What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

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  • What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

    And how many drafts? How much time for each draft?
    Last edited by Done Deal Pro; 10-08-2020, 12:29 PM. Reason: Added tags

  • #2
    Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

    25 minutes


    Hey! You might do it in your house, but in this house we don't lick our butts. -- Mother Teresa

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    • #3
      Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

      I assume you mean just for you/a typical screenwriter working at home on a spec script? If yes, then so much will depend on your writing ability and also writing schedule.

      The following thoughts do not factor in the time for research, outlining, etc...

      Some writers can knock out a pretty decent draft in say six to eight weeks. Then maybe spend another one to two weeks polishing it up and getting to a point where they feel confident enough to show people for feedback. From there, notes back from peers, producers or whomever etc. could maybe take another couple of weeks to address -- possibly, even more if extensive changes are needed.

      Now, of course, there are crazy scenarios in which you need to write a script in say just a few weeks or even less for say an indie producer on a schedule. But for a more "quality" script, I think you can look at two to three months including some rewriting and polishing. This will also depend on what you mean by (level of) quality? Filmmable? TV movie? Studio feature film? Network show? Oscar winner? Or indie horror movie? Etc.

      Again, so much depends on how good of a writer you really are and thus how well your first draft turns out. Some writers take months and even years to work on a script (multiple drafts) and it still only turns out mediocre.

      And in terms of drafts, this will come back to how good the first draft is and then what the notes are like from the people who have read it for you. Off what I noted above, each draft can (or possibly even should) take a couple of weeks in terms of polishing. Not that I am a hot shot writer, but maybe the better for this discussion, I've gone through anywhere from three to five (rewrite) drafts trying to get a script as "right" as I could. Even then I'm not always happy with it and feel it needs more work.

      Hope this can help answer your question some. I'm sure a few others can chime with their different experiences on writing scripts.
      Will
      Done Deal Pro
      www.donedealpro.com

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      • #4
        Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

        Originally posted by Done Deal Pro View Post
        I assume you mean just for you/a typical screenwriter working at home on a spec script? If yes, then so much will depend on your writing ability and also writing schedule.

        The following thoughts do not factor in the time for research, outlining, etc...

        Some writers can knock out a pretty decent draft in say six to eight weeks. Then maybe spend another one to two weeks polishing it up and getting to a point where they feel confident enough to show people for feedback. From there, notes back from peers, producers or whomever etc. could maybe take another couple of weeks to address -- possibly, even more if extensive changes are needed.

        Now, of course, there are crazy scenarios in which you need to write a script in say just a few weeks or even less for say an indie producer on a schedule. But for a more "quality" script, I think you can look at two to three months including some rewriting and polishing. This will also depend on what you mean by (level of) quality? Filmmable? TV movie? Studio feature film? Network show? Oscar winner? Or indie horror movie? Etc.

        Again, so much depends on how good of a writer you really are and thus how well your first draft turns out. Some writers take months and even years to work on a script (multiple drafts) and it still only turns out mediocre.

        And in terms of drafts, this will come back to how good the first draft is and then what the notes are like from the people who have read it for you. Off what I noted above, each draft can (or possibly even should) take a couple of weeks in terms of polishing. Not that I am a hot shot writer, but maybe the better for this discussion, I've gone through anywhere from three to five (rewrite) drafts trying to get a script as "right" as I could. Even then I'm not always happy with it and feel it needs more work.

        Hope this can help answer your question some. I'm sure a few others can chime with their different experiences on writing scripts.
        Thanks Will. That was very informative. A lot to chew on.

        As for myself, I've done well in almost all the major big name contests, so maybe if it was for someone entering a contest... how long it should take to get a draft that reaches the upper echelon of the contest. But, for the more experienced writers, maybe to get it in shape to where their rep returns their call immediately flipping out over it; or to get interest from a producer; or to get an 8 on the Blacklist. A quality script that will move you forward. I am just curious of other writers' experiences, to make sure that I'm not taking way too long on any project.

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        • #5
          Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

          Hopefully a few others will still chime in, but I did a quick search to see what "random" quotes covering a little range of writers, I could find that might help some too:

          Aaron Sorkin:
          "From the moment I say I'm starting until the moment I deliver it, is usually about an 18 to 24 months on a screenplay. But most of that time is spent trying to think of it and being depressed.

          There are people for whom it is 10 weeks, 12 weeks. In fact, I'm pretty sure the contracts that I sign say that I'm going to have to deliver it in 12 weeks, and nobody ever believes that. Most of that 18 to 24 months is spent not writing. Most of that 18 to 24 months is spent bulking up, preparing to write.

