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How I Wrote a Screenplay in 30 Days: Part 12


Exposition and Action Passes

Download a copy of the screenplay, A Girl Named Trouble.

My method for rewrites is to focus on a single aspect as I do a pass through the entire script. I was getting pretty close to 30 days, and I still had one of the hardest and slowest passes to do: rewriting exposition and action.

After finishing any first draft, I know in my heart the following:

  • There is usually a simpler way to write things.

  • There is usually a clearer way to write things.

  • There is usually a better way to write things.

Thank goodness I write fast. Because on this pass I rewrote phrases, sentences and even entire paragraphs from scratch. I explored different ways to say the same thing, only better. It was a lot of work. It was hard. But you know what was easy? Getting rid of a lot of stuff that wasn’t very good. There’s nothing wrong with putting bad stuff in your first draft. What’s wrong is leaving it in.

The Bag Gets Caught on the Fence

My goal at this point was to make the words work harder, not to reimagine scenes in a new way. But yes, that happened in a couple places. In particular, the scene throwing the bag over the fence on page 66. That scene got worked and reworked. It lacked tension, so I added Roman checking over his shoulder a couple times to remind the reader that Cane could appear at any moment. I described the hole in the fence several different ways to help the reader see it. But in the end, the only thing that really mattered was that there was a small hole in the fence.

Directed on the Page

With my many years of directing experience, all my screenplays are, without question, directed on the page. One of the obvious things I do is called stacking the action.

I write one brief sentence to describe a shot. And then I hit Return so it looks more like a series of shot rather than a dense paragraph. As the reader consumes the scene shot by shot, I believe it helps them see the movie in their head. So anytime you read one of my screenplays, I acknowledge there’s a lot more direction than most people prefer.

The next few passes went quickly. We’ll explore those next week.


Start the series from the beginning.

Mike Johnston is a production executive and advertising creative in Seattle. He is available for consulting, writing and directing. Contact Mike.