How do you know when your screenplay is done?
Recently we’ve been getting a lot of questions from our listeners, so I’m going to use today’s podcast to answer one of the most frequently asked questions. If you have a question for me that you would like answered, feel free to reach out to me on Facebook or Twitter and I’ll try to answer as many of them as I can on this podcast.
The question that we’re going to be discussing today is one that comes up all the time, “How do you know when your screenplay is done?”
I felt this is a particularly interesting question to look at, especially in light of the concepts we discussed last week about pitching.
Obviously you don’t want to be going out trying to sell your script, trying to pitch your script, if it’s not done. And at the same time, as screenwriters we find ourselves in this endless cycle of not done, not done, not done, not done, not done, not done. Rewriting, rewriting, rewriting. Starting over, starting over, starting over.
So how do you know when that cycle needs to end? How do you know when your script is actually done?
One of the things you have to understand if you’re going to answer this question is that there’s a big difference between two words that we often use interchangeably. There’s a big difference between finished and done.
I believe it was Oscar Wilde who first said, great scripts “aren’t finished, they’re merely abandoned.”
As much as we would like to believe that someday this darn thing is truly going to be done, the truth is there is almost always more that we can do to a script. There’s almost always something we could ask, something that we could deepen, something that we could layer or nuance.
That means our criteria for actually completing our goals when it comes to screenwriting are actually different from almost any non-artistic field that we could be working in. I think this is true for any art, whether it’s painting, novels, poetry, or music. In the arts, we don’t get the same feeling of completion that an accountant gets. Or that a salesperson gets. Or that a burger flipper gets. There’s no clear place where it is truly done where all the criteria have been met.
So if we’re going to feel successful, if we’re going to be successful, and if we’re even going to know we’re successful, we need a different way of evaluating ourselves. We need a different type of criteria.
We can’t just use a checklist because there’s always going to be something else added to that checklist. We can’t just use a bunch of coverage notes because no matter how brilliant your coverage reader may be– and the truth is, a lot of them are not brilliant — they’re going to be full of conflicting feedback. And as soon as you start making changes, half of those written notes are going to change and are no longer going to be valid.
We can’t merely rely on the advice of others, because our work is subjective and some people are going to love it, and some people are going to hate it.
So what are we supposed to rely on?
What we actually need to rely on are two separate things that end up working together. We need to first rely on our feelings as the writer. Then we need to rely on the feedback that we’re receiving from the outside. And this is where that distinction between finished and done becomes so important.
Every time you reach the end of a draft, there are two very important questions you need to ask yourself. Question number 1 is “Am I done?” And question number 2 is “Is it finished?”
These questions are very different because one is about your personal experience as the writer of this project, and the other is about the audience’s experience of your script.
So, before we get to finished let’s start with done.
Let’s talk about what it means to be done.
Because here’s the weird thing about screenwriting. You are going to write some really good scripts, and you’re going to write some really bad scripts. And oftentimes you’re going to have absolutely no control over whether they come out beautiful, or whether they come out terrible.
The truth is that any script can become good if you’re willing to push on it hard enough. But sometimes as writers, we do take wrong turns. We do get seduced by scripts that are actually not really serving our voice as writers, or are not serving the questions that are burning for us right now.
Similarly, sometimes an idea that feels like it’s going to be terrible, or external, or “off” in some way, actually turns out really brilliant when you start to write.
No matter how great your idea, or how terrible your idea, you’re pretty much guaranteed to have the same experience: about halfway through the script you’re going to think your idea sucks.
No matter how brilliant your idea was in the beginning, no matter how wonderful it was, somewhere along the line you’re gonna think it sucks. So, what a lot of writers end up doing is, they get about halfway through script, after script, after script– or maybe not even halfway through, maybe 30 pages in, or 10 pages in– script, after script, after script, after script, and then they abandon the idea. They tell themselves, “you know what, this is bad, this is never gonna come out.”
Other writers get stuck in a different cycle where they finish draft, after draft, after draft, after draft. And each draft seems to make no improvement over the one before! The script becomes different, but actually no closer to finished. It simply becomes a different kind of screenplay.
