I got this question recently:

“You mentioned a lot throughout your book about rewrites. I was wandering what in your case did the rewrites often entail.”

Rewrites are the un-sexy part of screenwriting. They’re the part of the business that people don’t usually give a lot of thought to when they decide to become a screenwriter but end up being the single biggest part of the process.

At the highest level, meaning studio projects, rewriting is actually the most lucrative part of being a screenwriter. Many projects have script issues and they bring in writers to try and correct them. In some cases writers will be paid for only a few weeks worth of work (or less). Sometimes these writers get writing credit but most of the time they don’t. The fees range but in general this is the quickest easiest way to earn money as a screenwriter. It’s not glamorous but it pays the bills. Getting this sort of paid writing gig comes with experience. This is not work for novice or unproduced screenwriters. The studios hire writers who have had some success in the genre that they need rewritten. While I have a few credits, I haven’t had any “hits” and have never gotten this sort of writing gig. It’s great work if you can get it.

What I have encountered, more times than I care to remember, is optioning a screenplay to a producer and than having the producer want you to do rewrites. In some cases the producers will pay for the option and rewrites but in many cases they will not. I wrote a post that covers a lot of the same ground, so check that out: How to decide if you should option your screenplay to a producer.

As an example, my first produced credit, Dish Dogs required many rewrites which my writing partner and I did for free and ultimately in vein because they ended up using very little of the rewrites we did and just rewrote it themselves. You can read more about the whole story here: What happened to Dish Dogs?.

Every person has their own ideas and vision and producers are no different. There are usually some practical considerations that you might not have thought of when you wrote your spec script (i.e. certain locations are just too expensive) but most of the time producers, directors, and actors have their own artistic vision and they want you to incorporate some of it into your script so that they feel like they have some stakes in the film. That’s certainly understandable.

I’ve been in situations where I thought the producers ideas were stupid and I’ve been in situations where I thought their ideas were pretty good. I always try and get an idea about what sort of changes a producer wants before I option the screenplay to them and these changes are a factor in helping me decide if I’m going to option the screenplay to them or not.

The bottom line is that if you don’t want to make any changes to your work screenwriting probably isn’t the medium for you. Film making is a collaborative medium and that means compromising and working with others.

2 thoughts on “Doing rewrites on your screenplay for producers”
  1. I’m currently editing my screenplay, Alone, which is based on my Amazon e-book, Divine Curses. Real events and people are included in the screenplay. Names have been changed in most cases to protect individuals’ privacy. When possible, should actual names be used to insure authenticity?

    1. If you’re talking about using public figures’ names to ground your story a bit, that is probably okay. If you’re talking about using names of real people who are not public figures that might be problematic and I don’t really see how it could make it more authentic if most readers haven’t heard of the person. I would say if you want to use real names of non-public figures for what ever reason, although I advise against it, I would seek the advice of an entertainment attorney so that you understand the full ramifications of what you’re doing.

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