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5300 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90038

Home to Tom Provosts Film Seminars, rewriting do's and don'ts, and script consulting services.

Rewriting Dos & Don'ts

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2. Say in one page what you originally said in three

Tom Provost

Be concise. Repeat it with me: Be. Concise. Even if it means losing your best scene, many dazzling lines of dialogue, your favorite jokes or some riveting moments, condense, combine, toss out.


Example: the very first draft of Alien has many of the elements we know and love. It’s recognizable as Alien. (And this original draft has drawings and diagrams, very cool!) As first drafts often should be, it is talky; first drafts are for getting everything, anything, on the page. That makes for a long slog, however. The “dinner/chest burst” scene happens at page 70! That’s a long wait. In the final draft, though, this scene happens on page 49, a very big difference. The final version of the script is tighter, it moves faster… and even more happens! Because the writers condensed so much, in subsequent drafts they were able to weave in more plot. The entire subplot with Ash (Ian Holm), for instance, is not in the original draft. By being concise, there was time for an additional subplot that added more complexity and depth to the story. By rewriting and rewriting — combining scenes, shortening speeches, honing lines, tossing even good material out – more story is told in a shorter period of time.


Another great example is also from Alien. After Ash goes berserk and is revealed to be a robot, Ripley and the remaining crew hook Ash back up to get needed information from him. (This is a ‘go to school moment’: see upcoming Rule #9.)  The original version of the scene is pretty long, close to ten pages. This occurs late in the screenplay where a long expositional scene would stop the movie dead. But the problem is that all the specific information in the scene has to be disclosed to the audience at this particular point.  What to do? Well, by ruthlessly rewriting and rewriting this particular scene, the writers were eventually able to convey in just a few pages what originally was imparted in close to ten. All the information comes out in a much shorter period of time.

This ain’t easy, folks. It takes rewriting your individual scenes and entire screenplays over and over and over again. But it works. Be Concise. You will write a much better screenplay.