If we’re gonna succeed, if we’re gonna ever be finished, or done, we need to avoid both of these traps.
The avoidance of these traps actually begins at the goal-setting process. So the first thing you need to know is what are you going for right now as a writer: what is your goal?
If you don’t know your goal you will never know if you’re done. And if you don’t know when you’re done, you will never feel successful.
To go back to the examples that I just gave you. If your goal is to finish a script, you might feel really terrible after starting 10 scripts and abandoning all of them. On the other hand, if your goal is to explore for a while, and see what the next thing that grabs you is, starting 10 scripts and abandoning them might be a really brilliant thing to do. It might be a great step in the right direction.
If your goal is to experiment and broaden a skill in yourself, playing around with a bunch of scenes that don’t go anywhere might be wonderful, whereas if your goal is to finish this draft by May 23rd, then that kind of process would be very bad. You wouldn’t be done.
Done depends on the goal. And that means you need to become an expert at goal-setting for yourself so that you could know when you actually achieved done.
Which means, at the beginning of your writing process, when you start a new project, the very first thing you should do is set a goal.
Set a goal, not based on anybody else’s desire, not based on anything anybody else told you to do, not based on what you should do– in the history of time no one has ever actually done what they should do. Don’t base it on anything except what you want right now for yourself as a writer.
Remember that this goal does not have to be about the project, because everything you write is actually serving two different parts of you. It’s serving the growing writer– it’s serving your skills, your craft, your art, your voice, the tools that you want to develop as a writer, your writer muscles. And it’s also serving the project.
You’re always serving these two things at the same time.
So the first question you want to ask yourself is: what is my project goal?
Then you may want to ask yourself: what is my artistic goal?
You don’t want to set 12 goals. You want to set one. And this is one of the mistakes people make as they write, and especially the mistake they make as they rewrite.
Oftentimes our rewrites turn into endless checklists of endless things that we have to do endlessly.
We go in and do all the things in our checklist, and our script doesn’t actually get any better. And we don’t feel any closer to finished. Oftentimes we go into a rewrite and don’t even know what we’re improving! We don’t even know what we’re taking to the next level. We don’t even know what our goal is. We just know vaguely that we want to make it better.
If you’re going to be done you need a specific goal. And a specific goal can be something like this:
I want to play around and just explore different characters who speak differently.
I want to start a bunch of different stuff and see if there’s one that grabs my attention.
I want to play around with theme.
I want to write something about the theme of love.
I want to explore a question that haunts me.
I want to get stronger at using images. I want to write a script or a scene where 80% is image and only 20% is dialogue.
I want to become more comfortable with dialogue; I want to really learn how to let my characters’ voices sing, and I’m going to just write scenes where characters talk to each other a lot.
These are all really specific goals. They allow us to focus on one thing instead of 20 things.
We’re going to set an end date for that goal so we know when we’re done. Deadlines are so important. That’s actually one of the reasons our ProTrack Mentorship Program is set up for students to meet with their mentors at the same time on a recurring basis, every week or every other week.
The truth is if you’re going to succeed professionally as a writer, the ability to hit deadlines is actually more important than talent.
Almost any producer would rather have a good script on time than a great script late. And that’s because a missed deadline can potentially cost a producer millions of dollars, or even kill the whole project. It can cost them in a lot of different ways. It can cost them when they lose a location that would have allowed them to bring the film in on budget. It can cost them their star if the window closes when they are available to shoot . It can cost them the interest of an investor or a studio who ends up jumping from your project to another one.
So if you’re going to be successful you need to start setting deadlines now. You need to know you’ll be done at that deadline.
So let’s say that you’re going to explore dialogue. You might set a goal that you’re going to write 100 pages of dialogue by a certain date. Or you might set a goal that you’re going to write ten 10-page scenes, just playing around with dialogue in different ways. Or you might set a goal that you’re going to finish a whole draft from beginning to end, playing around with dialogue. You’ll decide when you’re going to be done, and you’ll make sure to achieve that goal.
If you’re playing around with character, you might say, “hey I met this character– this character came to me in my sleep, in the shower, in my dreams, I met them on the street– I want to take them on a journey. So I’m just going to focus for this draft on taking them on a journey from A to Z that changes them as much as possible.”
