story Rewrite a screenplay

Hello, I've written a script 180 pages and now I have to cut it to about 110. Do you have any suggestions on what to cut. What plan to follow to spot the unnecessary? What is considered as unnecessary in a screenplay? Also any suggestions on the strategy to follow for rewrite?
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
That's a classic "it depends" kind of question.

In order to start by getting rid of some big chunks, consider if there are any sub-plots that can be cut. Is there one (or more) that don't really add that much to the story? If so, cut them out completely. Also look for any that can be trimmed down substantially.

Next, can you cut a character or two? And/or can you combine a couple of characters?

After that, go through the whole thing word by word. Most screenplays have a LOT of excess material. Cut every word that isn't absolutely essential.

Then go back and do it again.

Good luck!
 
What @mlesemann said.

Just to add one other thing. Look at each scene in isolation and ask yourself "will the overall story still make sense if I removed the scene?". If it will, you probably need to cut it altogether. If there is some detail/event in the scene which is important to the story, but it only takes up a small part of the scene, consider incorporating that detail into another scene and cutting the rest.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
Look at each scene in isolation and ask yourself "will the overall story still make sense if I removed the scene?". If it will, you probably need to cut it altogether. If there is some detail/event in the scene which is important to the story, but it only takes up a small part of the scene, consider incorporating that detail into another scene and cutting the rest.
Yup - agree 100%.
 

indietalk

IndieTalk Founder
Staff Member
Admin
Another idea is to write it out as a treatment. The screenplay format can often feel very alienating and skeletal and it's hard to visualize the story as a whole. Write a treatment and you can check it for bulk and fluff. Or if you wrote out the whole treatment and left parts out purposely to make a better treatment, then, you know they can (potentially) be cut from the screenplay.
 
Another idea is to write it out as a treatment. The screenplay format can often feel very alienating and skeletal and it's hard to visualize the story as a whole. Write a treatment and you can check it for bulk and fluff. Or if you wrote out the whole treatment and left parts out purposely to make a better treatment, then, you know they can (potentially) be cut from the screenplay.
I really HATE to say this because I hate writing treatments... LOL. But? The truth is? If you write the treatment a little like you might write a book? You can usually come up with a much better screenplay somewhere down the line. It's just a real pain in the ass to write both in my humble opinion but if you really want to bring out some nuances you didn't even consider during script development? Try turning the script into a short story or novella (or call it a treatment). Allow yourself the opportunity to write some character's THOUGHTS in the treatment. See what develops. This can give you a completely new perspective on the script.

If you're on your game? The treatment usually turns out nice and reveals story elements you didn't even come up with in the script. Story elements that you can now transcribe BACK into the actual script and NO... You don't take the character's thoughts in the treatment and stick them in the script but you do and can TRANSCRIBE them back into what works in a screenplay... i.e., come up with action/behavior/dialogue that perfectly transcribes what you have in the treatment back into the script.
 

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
now I have to cut it to about 110. Do you have any suggestions on what to cut. What plan to follow to spot the unnecessary? What is considered as unnecessary
What are the major turning points in your story? Specifically look at what pages do they happen on?

And then you can evaluate the pacing from there..
Generally you want certain things to happen at certain points of time, it keeps the audience engaged.

Look at some of your favorite movies and note what time the big changes in story happen
 
What are the major turning points in your story? Specifically look at what pages do they happen on?

And then you can evaluate the pacing from there..
Generally you want certain things to happen at certain points of time, it keeps the audience engaged.

Look at some of your favorite movies and note what time the big changes in story happen
That's my prosses. I've traced the number of excess pages around the turning points. My most excess pages are in midpoint, about 50 excess pages! I also have about 15 excess pages at the 75% point... I can evaluate the pacing, f.e. after midpoint it is too slow, but it seems to me that everything I have is relevant to what should happen at the next point.

I'm gathering any knowledge I can about what to cut to correct that pacing. What is the lead road to follow to find what is not relevant.
 
Last edited:

sfoster

Staff Member
Moderator
That's my prosses. I've traced the number of excess pages around the turning points. My most excess pages are in midpoint, about 50 excess pages! I also have about 15 excess pages at the 75% point... I can evaluate the pacing, f.e. after midpoint it is too slow, but it seems to me that everything I have is relevant to what should happen at the next point.

I'm gathering any knowledge I can about what to cut to correct that pacing. What is the lead road to follow to find what is not relevant.