          Once I start typing the screenplay, if everything is going great, I can usually do it in two or three months."
          John August:
          The fastest I ever had to write a movie was three weeks (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). Big Fish took the longest, more than six months to get a first draft.
          Sean Hood:
          1. For the 'first draft,' I'm given 10-12 weeks. Then I get a round of notes from executives and producers.
          2. For the 'revision' of that draft I'm given 6 weeks, and receive another round of notes.
          3. Lastly, I do a 'polish' which is supposed to take 3 weeks.*

          So 'how long it takes' is often completely determined by the deadline. I could write a screenplay in a week if my deadline were next Sunday (but not a very good one.)

          When I write 'spec' screenplays, which are completely original scripts that I hope to sell or finance myself, I take a bit longer. Often the best way to work on original material is to spend a lot of time getting feedback, doing table readings and putting the project aside for a period of time so that I can come back to it with fresh eyes. This process of 'workshopping' a script can take between six months and a year.
          In many ways, it comes down to taking the time "the script" needs to get it ready. Not to dismiss the question by any means, but it's really up to your writing skills and the ideas you have, thus I wouldn't overly worry about it. If it takes a year to write a great script, then so be it as a career starter.

          But that said, the main thing will be, if you get hired by a producer, company and/or studio, you'll surely get two & half to three months to write a first draft, with probably a little wiggle room. So, as exercise in preparation for a career, I'd strongly suggest to keep it moving on scripts and give yourself some relatively hard deadlines to try to reach. Try to focus on say a 10 week to 16 week range, while your writing specs. Then after that if the needle isn't clearly moving a lot, maybe set the project aside and start on something new. Come back to that script later after you've finished a draft of your next script.

          Again, various factors will always come into play, but mostly: your skills and the story itself. There is no one set amount of time that works for everyone, of course. But if you are able to write strong scripts in say three to four months, then you'll most likely be fine in the long run. Deadlines help almost everyone to one degree or another thus shaving it down some from there should be relatively easy vs. going from 12 to 16 months to a quarter that time period.
          Will
          Done Deal Pro
          www.donedealpro.com

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          • #6
            Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

            Is there a penalty for being severely late? Sorkin is saying he needs a year and a half. From what I read around here most contracts say deliver something in 12 weeks, if a writer comes in at 30 weeks lets say is there a penalty of some sort or does it just ruin your reputation and maybe prevent you from getting more work?

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            • #7
              Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

              Once I have a full outline if I can't write the first draft in 3-4 weeks something is wrong. But research and breaking the story could take a while. Maybe another month. But that's mostly because I write in worlds I have some understanding of. I'm not having to become conversant in, say, maritime shipping practices.

              For the short story I wrote, I did nine pages in two days. Then I took it from nine to twenty in a week. When I adapt this, if will take me no more than three weeks.

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              • #8
                Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                Originally posted by Cyfress View Post
                Is there a penalty for being severely late? Sorkin is saying he needs a year and a half. From what I read around here most contracts say deliver something in 12 weeks, if a writer comes in at 30 weeks lets say is there a penalty of some sort or does it just ruin your reputation and maybe prevent you from getting more work?
                Maybe Jeff, for example, can chime in at some point, but I've never heard of a penalty, per se. I think like a number of contracts, you'd be in breach of the contract for not doing the work, and wouldn't be paid in full since you missed steps (in the writing schedule).

                You'd possibly be sued, especially if you didn't do anything or turn in any material whatsoever. But mostly the latter of what you noted. Word would almost surely get out pretty quickly and your reputation would end up being damaged and it'd be tough to get more work. The studio or company would not hire you again. Your rep(s) might drop you, etc. It could vary a little from situation to situation, but it wouldn't be good.

                This is not quite what you are asking about but I know a writer who was secretly doing writing for a big writer/producer. The latter would farm things out since they had so many/too projects going at once. The writer I knew took on an assignment and at the end of the day just changed his mind over the weekend before it was due. This, from what, I was told didn't go over well to say the least -- at all. The big writer ultimately survived, since they already had a career established and some success, but I bet it tarnished their (big writer's) name some for a while. The writer I knew never got any more work of that level ever again, of course.

                As Sorkin notes, they know he is slow. The contract is standard wording, but because he is Sorkin they allow it. But he is in rarefied air, as we know.
                Will
                Done Deal Pro
                www.donedealpro.com

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                • #9
                  Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                  Originally posted by Done Deal Pro View Post
                  Hopefully a few others will still chime in, but I did a quick search to see what "random" quotes covering a little range of writers, I could find that might help some too:

                  Aaron Sorkin:

                  John August:

                  Sean Hood:


                  In many ways, it comes down to taking the time "the script" needs to get it ready. Not to dismiss the question by any means, but it's really up to your writing skills and the ideas you have, thus I wouldn't overly worry about it. If it takes a year to write a great script, then so be it as a career starter.