You might choose to build the entire structure of their journey in your first draft. Or you might play around, and say to yourself, “I’m just going to find 7 huge turning points for this character; I’m just going to find 7 scenes that feel related in some way, but with the characters making very different kinds of choices. That will be my first step, and I’m going to get that by this date. Then later I’m going to start to figure out the structure that ties the things together.”
If you’re playing around with hook or pitch, you might say, “What’s it like to write from a logline?” You might start off with a concept. So your first goal might be, “I’m going to write 50 loglines for 50 different movies. And I’m going to write them by this date. And then I’m going to choose one. And I’m going to take that story to the end, even if it feels like it sucks.”
Or, your goal might be, “I’m just going to write the crappiest draft, the garbage draft, or what we here at the Studio call The ‘Me’ Draft. I’m just going to write the draft that doesn’t have to make sense to anyone but is purely entertaining to me.”
So the most important thing is knowing when you’re done. And in order to do this, you have to have a goal. This is true in rewrites as well.
People make such a huge mistake in rewrites, which is trying to do so many things, trying to serve so many priorities at the same time.
The truth is, you’re going to get so much more by serving one priority. It’s also going to allow you to know when you’re done. And it’s going to keep you from the very dangerous place called “trying to fix your script,” or “trying to make your script good.”
Both of these approaches take away from the creativity, the openness that we need to actually do great writing. Instead we want to use one priority to open your mind toward getting really creative.
We want to say to ourselves “this is the sandbox I’m playing in, and focus all our creativity on that sandbox.
For example: “I’m going to play in the sandbox of ‘What does my main character want in every scene?’ And I can do anything I want in the rewrite as long as I know what my character wants in every scene.”
Or you might play around in the sandbox of image. “I’m just going to look at each image and make it look cool in some way, make it exciting for me.”
You might play in the sandbox of formatting. “I don’t care if this gets better or perfect, or not, but I’m gonna really start to drill my formatting until I have it in my bones. I’m going to really play around with questions like ‘How do I hypnotize my reader in the way I put these images on the page?’ Or ‘How do I start to use formatting, not just like grammar, but to control tone? To control the experience of the writer?’” These are the concepts we cover in our Write Your Screenplay 2 classes or our ProTrack Mentorship Program.
Another example of a goal, you might say, “I really love my main character’s journey, but I don’t understand yet how that journey ties in with the journey of character number 2.” In a TV show you might say, ”I get the A story, but I’m not getting the B story.” Or, “I get the A, B, and the C story, but I don’t get the theme tying them all together.”
And what this does is hyper-focus your creativity. You can look at each page saying, “I’m just going to take this one thing to the next level; I’m just going to improve this one thing.”
And what’s great about that is you will know when you’re done. Because then you can ask yourself, Did I improve that one thing on every page? Or are there some places I have some crappy images? Are there some places where I don’t know what my character wants? You can actually evaluate whether you are done or not.
One of the things that you will find if you hyper-focus yourself in this way is that even while you’re focusing on one thing, the other things often start to fix themselves. That huge checklist you had when you started– of all the many things that did not work, that were so demoralizing to you–when you say, “Ok, screw all those things, What is the one thing I want to focus on? What’s the one thing that would make everything better?” When you do that one thing, oftentimes you get to the end of the draft, and you’re realize actually that other thing wasn’t that important!
And of course this is also true in life.
I’m a strong believer if you want to learn to write a great screenplay, you need to learn to live a great life. And I’m a strong believer that if you want to learn to live a great life, you can start by learning to write a great screenplay.
Screenplays are about journey. They’re about the journey of the writer, and the journey of the character.
When you learn to focus on the journey, you learn to focus on the one thing that matters instead of the million things that are vying for your attention. You learn to trust that if you take care of the thing that matters most to you,the other things will take care of themselves.
When you start to do that, both your screenplay and your life will become a heck of a lot more focused.
So you understand that while there may be lots of different kinds of goals for each rewrite, you need to set only one achievable goal. Not a pie in the sky goal like “win an Academy Award,” or “write a perfect scene,” but a goal you can control.
