by Tom Lazarus
I've written seven movies that have been made, eight movies of the week and over a hundred hours of network TV. I've taught and been a script consultant for many many years consulting on scripts for writers around the world. Writers I've consulted for and taught have had features and movies of the week made, won screenwriting contests and have thrived under my tutelage. My training is non-academic. I learned my craft in the trenches and have written everything from features, TV, documentaries, informational films and educational films. I've directed five features, 20 hours of television, ran my own TV series for five years and worked in motion picture marketing for ten years. When I do a consultation, not only do I supply the writer notes, but I work with the writer preparing the rewrite. I draw on my varied background to give notes that are relevant, concise, thoughtful and helpful and have many returns consultations.
Notice that I use the word ‘feel.’
I urge screenwriters I work with to work in the right side of the brain and get in touch with their feelings about the writing.
You’ve seen enough movies, you know what you like and don’t like. The challenge is to find the place in your gut that knows good from bad, right from wrong, what is truthful what is not - and listen to it and write it.
So after about ten drafts, I send my rough draft out to a couple of my readers, who tell me it’s lousy and that I have to work harder, dig deeper, crank it up.
I do whatever notes of theirs I think will improve my script and continue rewriting.
The mantra that runs through my mind, driving me on – a truism about screenwriting: the more you work on your screenplay the better it gets.
After ten more drafts, where I struggle to round out the script, mature it, to reach the potential in every scene, to make everything – format, grammar, everything - perfect. Then, I send it out and move on to the next project.
Over the years, I’ve learned how to survive emotionally and psychologically in Hollywood…I don’t get my ego strokes only if someone likes the script, or it gets bought, or it gets made – those things are totally out of my control and, frankly, for all of us, it’s such a long shot, I’d hate to only feel good if someone else approves of what I do.
I take my ego satisfaction from what I can control…the screenplay itself.
If I have reached the potential of the idea, given the script my all, done the best I can…then I’m happy. I’ve done the best job I can. I can’t ask more of myself – I’m happy – and I move on.
Rewriting is where screenwriters live. It’s in rewrite where, like the sculptor with a piece of raw marble, the screenwriter gets to work the screenplay into it’s final shape, taking away the pieces s of the stone to reveal the true art.
A lot of writers ask: “How do I know when my screenplay is finished?”
One of the major issues in many, many of the screenplays I read?
They’re not finished. Sometimes it feels the writer has gotten to the end, typed FADE OUT and sent the script out.
Screenwriting is hard. It takes time to mature your writing.
I consider a script I’m writing finished when…
…it has fulfilled the promise of the original idea,
…the script has reached its potential,
…when I read it and I feel satisfied,
…when I stop making major changes,
…when I read it from the start and make only piddling changes …when I read it and the page count doesn’t change.
The rule: Never send out a script until it’s finished and perfect.
You usually have only one chance with a reader, or producer, or contest or wherever you’re sending your script.
You only shoot yourself in the foot if you send out a script that isn’t ready.