The five times it will take you to edit your script

Your script is never really complete. Here are all the moments that might need a makeover.

This post was written by Robert Carr.

After working on the keyboard for weeks, months, or even years, you’ve finally got your script ready! It’s time to go preproduction and start producing your movie.

Well, don’t close Final Draft just yet – you’ll be coming back to your script more times than you might think.

For our current action-comedy short film Sixty seconds, we found that we tweaked the 12-page “final” version of the script at least five times throughout the production process. These weren’t much of a change, just a new description line here and new dialogs there. They certainly strengthened the end product and everything had to be written, saved, storyboarded, and shortlisted for us to make the film.

Let’s summarize when and why you should edit your script when making your next movie. Check out our video below for even more details on this process!

1. Edit your first draft

Feedback from others is perhaps the most valuable “free” asset you have when starting your next project. Asking others to review your script doesn’t cost anything but your pride – and if someone points out a big hole in your script, you’ll quickly see how worthless your pride is and how invaluable their feedback can be.

Because you are the writer, you repeated the whole film in your head; and it’s perfect! You can visualize the characters, the locations, the action, and the drama – but sometimes your ideas get lost when translating to the page.

The script for our short film Sixty seconds was written by two of us after discussing the original idea. One person wrote the first draft, then we discussed the script. Accepting feedback can be difficult at any stage of the project, and co-writing is not for everyone, but showing your script to other people is very important.

When you’ve found someone, let them know you to find out what this film is about. They will tell you exactly what is lost between your brain and the page because they don’t have the backstory, characters, or plot repeating themselves in their brain like you do.

Write down their feedback on what works and what doesn’t. You don’t have to take every suggestion, it’s still your script, but be open to feedback. This will make every draft of your script optimal.

2. Edit your script in the sample

Your first rehearsal is a magical moment; the words and signs are finally coming to life! It allows your actors to familiarize themselves with your script, but it’s also a great time for you to edit your script based on their performance.

Play around with the lines and blocking with the actors during the workshop phase. Have everyone in the room play with the material, you may find that a line of dialogue or action does not work as you originally thought it would.

Each person in the room brings their own experiences with them. You might find that a serious moment gets pretty comedic – and it could work better! Some new ideas are great, some not so. So have a pen handy and take notes if you think something could be edited (or cut out).

Just like when writing your script, you don’t have to consider every suggestion from your actors, but it is good to work through them with them. By the end of the rehearsals, you should have a million more ideas to work with. Time to edit your script again!

Recognition: The film look

3. Edit your script for the location

If you don’t have the money to build the perfect set, the next best thing is to find a suitable location and then add things like set dressing and lighting to make it feel more cinematic.

Sometimes, during a location scout, you are lucky enough to find a place that has an amazing spiral staircase or 12 foot Victorian windows. I can guarantee you are already wondering how to put them in your script!

In this case, do not leave the script out of date. Open it up and customize the scene with these new assets. You may find that the blockage changes. Or maybe the overall mood of the scene is different.

Our short film Sixty seconds was shot in a YouTube studio that looks like a YouTube studio. What we really wanted was a location that resembled one floor in a multi-story office building under construction. Something like an unfinished floor in Nakatomi Plaza in Die Hard.

Since we couldn’t find or afford anything similar, we dressed the place we had access to with boxes, caution tape, and structural-looking set dressings.

Recognition: The film look

Instead of just letting these elements take up the space, edit them in the script. This conscious decision leads to even more ideas and in no time you have changed the scene and created something even more impressive.

4. Edit your script for the props

Just like the location, your props will likely (at least a little) change during pre-production as you start collecting everything you need.

Our short film Sixty seconds contains an elaborate bomb prop with many intricate modules that can defuse the characters. During the initial writing phase, we honestly had no real idea what these modules would look like! So we wrote something more vague because we knew we could change it later.

During pre-production we collected a lot of stuff and built the bomb support. After we built it, we knew exactly how the characters could interact with it. That meant we could open the script and edit the action lines to match the props.

Recognition: The film look

If your character pulls the trigger on a pistol, the line of action doesn’t have to change after receiving the prop.

“EVELYN raises the gun and pulls the TRIGGER.”

In general, pistols all work the same way, but if you decide your character has to be a badass with a shotgun then the line of action is well worth tweaking.

“EVELYN cocks the shotgun and pulls the TRIGGER.”

Swinging a shotgun has a different feel to it than a pistol, and this little change will change the rest of the scene a bit. Put a shotgun rest in the hands of an actor and he’ll instinctively lift and pump it. It’s a small action change, but it’s worth keeping your script up to date.

Remember that the script is a blueprint for every department, not just the actors, so the props department needs to know that you need a shotgun, not a pistol.

5. Editing your script on the set

During the last rehearsal on the set you can change a line here or there, but as soon as the cameras roll and the actors act, the script becomes concrete. Make a note of any minor changes and make sure the actors stick to the latest lines and don’t go backwards on the material.

Recognition: The film look

Since you cover the scene from multiple angles and settings, major changes in dialogues and actions can be a nightmare for continuity. So when you start, stick with it. For this reason, productions have a script supervisor. Your only job is to keep an eye on continuity while filming and keep the script up to date (which is essentially a different form of editing the script).

The script is the blueprint for the entire project. So when you’re on the set, use it the same way you use the camera.

6. Editing your script while editing

This is a bonus. You won’t be editing your script in Final Draft while editing your movie in Adobe Premiere, but you’ve made it this far, so don’t stop editing your story.

It all comes together in post-production, the good, the bad, and the stuff we have to live with. Get others to look at your editing, take their feedback, and make your film the best it can be.

Now that you know all of this, watch our short film Sixty seconds:

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