Then, Step #1 is to simply ask yourself if you achieved that goal. “Am I done? Did I do the job? Did I complete the thing that I was going to complete?”
Did you get yourself to a place where you got to type “The End?”
“The End” doesn’t mean you got to the end of the story. “The End” means that you got to the end of the goal.
My rule for myself is I am never allowed to abandon a project until I type “The End.” Until I either get to the end of the script, or the end of my goal, I cannot let go of that project. Because if I do, I know that I will just bounce from project, to project, to project, to project, and that no project will ever feel good enough.
So, Step #1 is to ask “Am I done? Did I do my job?”
Step #2 is to ask, “Is it finished?”
“Is it finished?” is a different kind of question from “Am I done?”
Once you know that you are done, you know that you’ve completed your job. So now it’s time to start asking yourself questions about the experience of the script as a whole.
Before you even think about the audience, you want to ask yourself: “Is it finished for me?”
Sometimes the realization that it’s finished for you comes as a surprise. You’ve been focusing on doing the one big thing. You’ve completed the first draft, or you’ve completed the goal of your rewrite. Maybe you started with a writing exercise, and next thing you knew you had a movie. You thought you were just going to play around, and you finish, and you realize “oh my goodness, it’s finished, it’s actually a script! And it’s actually a script that’s doing what I exactly want it to do.”
Other times you look at it and you say, “It’s just a bunch of exercises and I really learned a lot, and I got a lot better, and I love this piece of it, and I love this piece, and I love this piece, but it’s not finished, it’s not a unified whole that’s going to work for an audience yet, and it’s not even a unified whole that’s going to work for me yet.”
So before you even start to think about that terrifying “them” we think of as the audience, you want to think about you.
Ask yourself: “Is it finished for me? Does it give me the experience that I want as I read– not every bit of the experience, but the main experience? If I pitch this story to myself, does it capture the thing that made me excited about it in the first place?”
This is one of the things we’re going to be talking about our new monthly Pitch Events, which you can attend for free in NYC or from anywhere in the world starting on Friday, April 21.
If you start to do all that, and you pitch a script to yourself, and you say, “yes, this script is doing that– it’s doing what I pitched– in fact, it’s doing even more than I pitched! It’s giving a special surprise, it’s giving me more than I expected when I sat down to write!”
When you feel like that, you now know not only that you’re done, but also that it’s finished for you.
If it’s not finished for you, if it doesn’t make you happy yet, if it doesn’t make you laugh yet, if it doesn’t make you cry yet, it is not finished.
Let me share a personal story about this. For some time I’ve been working on a script, a modern-day Abraham story. And it’s a very beautiful script. It’s something that is very close to me– that matters to me a lot.
I started to write that script because I was upset. I was upset about terrorism, and I was looking at the Abraham story as the foundation story of terrorism: the story that tells you that even if G-d wants you to kill your own child as Abraham is asked to do in the Bible, you should not question. That you should go do it.
So I found this as the foundation story of terrorism, and I found it interesting that all three Western religions were tracking back to it. When I sat down to write the script, when I pitched it to myself, I thought I knew what I was going to do. I was going to make my modern-day Abraham sacrifice his daughter on stage. And there was not going to be an angel that stopped his hand. It was going to be bloody, and ugly. But an interesting thing happened when I got to the end of that draft. I wrote that end where he sacrificed her on stage, and no angel stopped his hand, and it was bloody, and it was ugly, and it was horrifying. But I didn’t cry.
So even though I was done, I had completed the goal, the script was not finished.
The way I knew the script was not finished for me was if I don’t cry, I certainly can’t expect somebody else to cry.
I had to rewrite that ending about 6 more times. And what was really cool was that I ended up doing an exercise with a character, the same exercise I often use with my students: I let the character of Isabelle, my Abraham’s daughter, tell me what I was missing.
The thing she revealed to me that was a huge surprise. She told me “I don’t die.” Which pretty much undid every plan I had for the script.
And I rewrote the script. And she didn’t die. And that was when I cried.
