Should I edit and redraft my short film script?
In a word…YES! As a script editor I’ve been lucky to work on some brilliant short film scripts, and across the board, all of the writers I’ve worked with have been super talented and have had really exciting ideas. But as a producer recently said to me: you can never have too much script development! Needing to make changes to your script does not mean that you’re a bad writer, or that you’ve written a bad script. As you hopefully move on to writing features, you’ll find that script development - the process of getting notes, re-drafting, and doing it all over again - is standard practice, so it’s good to start now. Learning how to take notes well and to redraft effectively is a very important skill for a screenwriter to have.
I love working with new screenwriters and seeing them take their scripts from solid to brilliant; the editing process ensures that all their ideas are being communicated as meaningfully and clearly as possible, and their films are always better for it. It’s difficult to make a great film if your script isn’t where it should be. Even if you have a visionary director, fantastic crew, and talented actors, if there are problems in your script there will almost certainly be problems in your finished film. Think of your script as the foundation of a building; even if your building looks nice on the outside, if you’ve built it on a foundation that isn’t solid, you’re going to end up with some pretty big issues!
If you’re thinking about applying for funding somewhere then it’s also worth considering making time for rewriting before you apply. It’s true that a script doesn’t need to be perfect in order to be selected for funding, but there are so many scripts out there: make sure yours stands out! Don’t let your good ideas be overshadowed by a script that needs more work.
What should I look out for?
Of course every script is unique and will have different needs in terms of editing and rewriting, but there are some notes that crop up time and time again:
Are you trying to say too many things?
Maybe you have loads of really interesting and exciting ideas – which is great! But sometimes if you’re trying to say too many things in one short film, you end up saying nothing; all of your ideas are competing against each other, so it can be difficult for any of them to come through clearly.
Often it can feel like you need a lot more dialogue than you really do. Don’t forget that film is a visual medium – think about how you can convey your ideas, and what your characters are feeling, without always resorting to dialogue.
Your protagonist’s journey
Who are they by the end of the film, and what are the emotional steps needed to get them there? In order to have a satisfying shape to your film, it’s important to craft your protagonist’s arc effectively.
Are your ideas landing?
As writers, you know your world and characters inside out, so it can be difficult to get perspective on whether your intentions are being conveyed clearly to another person i.e. your audience. Which is why it’s so important to get a fresh pair of trusted eyes on your script.
Who can help me?
If you are lucky enough to be working with BFI NETWORK or other funders, then your development exec or the script editor/consultant working with you can give you notes. If you have funding for your film then it could be worth taking script development into account when you do your budget - there are freelance script editors out there that will gladly work on your short film. If you don’t have funding, or your funds are very tight, then your director or producer would be a great person to work through another draft with. Otherwise, do you have any friends you could ask? Connecting with other writers and directors whose work you admire and whose opinion you trust is really helpful, and you can all help each other when it comes to script feedback.
Jessica Jones is a freelance Script Editor based in London. She has worked as a Script Editor in the BFI Film Fund and across the BFI NETWORK Picks slate, and has recently consulted on short films for the BFI/BBC Born Digital scheme, and the Round House film fund. She previously worked in development for BBC Drama Commissioning and Channel 4 Drama, and for Colin Firth’s Raindog Films. Need a Script Editor? Follow Jessica on Twitter @JessJonesStory