                  But that said, the main thing will be, if you get hired by a producer, company and/or studio, you'll surely get two & half to three months to write a first draft, with probably a little wiggle room. So, as exercise in preparation for a career, I'd strongly suggest to keep it moving on scripts and give yourself some relatively hard deadlines to try to reach. Try to focus on say a 10 week to 16 week range, while your writing specs. Then after that if the needle isn't clearly moving a lot, maybe set the project aside and start on something new. Come back to that script later after you've finished a draft of your next script.

                  Again, various factors will always come into play, but mostly: your skills and the story itself. There is no one set amount of time that works for everyone, of course. But if you are able to write strong scripts in say three to four months, then you'll most likely be fine in the long run. Deadlines help almost everyone to one degree or another thus shaving it down some from there should be relatively easy vs. going from 12 to 16 months to a quarter that time period.

                  Thanks for pulling those quotes and the advice. Nice to know that Sorkin is human after all. I thought he was touched by the Gods and just magically creates those scripts in a few weeks.

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                  • #10
                    Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                    Originally posted by Friday View Post
                    Thanks for pulling those quotes and the advice. Nice to know that Sorkin is human after all. I thought he was touched by the Gods and just magically creates those scripts in a few weeks.
                    Sorkin has noted on several occasions he is in a constant state of writer's block.

                    But, this also goes a bit hand-in-hand with the "famous" Bruce Dickinson quote. Yes, the Bruce Dickinson. "I put my pants on just like the rest of you -- one leg at a time. Except, once my pants are on, I make gold records."
                    Will
                    Done Deal Pro
                    www.donedealpro.com

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                    • #11
                      Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                      When you are Aaron Sorkin they wait for you. Also I'm sure some of it is exaggeration. Like he gets hired to adapt Steve Jobs book 2 years before the movie is shot and I bet a lot of things work that way for projects like that. The man wrote like 100 episodes of TV in 4 years that would take others 1000 years, so I think he can do it if he wanted.

                      But I so related to his sentiment. Isn't that what writing is? My wife is like - why are you doing this or that mundane task and I'm like "I'm writing." Anything I'm doing is just to get myself pumped up to write and yada yada.

                      I would only say there is no perfect amount of time. I've written good specs in short periods of time and horrible pieces of crap that took years.

                      I think the real question to ask is it getting better or are you just afraid to let it go. So you can write a great spec in 3 months, but maybe it would be even better if you put 6 months into it -- then you get a rep -- and they want more work -- so pretty soon you can be at a year and half with nothing to show for it. That's the rub! At least Aaron Sorkin knows the movie is getting made and he's getting paid.

                      The real answer is there is no answer other than don't work on same spec for years and years and years...

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                      • #12
                        Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                        Originally posted by Bono View Post
                        When you are Aaron Sorkin they wait for you. Also I'm sure some of it is exaggeration. Like he gets hired to adapt Steve Jobs book 2 years before the movie is shot and I bet a lot of things work that way for projects like that. The man wrote like 100 episodes of TV in 4 years that would take others 1000 years, so I think he can do it if he wanted.

                        But I so related to his sentiment. Isn't that what writing is? My wife is like - why are you doing this or that mundane task and I'm like "I'm writing." Anything I'm doing is just to get myself pumped up to write and yada yada.

                        I would only say there is no perfect amount of time. I've written good specs in short periods of time and horrible pieces of crap that took years.

                        I think the real question to ask is it getting better or are you just afraid to let it go. So you can write a great spec in 3 months, but maybe it would be even better if you put 6 months into it -- then you get a rep -- and they want more work -- so pretty soon you can be at a year and half with nothing to show for it. That's the rub! At least Aaron Sorkin knows the movie is getting made and he's getting paid.

                        The real answer is there is no answer other than don't work on same spec for years and years and years...
                        When I first started, I would be more satisfied with what I wrote. But, as I started doing contests and having consultants look at my stuff, I started to get a gut feeling to keep revising. So, now, it's really like an endless pit of rewriting and starting original scripts. I've heard different timelines on the expectations for how long it should take to write a good script, so just wanted to get peoples' two cents.

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                        • #13
                          Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                          Originally posted by Satriales View Post
                          Once I have a full outline if I can’t write the first draft in 3-4 weeks something is wrong. But research and breaking the story could take a while. Maybe another month. But that’s mostly because I write in worlds I have some understanding of. I’m not having to become conversant in, say, maritime shipping practices.

                          For the short story I wrote, I did nine pages in two days. Then I took it from nine to twenty in a week. When I adapt this, if will take me no more than three weeks.
                          Breaking the story and outlining seems to take the longest.

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                          • #14
                            Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                            Decent draft?
                            16 weeks


                            "Quality Screenplay"?
                            1-3 years, and even then it's never really done.

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                            • #15
                              Re: What's a reasonable amount of time to create a quality screenplay?

                              Originally posted by kintnerboy View Post
                              Decent draft?


                              "Quality Screenplay"?
                              1-3 years, and even then it's never really done.
                              Yeah I’ll take the under here.

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