In fact I can feel the tears just talking about it. Because that was when I realized the script wasn’t just about this story that bothered me, that scared me, that upset me. The story, in fact, was about my relationship with G-d.
This story wasn’t about what G-d wanted you to do, or what you should think about G-d. This script was about my unresolved questions about G-d.
Finished means that it gives you that personal experience, that it moves you. And if it’s not doing that, you’re not finished, even if you’re done.
That means you need to rewrite until you are finished. You need to pick the one thing– for me, in that script, it was about the ending. I needed to get the ending that made me cry before I could be done. So I needed to explore, and that was my goal — not to rewrite the whole movie, but to explore about 30 different endings for that script. It turned out, I only needed about 6.
So there are a lot of different ways to understand finished, but before you start to ask yourself it it’s finished for your audience– before you start to think about “them,” you have to think about you. Is it finished for you?
I also don’t think a script is finished unless it gives me something that I didn’t expect.
What I mean by that is, when I started out to write the movie I thought it was going to do “this.” If it just does “this,” I probably am not actually finished, because that means I didn’t discover anything in the process of writing that I didn’t already know when I sat down to write at the beginning. That means I haven’t fully gone on my journey as a writer. So I might be done, but it’s not finished.
I’m trying to take my character on a journey every time I write a script, and I’m trying to take myself on a journey. Unless both things have happened, the script is not finished.
Oftentimes that means the thing you think happens at the end actually happens much earlier in the story. So you can push past where you thought you were going and get to a place that is even more exciting, that takes you even further that you ever expected to go.
Once you’ve done that, the next step is about getting external feedback.
But you have to be very careful about where your external feedback comes from. You have to make sure that you’re not allowing the multitude of opinions to blow you about like a ship on a stormy ocean. You need to be very specific in the way that you look for and request feedback.
You need feedback in order to know if it’s working for “them,” it it’s finished for “them.”
So the first thing you need to know about feedback is the purpose.
The purpose of feedback can never be to know if your script is good or not.
If you make the purpose of your feedback to know if your script is good or not, or even worse, if you make the purpose of feedback to know if you are good or not, you are completely screwed from the beginning.
Because now your ego gets involved.
Instead of being able to look at the script as a thing that you’re creating, you start to look at the script as you. And the stakes become too high for you to even hear the feedback. And certainly too high for you to benefit from it.
Instead, each piece of feedback starts to feel like an emotional assault, and because people’s feelings about scripts vary so wildly, you never know what you can believe and what you can’t.
Those of you who have listened to this podcast know that I feel like coverage, even smart coverage, is usually the worst kind of feedback. In fact, I feel like any kind of written feedback is usually doing more harm than good, because it pretends that scripts are fixed things, that can be fixed with checklists, when really they are constantly changing. Pull one thread, and it changes everything else in the tapestry, invalidating dozens of notes that seemed valid before that change was made.
I’ll tell you a story about of my students. He had been working on a script for about 5 years. He had been in our ProTrack Program. He had pushed that script so hard, worked so hard on that script. He starting sending it out to festivals, and a lot of these festivals will give you feedback with your submission.
After his first 3 festival submissions had come back, he had 3 different pieces of coverage. He called me up and said, “Jake I don’t know what to do.”
He said the first piece of coverage said that it’s got great structure, but the characters aren’t working, and it’s not funny. The second piece said the characters are working and it’s funny, but it has no structure. And the third piece said something completely different that had nothing to do with any of those 3 things.
He said, “How can all 3 of these things be true?”
We actually looked at that coverage, and the thing was, we knew that the script was finished; we had worked on it really hard together.
So we looked at all 3 of these pieces of coverage, and we literally could not find one place where these 3 readers agreed. We then looked at the coverage and said, “Well, do any of these things hit him emotionally as the writer? Do any of these things feel like they’re a little too close to home? Where maybe they expose a flaw that he didn’t want to look at. And the truth was, no, none of these things had any real resonance for him. They didn’t open up any place where he felt like the script wasn’t finished. In fact, he felt pretty confident about the things he was being criticized for. So I said, “You know what, why don’t you keep sending it out exactly as is?”
