An assignment recently came my way from a producer up north.
George (not his real name) had a script that—he felt—needed a minor rewrite. Sure, sounds good. But first I needed to read the script. So he sent me a copy. It took me a while, but I eventually got through it.
A “minor” rewrite? Um, no, this thing needed a major rewrite. It needed to be torn down to its base and rebuilt. The script contained all the usual maladies: on-the-nose dialogue, yawn-inducing descriptions, scenes that did absolutely nothing to push the story forward...all the usual novice stuff. I relayed all this via several pages of notes. OK, so now George is definitely interested in having me do the rewrite. But before we sign the deal, I wanted him to know precisely what I’d be doing to the script. He needed to know that I wasn’t going to simply tweak a few words here and there. No, I was pretty much gonna eviscerate the script. He also needed to know that my eventual rewrite draft would be something that could actually sell. So I took the first few scenes of the script and rewrote them.
Three days after I e-mailed my rewrite pages I still hadn’t heard back from him. So I shot off an e-mail: “What’s up? Did you get the pages I sent?” I heard back a few hours later. George admitted that he was somewhat shocked by my changes. He said, “I expected a light trim. What you gave me was a buzz cut!” I told him, “Trust me, it’s precisely what the script needs.”
So a few more days go by and I don’t hear a single word from him. I figured I scared him off. But he finally contacts me, saying, “I gave the script to an associate of mine. I wanted to get his opinion on the changes you made.” So here’s the e-mail George received from the associate:
“Honestly, your screenwriter is doing you a service. Your draft is lovely, but the pacing is very slow, laborious and you will lose your audience quickly. The screenwriter has picked up the pace for you immensely, given it some energy and kept it moving so that it keeps the reader’s interest. You lose none of the beauty of the story in his draft; he has just focused it more—to highlight the important beats. I think you should stick with him.”
So, thanks to his very perceptive associate, George now has a newfound respect for my abilities and is most agreeable to the changes I need to make. The first installment of my fee has been paid and the rewrite is coming along nicely. Contrary to popular belief among many novice screenwriters, rewriting can be a lot of fun. I’ve really been enjoying tackling this script and transforming unworkable scenes into scenes that, well...work. I plan to have a first rewrite draft in the next few weeks. With some luck, I’ll have a “final” draft—something George can take to money people, actors, etc.—completed by mid-October. That’s my plan, anyway.