Your questions answered by a  Hollywood professional

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Screenwriting Help E-Mail (Previous)

Updated every Monday, one selected e-mail will be posted and answered here each week. With many years of experience in the film and television business, I look forward to providing answers to your questions (often with a humorous eye) about screenwriting or the entertainment industry in general.  Please send your e-mailed questions to: Script Advisor.  You may also wish to visit our Screenwriting Help E-Mails - The Archives.

This week's question: 

DcH, I’ve got a producer waiting for a script, which I’ve almost finished, but there are so many little things I need to polish before I submit that it seems like I’ll never ever finish.  Do you have any advice?

Caryle J. from Arkansas

This week's Answer: 

Nice Screenwriters Finish Last

Carylyle, I know how the last stage of writing a screenplay can be extremely tedious, time-consuming, frustrating, overwhelming, and just not a heck of a lot of fun.  You want to get it just right.  And that “just right” often seems to elude you just when you need it the most, when you want to finish your screenplay and send it off to parts (or producers) unknown before you lose your temper completely, and methodically and carefully print every page of what you have and promptly tear it into tiny  pieces, wearing a sardonic (and scary) smile, with a faraway and vacant look in your eyes, thinking to yourself (or muttering the words), “Now it’s ready.”

The following may help you considerably (or send you into a deeper part of  “I Can’t Finish My Screenplay” Hell):

You Can’t Make Your Screenplay Be Finished


You Can’t Finish Your Screenplay Just Because A Producer Says He Wants to Read It Now 


Stop Trying To Finish Your Screenplay And Let It Finish Itself!

If I’ve completely confused you (or caused you to start using the Internet to find my address so you can drive by and “TP” my front yard with hundreds of pages of your ripped up screenplay), then I’ve done my job.  I’ll try to say it another way:  The problem that has been cited (Thank you, Carlyle) is only there because the screenwriter is forcing and not allowing.  Allowing.  That’s much difference than forcing.  The same part of you that concocted this mad creation known as your screenplay also knows how to finish it.  Didn’t you notice how your screenplay began to seem to have a life of its own, began to tell you what it was, who the characters were and what they wanted?  Didn’t the story drive itself at times?  (There's a recent movement that proposes screenplays be allowed to have their own driver's licenses.  I'm voting "Yes" on that proposition. ) What if you trusted that same “story’s wisdom” knew how to finish itself?  Can you imagine how easy it would be then to just be present with it until it showed you? 

“But what about the deadlines and the producers waiting for the script?” you ask.  “How can I just let the screenplay finish itself when everybody wants it yesterday?” You or somebody else who isn't you asks.  It’s true.  There are deadlines.  Cameras have to roll.  Distributors have to have their reels.  Actors have to be paid.  Caterers have to order their donuts.  But, still, you are the center of your universe.  (I think.  Lately, there’s a new quantum physics theory that you big toe is the center of your universe.  But that’s close.) You are the one through which this original concept  came through  (unless it’s a remake or a sequel or a prequel or based on a television show or comic strip) and you are the one who will know when your screenplay is finished.

And producers will always be pushing screenwriters to hurry up.  And, often – and VERY often -- after perspiration has been perspired and the hair pulled out and  nerves jangled to their very limit, the screenplay is submitted by the “deadline,” followed by a lovely, long period of waiting while wondering “Why did I almost kill myself to get it in, when I haven’t heard anything back from the producer in weeks?”  “Or months?”  Good point.  It’s called the “Hurry Up and Wait” syndrome.

Aladdin had to polish or rub the lamp to get the genie to come out.  The word, “genie” is associated with the word, “genius.”  What does that tell us?

It doesn’t take a genius to know when a lamp needs more polishing.

Or something like that.

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