He ended up winning the Canada International Film Festival with that exact script.
Which goes to show you that you cannot take anybody’s feedback very seriously.
So if you can’t take most feedback seriously, how the hell are you supposed to know if your script is actually working?
The first thing is, be careful who you take your feedback from.
If you know some people in your life who are professional screenwriters– meaning people who have actually sold scripts in the industry, (which is often different from the people teaching screenwriting)– they can be a great place to start. Especially if they are drawn to the genre in which you’re working.
Be careful of producers, be careful of managers, be careful of agents– they’re often thinking “How easily can I sell it?” rather than “How does it affect me?” which can be dangerous in early drafts. But if there is a professional screenwriter in your life, then it is certainly worth sitting down with them.
Still, you need to understand that not every screenwriter is a teacher. A lot of screenwriters are isolated people, and they’re not often good at giving feedback. Oftentimes they don’t even understand their own processes, because they’re very intuitive. So you need to help that person focus their feedback.
If you don’t have a screenwriter in your life, when your script is finished for you, then you want to get feedback from a group of people– do a reading of your script. But be very careful about how you take the feedback. You want the feedback to be moderated.
To paraphrase the great novelist Neil Gaiman: Anybody who tells you exactly what’s wrong with your story, and exactly how to fix it, is always wrong, but somebody who gives you their experience of your script, their genuine experience, is always right.
So when you’re getting feedback from large groups of people, don’t ever do written feedback and don’t let them even start to talk about fixes.
Instead, what you want to do is focus their feedback by asking them questions.
If you went to see this movie, and your friend said “what’s it about?” what would you tell them?
Go around the room and see if a lot of people tell you the same pitch. If you get 12 completely different pitches that are not even related, you know that you might be done, and it might be finished for you, but it’s not finished for them, because they’re all getting a different story.
Whereas if the pitches all seem related to each other as they talk about what’s it about for them, you could then feel safe knowing that you’re telling a story that’s coming across.
Ask them about the main character. What do they want? And what gets in the way?
If it’s hard for them to tell you, your script is not finished. If they can tell you easily, then you know it’s finished for them, in that way.
Ask them about their favorite moments.
If they have a hard time finding those favorite moments, then that means they don’t have favorite moments. That means that you don’t have moments in your script that are standing out as important. That means your script isn’t finished.
Ask them about the opening, or ask them, At what moment did you get hooked? At what moment did you know you wanted to see the end of the script?
If that moment isn’t on page 1-3, you’re in trouble. You know your script isn’t finished because if somewhere on page 1-3 you haven’t hooked your audience, the truth is your coverage reader’s going to start skimming, or your producer is going to set it down.
Ask them about who all the characters are. See if they can describe the characters easily, and if they all describe the characters in the same way.
If they describe them in very different ways, or if they disagree about who those characters are, you know that your script isn’t finished. Because everyone’s getting a different experience of the characters, not a related one.
Notice that none of these questions are about fixing your script. None of these questions is about “is it good?” None of these questions are even about “Did they like it?”
These questions are about “What did they experience?”
So when you get to the end of all those questions, then you need to ask yourself one more question:
Do these answers match up with what your experience of the movie was?
Are they telling you a story that is the same as what your experience was as you read your own script?
If so, it’s likely that you’re finished.
Are they telling you a story that is vastly different from the one that you experienced?
If so, you need to ask yourself, “is that cooler, is that more of what I wanted to say? Or did I miss something? Did they miss something?”
If they miss something that was important to you, that script is not finished.
Once again we’re using feedback from groups, we’re using feedback from writers. Actors are also wonderful for this kind of feedback. We’re not using it to figure out if they liked it or not, because they’re always going to tell you that they like it, or pretend that they don’t. And those are just two different kinds of people. There are the people who want to make you feel good, want to support you. Then there are the people who want to tear you down because they’re not exploring their own art. Or the people who want to prove to you how smart they are by showing you how they could’ve done it better.
So when you get feedback from others, when you try to figure out if it’s finished for others, that is never about written notes, and it’s never about fixing it, and it’s never about “Is it good?” or “Is it bad?” or “Am I good?” or “Am I bad?” It’s only about “What did they experience?”
