Third Draft’s the Charm

Like Brothers by Mark Duplass and Jay Duplass
Worthwhile read for people into no-budget filmmaking

When Lee and I first sit down to write, we often work fast and sloppy. I like to refer to it as writing a trash draft. I recently read in Mark & Jay Duplass’ Like Brothers that they like to call it a vomit draft. Either way, the point is that your first draft should be written a fast as possible to get everything out of your head and onto the page. That first draft doesn’t really matter since screenplays are not written, but re-written.

Our second draft of Dead Dicks fixed some logical issues (as logical as a hole in the wall pooping out new copies of yourself can be) and improved on the characters’ goals and relationships. After that, we asked people we trusted to read it and give us notes so we could figure out where we failed miserably. We also sent the script off for coverage so that a pair of professional eyes could truly rip it apart.

COVERAGE: a filmmaking term for the analysis and grading of screenplays, often within the “script development” department of a production company. While coverage may remain entirely verbal, it usually takes the form of a written report, guided by a scoring guide that varies from company to company.

– Wikipedia

An incredible script editor based out of Toronto named Adam Yorke is our go-to person for coverage. We find his feedback thoughtful, precise and extremely useful to help us solve the myriad problems we introduce into our writing when we try to be clever. He sends us a 5-page report breaking down what works plot-and-character-wise, what dialogue most needs fixing, and crucially, notes on structure. (For some reason, almost every early draft we’ve written together needs the first act trimmed and the third act lengthened.)

Adam Yorke's coverage report for Dead Dicks
The first page of our coverage report from Adam Yorke.

After Adam sent us back his notes on the second draft, and a few of our friends gave us feedback, we sat down to discuss how we should improve things for our third draft. Sadly, right around this time our children came down with the annoyingly contagious pox of the chicken variety. And of course, the holidays hit hard. In our family, we have our eldest daughter’s birthday on December 23rd, my family’s “réveillon” on Christmas Eve, and then Lee’s family get-together on Christmas Day. For us, everything was cancelled. We were quarantined for three weeks, but also had to parent, so taking the time to discuss and write was difficult. And for some reason, this third draft had us baffled. Adam’s notes were great and he challenged us to think differently about our story and characters.

Struggling to find time to write and get into the correct headspace, we trudged through the pox-ridden holidays and came out the other side of the new year with a third draft. We shifted a lot of things around, strengthened every character, and gave real depth to our two protagonists’ relationship. Though, to be honest, it was pretty much a full re-write.

Three drafts in and we’re done, right? Not quite.

Our next step is to get actual humans to read the thing out loud in a room while we take furious notes for a dialogue polish. Sometimes, stuff looks great on the page but is totally unnatural when an actor tries to get their mouth around it.

Writing is often a lonely and hard process, but having people around you to read through your nonsense and point out its faults is extremely important. Like I mentioned before, getting the ideas onto the page is the first step of the process, and just the beginning of the journey for every screenwriter. Don’t be too hard on yourself when your 73-page first draft makes little sense and has characters saying expository things like, “After dad died, I felt really overwhelmed when I had to put everything in my life on hold to take care of you because you were going through a difficult time and were diagnosed with bipolar disorder and even though I was younger than you, there was nobody else to take care of you because at that point, both of our parents had died and you were all alone.”

That why we call it a trash draft. It can only get better from there.

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