The skill youre looking for is editing... the more practice you have editing and better you are as an editor the sharper you will be about cutting stuff out of your script. it just comes with experience. here is one of the best writer/directors working today talking about that very thing

 
Last edited:
I'm gathering any knowledge I can about what to cut to correct that pacing. What is the lead road to follow to find what is not relevant.
Don't know if this will help you at all, it's difficult without seeing your story and what it's about, but a template I found handy for working out how to portion up the screenplay goes roughly like this. For a 80 to 120 page screenplay, each of the 8 sections should be about 10 to 15 pages -

1. Normality - we see the protagonist's normal life followed by an inciting incident.
2. The setup - the incident sparks a change in the protaganist's life and a "call to action" which leads them into a new world.
3. Denial - the protaganist battles with the decisions he needs to make and overcome his flaws to do what needs to be done.
4. Commitment - the protaganist embarks on his mission and begins to make progress.
5. Respite - everything is going well, this is often where there is a lull in the pace and other subplots (like romances) develop.
6. Disaster - the protaganist seemingly gets close to attaining his goal when he suffers a major setback.
7. False ending - all hope seems lost but the protaganist pulls it out of the bag and recovers before one final twist seemingly sees his journey end in failure.
8. True ending - the protaganist fights on, now having overcome his flaws and emerges victorious or at least having changed in some way.

Depending on your story it won't necessarily be exactly this, particularly if it has a negative ending, but it's surprising how many movies follow this basic structure. So it might help if you look at your major plot points and see where they fit if applied to that template and therefore how much you should look to cut from each section.

In terms of deciding what is 'relevant', those are decisions only you can make really. But following the advice others have already given here should give you an idea of what to look at. Try and write the story to fit on one page and that should tell you what is truly "relevant" in it. Then go through everything (starting with the biggest), each character, then each scene, then dialogue, then description and ask yourself "If I take it out, will the story really be compromised?". If the answer is "no", it wasn't relevant and you should cut it.
 

mlesemann

Staff Member
Moderator
The only thing that I disagree with from @Jkds 's post is this:

1. Normality - we see the protagonist's normal life followed by an inciting incident.

I know that that's standard but I disagree. I think that in the modern screenwriting world, you need to get to the inciting incident within a page or 2.

Normal life is boring - for everyone, including your protagonist. Don't make people read about it.
 
The only thing that I disagree with from @Jkds 's post is this:



I know that that's standard but I disagree. I think that in the modern screenwriting world, you need to get to the inciting incident within a page or 2.

Normal life is boring - for everyone, including your protagonist. Don't make people read about it.
Is this what Hollywood wants? Is it ok to write a screenplay with the inciting incident at page 2 and send it to agents? Aren't studio readers turning the screenplays at around page 12 to check if there is the inciting incident?
 
I know that that's standard but I disagree. I think that in the modern screenwriting world, you need to get to the inciting incident within a page or 2.

Normal life is boring - for everyone, including your protagonist. Don't make people read about it.
Yeah, I agree with that actually. I read somewhere that you should look to include an inciting incident by page 3 and then a second one around page 12. The first one often sets the tone of the story, giving you a flavour of what it's going to be about and possibly the hook. The second incident then drives the protagonist's personal dilemma, possibly a threat or an opportunity.
 
Yeah, I agree with that actually. I read somewhere that you should look to include an inciting incident by page 3 and then a second one around page 12. The first one often sets the tone of the story, giving you a flavour of what it's going to be about and possibly the hook. The second incident then drives the protagonist's personal dilemma, possibly a threat or an opportunity.
Oh... I'm doing this... and I was worried whether I should cut my first inciting incident! 🤩
 
The only thing that I disagree with from @Jkds 's post is this:



I know that that's standard but I disagree. I think that in the modern screenwriting world, you need to get to the inciting incident within a page or 2.

Normal life is boring - for everyone, including your protagonist. Don't make people read about it.
Normal life IS boring but ONLY IF YOU WRITE IT THAT WAY.

I also agree that the INCITING INCIDENT should happen as soon as possible but NEVER after PAGE 10 and if it does? NEVER EVER EVER AFTER PAGE 12 and ONLY if those preceding pages are extremely INTERESTING and NOT BORING. That's just ME. This is NOT advice or a recommendation.

Just how I see it.

You can easily keep your reader interested as long as what you're writing isn't boring.

