Paradoxes of Feature Film Screenwriting

Me and my script


I’ll tell you a secret. As a writer staring at that blank page sometimes fills you with so much anxiety that you feel like you are about to embark on climbing Mt. Everest.

What they don’t tell you, the big fat dirty secret, is that once you get to the top of that glorious mountain, and you have finished your first draft, you look out and all you see are more mountains. More drafts. Each one seems as big as the last. The further you get, you find your self looking for the needle in the haystack. The word that you could eliminate. The sentence that could turn the course of the whole story.

Writing is re-writing.

The paradox is, that the only way you are ever going to crank out 27,561 words (the exact word count of my screenplay), and reach the finish line where you say, “I’m done”, is if you have passion for what you are writing.

Yes, you read those scriptwriting magazines which say, “science fiction is big now”, or “science fiction is dead”. And you try and write about whatever is hot. Vampires. Facebook. But it’s an endless cycle. Because if it’s hot now, by the time you spend four years of your life trying to get the script written, and the next four years of your life getting the film made… your disco movie will find itself being very, very cold (“Staying Alive” anyone?).

Best write about what you are passionate about. Trouble with passion, like love, is that it’s blind. Not only does it make editing a borderline-impossible task, it means that every time you make a cut, you feel like you are cutting off one of your major arteries. They don’t call it “killing your babies” for nothing.

So, the only way you’ll ever climb that mountain, is if you have passion. That passion will make it borderline impossible to properly edit your magnum opus, because you will be too protective of it.

Hear comes The Polish/Draft Five.

Read about draft four >>

4 thoughts on “Paradoxes of Feature Film Screenwriting

    1. Ah! Yes, but that’s where the real writing begins! The first draft is really so that you can discover whether or not you have enough material for a feature. Let me tell you something more reassuring… it took Robert Towne 17 drafts to get “Chinatown” right, and none of us are as good as Robert Towne, it took Peter Shaffer 47 drafts to get “Amadeus” right, and none of us are as good as Peter Shaffer. Think about it, there must have been something about draft 46 that Shaffer thought, “I can do better”.

      Don’t worry about any of this until you start the editing process because all of this has the potential to freeze you. Just sit down and get that first draft done. Good luck. If you get the first draft done, you have already achieved something that many people wanting to get into screenwriting haven’t.

      1. Yes, but there is three of them, and there is one of you/me. Having three people means you’ve got opposite points of view, and you can go play tennis with them. But when you are by yourself, you have to play tennis with yourself. Each draft being a hit of the tennis ball. Of course, my favourite screenplay of all time, “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was written in two weeks. Can you believe that?

        But these are the exceptions and not the rule 🙂

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