Another option that you might want to consider for feedback is our program here at the Studio called ProTrack, which is a professional mentorship program. We pair you one-on-one with a professional writer, and you work with that person every week, or every other week, ten pages at a time, through your whole script
What’s beautiful about this process is that our mentors are not only professional writers, but they’re also professional teachers. They’re people whose job it is– not to tell you how to tell their story, but to help you to tell yours. To help you set your goals so you know what you’re trying to accomplish, and to push you to grow yourself, not only in relation to the project, but also in relation to who you are as a writer. To help you develop the skills where you’re weak and help you build on the ones where you’re strong.
Protrack grew as my answer to grad school, where I felt like a lot of writers really don’t get what they need. A lot of writers finish grad school and end up with 300 grand in debt, which makes it very, very hard to be a screenwriter when you have to pay off all that debt. They also spend most their time in group classes with people who are not necessarily really great teachers. Oftentimes they’re getting more feedback from peers who know no more than they do, rather than from professionals. Because of the group setting of most of these classes, it’s truly hard to get that individualized feedback on your own work.
That’s why our ProTrack Program really focuses on one-on-one mentorship, on the feedback that you need, and not the feedback that everyone in the group needs. If you need to bring back the same 10 pages fifteen times, you can. If you need to focus on one thing for 8 sessions, you can. If you already know the basics and want to get right to the advanced stuff, you don’t have to wait for the rest of the class. And unlike grad school, as you grow in your professional career, your mentor stays with you, guiding you through screenplay sales, options, development notes, agents, managers and all the other tricky stuff that you need to navigate as an emerging writer. And you’re getting it–often with some of the best teachers from the best grad schools in America, at a tiny fraction of what grad school would cost, and with an unprecedented level of personal attention.
If you want to check it out, you can learn more here.
Once you know that you’re done and once you know that the script is finished, then you have only one thing left to do, which is you need to start getting your script out there.
You need to start submitting to contests, you need to start submitting to agents, you need to start contacting managers and producers, you need to start targeting the people who can help you. When you are done and your script is finished, it is time to take that step.
But what if you’re done and the script is not finished?
Well then you have a very important choice to make. Because sometimes a script is not finished, but you truly cannot bear to look at it one more time. And if that’s true, as long as you are done, meaning as long as you’ve done your job, as long as you can hit your goal, as long as you’ve typed “The End”– even if it’s not finished for them, or even if it’s not finished for you— if you’re done, but the script is not finished, it is safe to put that script aside.
If it’s a script that really matters to you it will come back. You will find yourself working on it again. But it is okay to put that script aside, so long as you start your next project right away.
Because if you don’t start your next project right away, you’re going to be in a lot of trouble. It’s going to suddenly be 6 months and you won’t have written anything.
Getting started is the hardest part of writing.
So you are done, and it’s not finished, and you don’t want to do anymore with this script right now, go ahead and set it aside. Then set your next goal and start your next script.
If, on the other hand, it’s not finished, but you want to give more to this project– if you’re still excited about this project, if you feel something inside you, compelling you to get to the end of this project– then what you need to do, and you need to do it right away, is once again to set a really clear goal.
Throw away all the notes that you’ve gotten: the good notes, the bad notes, everything everybody else wants the script to be, every piece of advice you have.
What you want to ask yourself is “What matters to me? What do I want to do?”
If the script is not finished for you, you have to start there. You have to say, “What is the one thing that I could do that would make the script more finished for me? What is the one thing that I could focus on that would make it better for me? That would make it more of an embodiment of what I want to do? Or that would grow me the most as a writer.”
Before you ever take care of “them,” you must take care of yourself as an artist.
If on the other hand the script is already finished for you and just isn’t finished for “them,” you want to ask yourself “What is the thing that is most standing in the way of their experience? What is the thing that is most getting in the way between the feeling that I experienced when I finished the script, and the feeling that they experienced when they read it? What is the one thing that I could improve that would allow them to have an experience closer to the one that I had?”
Make that your priority for the rewrite, so that once again you will know when it is finished, and when you are done.