Here’s an actual email from a client: “[It was good working with you on Monday] I didn’t really know what to expect, but it felt worthwhile to me. And…no fucking joke, I came home and finished my own script yesterday. It kinda felt like it was always going to be an open ended project, but I finished it. The feeling was electric. And lasted a whole hour, before I was all “now what?””
Finishing a draft is always a heady rush. My fondest memory is of finishing my first script, one month shy of my 16th birthday. It was a 120 page, exhaustively researched World War One script. It’s a shockingly boring piece of crap, but I was so proud at the time. Teenage me rushed to the post office to mail it off to the William Morris Agency (an agency, which, like mail, used to be a thing).
Here’s what I should have done.
1. Let the draft sit.
Give some time between completion and your reread. 2 weeks or more, if possible. Put it in a desk drawer, give yourself some time so you can come at it with fresh eyes.
2. Think about where you want your career to go.
Be honest. This answer influences the next project you write. “I want to direct my own film and put it on the festival circuit,” merits a different project than “I want to get into the NBC Writers on the Verge fellowship,” or “I want to write a gritty spec that gets a mid-level agent,” or even “I want to sell a spec for a million dollars and never work again,” (good luck with that one). Once you have your goal determined, it’s easier to visualize the project that helps you accomplish it, be it an original pilot, a spec episode of Modern Family, a commercial feature spec, or a weird indie.
3. Start thinking of next projects.
Keep a pad with you and jot down ideas for screenplays. These may come from dreams, conversations, newspaper headlines, or troubling memories from the past. Start putting these ideas into your trusted filing system. Don’t rush into the nitty-gritty of outlining/writing too quickly.
4. Watch movies, read.
You’ve drained a lot of your good ideas into your draft. Now it’s time to recharge the imagination. Watch movies that made you love film, projects in the genre you’d like to write next, or movies in a genre you’re not familiar with. Literacy (both filmic and in the book sense) gives sustenance to the imagination. You’ll have new ideas to merge together in interesting ways.
5. Collect ideas for your rewrite.
While you’re off on your victory lap, watching movies and dreaming of future glories, you’ll inevitably have new ideas about your “finished” project. Record these and file them so you’ll have them at hand when you’re ready to use them.