Overwrite Your Screenplay

When writing your screenplay, keep in mind that you will rarely make it perfect no matter how many drafts you go through. You want to make your script as perfect as you can get, but don’t beat yourself up over making a script perfect because once they start filming, they’ll find scenes that don’t work and replace them with new scenes that do work, and that’s just the nature of screenwriting.

When many aspiring screenwriters study a screenplay that was produced, they often get depressed at seeing how perfect a movie’s script might look and then they despair of ever creating anything remotely as perfect. The secret is that no script is ever perfect because it goes through multiple changes even at the last minute.

Sometimes the actors will add a scene or dialogue and sometimes the director will change things around. When you see a final script, it’s often an edited version of the script that closely matches what you see in the film, but the real script may not have even been close to that final filmed outcome.

In “The Shining,” Jack Nicholas breaks down a bathroom door with an axe to get at his wife and shouts, “Here’s Johnny!” That line was totally improvised and wasn’t part of the script at all.

In “The Warriors,” the leader of the bad street gang taunts the Warriors street gang by clanging two bottles together and chiming, “Warriors, come out to play.” That line was also improvised and not in the original script.

In many movies, scenes get deleted all the time. Watch this Youtube video to see a deleted scene and song from the Disney cartoon “Alice in Wonderland” where the Cheshire cat sings a song called “I’m odd.”

In “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Harrison Ford was supposed to fight an expert swordsman in a market, but he was sick that day so he just pulled out a gun and shot the guy instead. That wasn’t in the film but improvised.

In “Witness,” Harrison Ford improvised another scene when he wakes up early in the morning with an Amish family and mimics a TV commercial by saying, “That’s good coffee.” Then the Amish family stares at him.

Those are just examples of actors and directors improvising to make a better story. Often times directors will film a scene and cut it out later because it simply slows down the story.

In “Star Wars,” the original script intercut between Darth Vader boarding Princess Leia’s starship and Luke living on his dead-end planet. All those early scenes with Luke got cut because it slowed down the film and interrupted the excitement of Darth Vader boarding Princess Leia’s starship.

In the original “Alien” movie, there was a stronger love story between Sigourney Weaver and the captain, who eventually gets killed in the ventilation ducts. In “Aliens,” there was a scene that described how the little girl managed to survive in the ventilation ducts for so long to hide from the aliens.

Basically a screenplay is a framework that allows the actors and director to play, which means modifying, deleting, or rearranging scenes for maximum impact. Sometimes the actors and directors improve a script and sometimes they make it worse. That’s totally out of your control, but as long as you focus on creating an interesting story in the first place that actors and directors will want to play in, you’ll have done your job.

Strive for perfection, but don’t ever expect to meet it. Just create the best story possible and that’s the best you can possibly do.

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