Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Sean Paul Murphy, Writer
Sean Paul Murphy, Writer

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Writer Tip #6: Hone Your Scripts!

You've just finished your new script.  It is a work of utter genius.  You can't wait for the bidding war between the studios to begin.  So you send it out.

Big mistake.

Don't do it.


Don't send it out until you've truly read and revised it.

I know what you're saying.  I read through it twice.  I've found all the spelling and grammatical mistakes.  I gave it to my mother and my best friend and they both said it was great.  Much better than my last five scripts.  It's time to pitch it and make a million.

Think twice.

Personally, I don't like to send out a spec script until after I've written an entirely new screenplay.  I break that rule all of the time, but that remains my ideal goal.  I need to work on something new before I can look back at a script with any degree of true objectivity.

When I was but a boy screenwriter, I enjoyed some initial success.  No produced films, but genuine excitement and interest in some of my spec scripts.  I did really well with the first few.  Why?  Because they were really honed.  I am, by nature, pretty prolific.  I have dozens of ideas bouncing around in my head vying for my attention all the time.  When I finish one script, I start on the next one.  Between projects, I would reread and revise my older scripts.  As a result, the first couple of scripts I sent to Hollywood when I finally got a good agent were really sharp.

Then, in retrospect, I could see that the quality of my work was slowly dropping off.

Since I finally had someone who was anxious to read my scripts, I would ship them out with little more than a cursory polish only to find them generating less and less interest.  After a bright start, my career was stalling.  I am currently reworking some of those scripts.  Looking back at them now, it is easy to see why they didn't sell.  The problems were fairly obvious.  Had I put them aside for a couple of months and gained the proper objectivity back in the day, my career would have been considerably different.

Let me give you an example.  A friend lent me a best-selling, Holocaust-related, non-fiction book that she thought would interest me.  It did indeed.  Reading it, I came up with a unique and fascinating way to handle the material.  So what did I do?  I wrote a rough draft to see if it would work, and I was satisfied that it did.

Now the book had been on the market for about a year and it didn't seem to be in production anywhere.  So I called the publisher.  The rights were available.  The publisher was very pleased that a screenwriter represented by a decent-sized agency had written a rough draft on spec.  When I tried to explain how I handled the material, the publisher gave me the (reasonably well-known) author's phone number and said I should talk directly to him.  I called him and we had a great chat.  He liked how I handled things and asked to read the rough draft.  I sent it, and I never heard from him again.  Why?  Because it was sloppy.  It was riddled with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and unrealized moments.  I had talked the talk, but the work wasn't sufficiently professional.   I had thought that, one author to another, he would be able to look beyond the form to the substance, but he couldn't, and why should he?  He had put his best effort into his book.  He deserved the same courtesy from me.  (In my defense, I wrote that script on a typewriter.  Back then, before the days of the word processor, a rewrite required a lot more labor!)

Had I taken the time to hone the script, I could have partnered with the author and his publisher and my agent to get the film made.  It could have been my breakthrough moment.  It wasn't.  Because I rushed things.  I was simply in too much of a hurry.

Don't make the same mistake!

When you think you're ready to send out your script wait another month or so.  Read it again.  Have some trusted colleagues read it.

Remember:  In Hollywood, people will only read your script once.

Other Tips:

Be sure to check out my book The Promise, or the Pros and Cons of Talking with God.  It is available in paperback and on Kindle courtesy of TouchPoint Press.

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