I Made My First Draft Screenplay

Using the formula provided in the last blog, we created a first draft screenplay. We have the whole thing planned out, characters doing action and making dialogue. We have a start, an end and the journey in between. So what now?

We sell it right?

Not yet, but I love your enthusiasm!

Remember when we first had the idea and wrote it down? What was the first thing we did with it? We left it alone! We made it sit in the corner and think about its existence… Well, it is time to wash, rinse, and repeat.

Let it sit.

Why would I want to let my masterpiece sit?

The simple answer to that is… It is not a masterpiece, yet!

Your idea had to percolate and ferment before it became a story, why would your first draft be any different? Right now what you have is a great idea, that we refined into a story and then manipulated that story into a screenplay. 

There is a saying in filmmaking—’a screenplay is only ever finished, once it has been produced.’ So take your time, have a friend read over it and see if they can spot any spelling mistakes. Come up with your logline.

My what-line?

Your logline. It is that one sentence that explains the whole idea to potential readers; some writers like to come up with this before they ever write the screenplay. Personally I don’t like that approach, I mentioned it earlier in another blog; a screenplay in the early stages is a living thing. 

Every word you write is a new breath for your story, a new direction you could take it. Every choice the characters make can change the outcome of the original idea. Trying to write a screenplay to fit a logline restricts you too much, so write it afterwards.

Then write the synopsis. Write a paragraph that explains the idea and what happens; add some intrigue and adventure to grab the reader’s attention.

But what about my screenplay?

Creating the logline and synopsis at this stage, will help keep you on track when it comes to your re-writes. You now have a framework and a description of the screenplay, so use those to keep your edits inline. 

When re-writes occur, keep in mind the format. Is there enough white space? Are the action scenes broken up with a new line for each piece of action? Do the characters sound authentic in their dialogue?

How many re-writes do I need to do?

That my friend is entirely at your discretion.

I have done five or six rewrites and been happy with a project, other times I have done only one and the project has been picked up. It all depends on how solid the initial idea and story are.

A good way to check is to find some film festivals that offer feedback as part of the entry fee. I have had my work in some major festivals and done really well in them, this was not always the case. 

One of my screenplays was an amazing piece and ready to be produced after only the third draft, or so I thought. 

What happened?

I entered a big film festival, proud and sure I would do well. I just knew that my screenplay was amazing. I got a three-page critique on my screenplay and all the places I messed up.

It wasn’t all bad. 

They loved the concept and the way I presented the world I was creating, but my characters didn’t have enough downtime for the audience to get to know them. They couldn’t understand why a pivotal scene was pivotal. 

I was devastated. All my work, the hours upon hours of toiling and creating and it didn’t even make it to selection. It took about another year before I jumped back into that project.

I took those notes and I made adjustments, then I made more. Before I realized it, I had recreated all of the characters and their life choices. I had added more backstory by removing exposition and then I re-wrote it again.

Five edits later, I once more submitted it to some big-named festivals.

This time… I got official selection… I got quarter finalists… I got finalist.

So it was worth the entry fee?


It was this experience that changed the way I write screenplays, it made me realize my method of writing didn’t work for film. So I changed it and came up with the method I have been writing about in these blogs.

It was this change that helped me sell my work; it was this change that got me published.

So when I talk about letting it sit, when I discuss re-writes and how to turn an idea into a profitable piece of work… I am talking from personal experience, I made mistakes but I learned from them.

If just one person can avoid that soul destroying feeling and enter this industry prepared and ready to roll. This whole blog series will be worth it.

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Thank you again for reading this series.

Jonathan Thompson – Devil May Care Productions