Having said that? I've read a LOT of beginners' screenplays throughout the years and one thing that has always stuck out at me is how they tend to DELAY their inciting incident for NO GOOD REASON. Sometimes, I think THEY THINK they are still WORLD-BUILDING i.e., giving us examples of the Protagonist's Ordinary World but again... If that world is BORING? There's really no reason to show it to us at least NOT in the way they are showing it to us.

To KEEP it from being boring? Consider the backstory of your Protagonist... Something WE DO NOT EVEN HAVE TO SEE but give us glimpses of it through your Protagonist's behavior and dialogue. Normally, a Protagonist that's already gone through some UNDESERVED MISFORTUNE before we even begin to read the screenplay is way more INTERESTING than a simple every day person with no backstory and boring life.

Also think about your inciting incident and when it actually does occur... What would YOU LOSE by moving it up toward the beginning of the story? In fact? Consider moving it up in INCREMENTS of TIME and see what you LOSE. The less you LOSE? The more you can move it up.
 
Last edited:
Is this what Hollywood wants? Is it ok to write a screenplay with the inciting incident at page 2 and send it to agents? Aren't studio readers turning the screenplays at around page 12 to check if there is the inciting incident?
No they are NOT. Everyone loves stories that GET RIGHT TO IT. There should be a little world-building and the introduction of your Protagonist of course but it really all comes down to YOU and HOW YOU WRITE IT DOWN.

Boring is boring no matter what.

If what you're showing us about your Protagonist is BORING during the first 12 pages? Nobody's even gonna GET to page 12... Trust me. Because if those first pages are boring? The rest of the script will... VERY LIKELY... Be just as boring.
 
No they are NOT. Everyone loves stories that GET RIGHT TO IT. There should be a little world-building and the introduction of your Protagonist of course but it really all comes down to YOU and HOW YOU WRITE IT DOWN.

Boring is boring no matter what.

If what you're showing us about your Protagonist is BORING during the first 12 pages? Nobody's even gonna GET to page 12... Trust me. Because if those first pages are boring? The rest of the script will... VERY LIKELY... Be just as boring.
It is one thing whether your script is boring and therefore your inciting incident won't save you and another thing how the pros work in the studios. If the readers who read 8 hours a day scripts, have the habit to turn to page 10-15 to check if you even have an inciting incident there, then there is no point to improvise and put it somewhere else. This is why I'm asking.

You might have a masterpiece with the inciting incident at page 40, like in Rocky, but if the reader pass it thinking you are armature not having an inciting incident at page 10-15... the fact that it is not boring, won't help.
 
I've never heard of readers turning to a specific page to look for something and discarding a script if not there.

While not hired as a reader, one of my first jobs was reading scripts for an independent producer. He told me to "read the first 10 pages and the last 10 pages and if they seem interesting enough, read the whole script". While I'd never give that advice, I have heard it multiple times in the years that followed.

It's about writing an interesting/good script. The advice you've been getting is to write an interesting script. That's the best advice possible. The trick to separate professionals from amateurs isn't the page of the inciting incident, it's about writing a compelling script. While I suppose it's possible some readers will toss your script aside at a certain point, if you write a compelling script, experienced readers will recognize it and recommend it no matter what page your inciting incident occurs. That said, earlier is better.

In film school they taught us that a good script will "leap off the page" when you read it. Until I started reading scripts for that producer, I had no idea what that really meant. I probably read 60-80 scripts for that producer and only recommended one.
 
I know PLENTY of professional readers... One is a very good friend of mine. I know for a fact... He'd never even GET to page 10 to 15 i.e., flip to those pages to even CHECK for an inciting incident if the beginning is boring. Some readers have to do that because that's what they get paid for so they can write coverage but trust me... That coverage is going to REFLECT BORING if it is in fact boring.

Doesn't MATTER if there's an inciting incident in there or not.

I don't know of any Professional Reader who flips through to page 10 to 15 before they read the script. They usually look at the white space of the script and look at the last page to see how many pages you've written.

Most Pro readers I know -- I know 7 -- just read from beginning to end. No flipping around except for what I just wrote above. So I guess I'm not really sure what you're saying. I read all the scripts that come into our prodco because I don't trust the majority of readers out there because I know how a lot of them work... i.e., cannibalizing other pieces of coverage or not reading at all past the first 10 or 15 pages because they get paid per script i.e., the more scripts they read and cover? The more money they make.

So not really sure where you're getting the flipping to page 10 through 15 from. That takes a lot of time and for Professional Readers? Time is OF the ESSENCE!
 
Top