more specific and specific. Soon down to 5-10 lines that were not working.

                        -- Eventually he was ready to say this spec is done and ready to show people.

                        This was a new process for me. Not all of it, but other reps barely had any notes. So this was more intense, but rewarding as the spec turned out well. Be better story if I make money off it one day.




                        Curious if others have had similar experiences with a rep or this is an anomalous situation. It sounds almost like you have a co-writer. I would expect a rep to provide feedback and notes on marketability of different concepts, what bits are working and not, etc. But a lot of this strikes me as someone else, who is not a writer, telling the writer what to do in very intimate detail. In my imagination the writer is the talent and the rep sells what the talent produces. I know there is more to it, and there is a symbiotic relationship where the rep's success is dependent on the success of their clients. And there is a give and take relationship that goes along with that.

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                        • #13
                          I had many reps, first one gave me 15 pages of detailed notes, other 2 just rejected whole specs outright and offered no help. I much prefer the current situation. BTW -- I had more control then you're realizing and he had many good ideas. But it was not the rep that I've heard of that literally write your spec for you with their producer hat on.

                          However, if you don't jive with your rep this process can be a nightmare.

                          But in general -- I feel this is the biggest thing I can pass on. It took me time to learn this. But this is my experience on my way up the ladder. Maybe it all changes after a spec sale. Or getting a movie made. Then I feel you the writer has a lot more power.

                          However to be clear -- I think it may be the best overall spec I ever wrote.

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                          • #14
                            I had only one rep before I took a long time out. Compared to what Bono describes -- though I'm not sure what "intense notes" means -- he did not give me copious notes. I would say they were targeted notes.

                            Sometimes written in an email. More often discussed on the phone and with the back and forth I had more input. He'd say, "I'd like you to do this with the scene ...." I'd listen, take notes on my end. I'd let him know when I agreed and was on board. Sometimes I told him I had to think on a particular note and get back to him. Sometimes, in the moment, his note would give me ideas on another way to get to where he wanted and we'd spitball that awhile. He never gave me line by line notes or changed dialogue.

                            We never did a table read. He'd suggest toning down dialogue here and amping up dialogue there but never told me what to write. Once I asked him, "Can you give me an idea of what you want added to the dialogue?" He said, "You're the writer." I didn't ask that type of question again.

                            I suppose, like writers, different reps have different styles when working with a writer.
                            Advice from writer, Kelly Sue DeConnick. "Try this: if you can replace your female character with a sexy lamp and the story still basically works, maybe you need another draft.-

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Ricky Slade: Listen to me, I intentionally make this gun look that way because I am smart.

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