"It's impossible to discourage the real writers; they don't give a damn what you say." Sinclair Lewis

Monday, April 2, 2012

To Write is to Rewrite

by Bill Corbett


SUPER - 1953


Teenage BUDDY CRAWFORD is in his room. He is packing, getting ready to go off to college. He holds in his hand a picture of a boy and his horse standing in the arena at the county fair. His dad, WILL, walks into the room.

What’ve you got there, Buddy?

Buddy hands the picture to Will. He takes it and looks at it.

I didn’t know you’d kept this
picture all these years.

That was a pivotal summer
in my life, Dad; good times
and bad. I wish Sally and I
could’ve had more time together.

There was a time when you
wouldn’t have said that, son.

Yeah, I know.

Will hands the picture back to Buddy and puts his hand on his son’s shoulder.

Now, you’d better hurry and
finish your packing. We need
to get on the road.

Okay, Dad. I’ll be ready in a
few minutes.

Will leaves the room and Buddy resumes his packing.



Two boys ride double on a beautiful horse. A bally face bay mare with four white stocking feet and good conformation. One of the boys digs his spurs into her side. She winces and bolts. The other boy jerks on the bridle; she whinnies in pain, starts to buck throwing both boys off, then runs away....

To those who have screen writing experience, I may be “preaching to the choir.” But to those who don’t, this post may present something new. It was suggested to me that since I've jumped from novel and non-fiction writing to a screenplay, that perhaps I should share a bit of this experience with the followers of this blog.

The previous scenes you just read are opening scenes to a screen play that I adapted from one of my books and had “naively” pronounced in a previous blog two years ago that it was completed. I’m currently on the seventh rewrite. There’s an old saying around Hollywood: “To write is to rewrite." I had the good fortune to connect with a story editor at a major production company; a company that has produced several TV shows, and feature movies. Since I never sought permission, I won’t mention the name of the company or the editor. The one thing I learned from her is that when you think you’re done with a script, it’s just the beginning. From then on, it’s rewrite, rewrite, rewrite, rewrite.

Fact is, when I listen to Robert Osborne on Turner Classic Movies describe the techniques of movie making, I get the impression many movie scripts aren’t complete until the last scene of the movie is shot. He has said that directors, and even the players, will rewrite scenes during the actual shooting of the movie.

During my high school years I never missed the opportunity to watch Bing Crosby movies. The famous Crosby/Hope road pictures were as much ad lib as script. Legend has it that on one of those movies the boys got so carried away with their ad libs that the director threw up his hands, tossed the script, and said “go at it, boys.” So as I mentioned earlier, it’s difficult to tell when a movie script is really finished.

Script writing involves a totally different technique from novel writing or non-fiction. Format is very critical and must be followed to the letter. Left margins must be one and a half inches. This is to enable room for notes and comments. (Please note, the correct format is not what you see here. Character dialogue should be centered on the page.) When scripts are submitted, they are three-hole punched and bound together with two brass brads with a front and back cover sheet with no writing. The title page is the first page inside. Character dialogue is usually confined to blocks of four sentences at a time with breaks in between, although this is not cast in stone. Page breaks in the middle of a character’s dialogue are not recommended either.

When characters are first introduced through the action narrative, as you saw in the example above, their names are always in CAPITAL letters. There is also certain terminology that must be followed. EXT. is short for exterior, and denotes an outside scene. An example might read:


An example of an inside scene my read as follows:


When you want to superimpose something on the screen such as a date or particular location, it would read as follows:

SUPER – 1943 – LONDON.

Since movies are a visual media, the person reading the script must be able to actually see the movie unfolding before his or her eyes as they read the script. This means all descriptive narrative action prose must be in third person, present tense. The action in the movie must also be seen through the players’ dialogue and their individual voices.

Movies are generally written in two script forms, the spec script, and the shooting script. The spec script is the one from which the project is purchased for production; the shooting script is the script from which the movie is shot and contains all the little details, such as scene design, camera angles, etc., etc.

So, there you have a brief primer course on screenplay writing. Please understand that in no way am I trying to pass myself of as an experienced professional in this field. This screenplay is my first experience, and I still have much to learn about this craft. I find it to be a fascinating medium and a challenge. For those who would like to learn more about the craft of screenwriting, and perhaps stick your toe in the water, the text book that was recommended to me by my online teacher is The Screenwriter’s bible, by David Trottier. It’s available at amazon.com.

Happy movie writing.


  1. Thanks for the post, Bill. Another excellent book on writing scripts is "500 Ways to Beat the Hollywood Script Reader," by Jennifer Lerch. I haven't attempted to write a script. It looks daunting, but who know, maybe someday....

    Linda S.

  2. Hi Linda:

    Your should try it. It's an interesting challenge.

  3. That was an interesting post, Bill. I never even thought of writing a play or a screen play but reading your article made me want to try. Thanks for the info.

  4. Love it, Bill! It's been great living the experience through you.