What if the first draft is the best draft?

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  • What if the first draft is the best draft?

    So writers tell stories about their screenplays being re written by different other writers, directors etc. I´ve learned that this is common in Hollywood. Production companies need to produce a couple of films every year, right. There are few good screenplays and many companies end up with half-ass ones that they try to improve. Am I right?

    Let´s say I want to read the first and the second draft of Gladiator and then watch the movie, that will be three drafts. The purpose is to see what was cut and what didn´t work and how the screenplay improve but how do I know the first draft wasn´t the best? As a beginning screenwriter I can´t trust my taste and feeling too much so if they cut something brilliant from the first draft I´ll probably think that´s how you should do it. I hope you understand what I mean.

  • #2
    There are few good screenplays and many companies end up with half-ass ones that they try to improve. Am I right?
    In most cases they have scripts that are extremely well written but that does not mean they do not need to be rewritten. Rewriting is not always about improving on a poorly written script, it is often about shaping a well written script to put a certain signature/slant on it or to emphasis/deemphasis certain aspects and characters depending on the needs and desires of TPTB.

    The purpose is to see what was cut and what didn´t work and how the screenplay improve but how do I know the first draft wasn´t the best?

    "best" is a highly subjective term. It doesn't really matter what you think is the best draft, what matters is that you learn from whatever draft you read or whatever version of a film you watch that to improve your own writing.

    Every draft has something to teach you.

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    • #3
      I read an early draft of SPY GAMES which was a million times better than the film - it's as if they cut all of the cool stuff out. I have no idea why they would do such a thing - but having had the same thing happen with my scripts, I know it's common.

      Usually they *start* with a good script and end up with the half assed one.

      Your job is to write a *great* script.

      - Bill

      PS: The draft of SPY GAMES I read wasn't the *writer's* first draft - it was spit-polished and every little detail was in the script for a reason. Again - write a great script.

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      • #4
        I read the first draft of Gladiator and then the second draft, to observe exactly the thing you are talking about.
        (the scripts came from reliable sources and were labeled, first draft, second draft.)

        The second draft was a drastic improvement and pretty close to the theatrical release.

        I also read an early draft of POTC and then one closer to the shooting script. Again, second draft was better.

        I think it varies.
        Sometimes a really great script gets dumbed down and cool elements get dropped.
        Sometimes the first draft has a great concept and some good elements but falls short of the mark. Another writer is brought in to preserve those elements and build up it's strengths.

        The finished product, well, that is really subjective.
        Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.
        What appeals to one will appall another.

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        • #5
          Thank you for your answers.

          I read the first draft once, then the second, then I watch the movie, then I read the second draft while watching the movie and then do the same thing but with the first draft. Is this a good approach or is could it be more effective?

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          • #6
            It isn't.

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            • #7
              Then what is?

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              • #8
                WC, where did you find the Spy Games script? I haven't come across it anywhere.

                jimb

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                • #9
                  I had heard a while ago about The Verdict, where the original script had done the rounds in Hollywood before being rewritten several times. Then Paul Newman became involved and when he read the script he said "I'm sure I have read this before but it was much better". He had read the original script so they used that one.

                  IMDB have a slightly different version of the story.

                  Edited because "reat" isn't a word.

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                  • #10
                    It's probably true that most scripts are ruined or weakened by notes from the studio, the producers, etc. What happened to The Battle of Shaker Heights on the second Project Greenlight was a good example. Erica Beeney's script wasn't perfect by any means, but she did every note they gave her (like a good little screenwriter) and effectively sabotaged her own screenplay... but of course, she got plenty of work after that, so it's a trade-off.

                    It's been my own experience that I've been expected to do rewrites in which I end up being forced to cut out all of the best things in the script. Most often, if you have a moment in your film that is unlike things that producer's have seen in other films, they will want it cut because "that kind of thing doesn't happen." So yeah, it is incredibly difficult to be unique.

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