You might have noticed my posts were slightly scarcer over the last couple of weeks. That's because I've been involved in a rewrite on my latest thriller spec. Since that has sapped a lot of my creative energy, I thought I'd use the post today to talk a little about my rewriting process.
I have about ten trusted readers. When I finish a first draft, that screenplay goes out to five of them. These people are members of my writing group. Most of them are aspiring writers at various levels of their craft, with a few aspiring producers among them and one director with a feature to his name. We're all used to eviscerating each other and more importantly - we're prompt about it. Usually I can count on a group meeting within a week of sending out pages. It's pretty common to walk out of one of those meetings having gotten a barrage of notes and a sense that you'll never be able to please anyone. (No meeting is complete until one of our members says dryly, "Is there anything else we can help you with?")
So after that, I retreat to work on my rewrite and then I send it to my second wave of readers. This group includes a few young pros, many of whom are repped and some who have previously worked as readers. Their occupations include a VP of development and a director's assistant. A curious trend emerged with this most recent draft. The young pros - who have written excellent scripts but haven't read professionally - RAVED about the script and had few major nitpicks. They saw the script exactly as I did and went on at length about some of the things they loved about it. Those were the kinds of emails you cherish as a writer because you come away feeling, "Wow! They get it EXACTLY as I intended it."
But from the development VP and the pro reader there was an interesting trend in their notes. They kept finding things wrong that the pro writers didn't. Interestingly, they agreed with each other on most of these points (despite the fact these two have never met or communicated.) Their list of "fixes" was longer, though while they both felt it needed work, their reaction trended positive enough that I knew I was on the right track. (And in fairness, VP said that this was looking like it could be "your best script yet.")
So what I took from that is that in a lot of ways the script works on its own terms so long as its read by people who totally give themselves over to it. That's no mean feat, so I was pleased to accomplish that. However, I cannot ignore that a more "hostile read" would probably uncover more issues. (There's also the fact that Reader and Dev VP have a better understanding of where the bar is set as they interface with scripts more regularly than the pros.)
Basically, I have to write a script good enough to be loved by people who aren't prepared to love it. That seems pretty basic, but it's a hard note to follow with wild praise ringing in your ears from people who get it.
So after I finish this rewrite, it'll go back to the first group and I'll use those reactions to gauge if it should be passed on to Group 2 again, or if the script is ready for my "big ticket contacts" - the people I only get one read from.
I like to alternate reads between the two groups because it ensures that at least two drafts will be reacted to with fresh eyes and then on rewrites, there will be more substantive changes for each group to react to since they're alternating drafts.
As I wrap this up, I'll also be starting on a new TV pilot project and also outlining a new horror thriller. My current script is a low budget thriller that I have designed to be something I could possibly shoot myself, while the horror/thriller is another low budget idea in the vein of what Jason Blum produces.
After writing a couple "big" scripts, I was ready for a change and I just happened onto two ideas that aimed more for the microbudget side. I didn't specifically set out to "write to the market," but when an idea comes to you in a genre that happens to be hot, you'd be a fool not to pursue it.