November 24, 2016

Struggling on Your Screenplay Rewrite? Try the 'Coffee Filter' Method

"My screenplay needs a rewrite. Where the hell do I even begin?"

The first few drafts of a screenplay are usually just a giant mess of ideas, and cleaning it up might seem next to impossible. With so many things to fix—a character arc, bad lines of dialog, continuity errors—you'll need an effective way to address every single one as you go through each page of your script, and if dealing with these numerous changes chronologically makes your head feel like it's going to explode, there is a simpler, albiet more time consuming way to do it. The Film Look calls it the "coffee filter" method and it might just be the revision technique you've been looking for.

Just as there's no "right" way to write a screenplay, there's no "right" way to revise one. Everybody does it differently; everybody does it in a way that best serves them. This "coffee filter" method isn't the "right" way, it just might be right for (or helpful to) you.

In fact, I've been using it ever since I started screenwriting—not under that monicker, but the technique itself, yes. For me, having to tackle all of the revisions I want to make all at once is just not feasible—I suppose my brain just doesn't do well when it has to look at a page and change everything that's wrong with it.

Reading through my script and making a list of issues as I see them is my chance to see the story from both a big and small picture standpoint. I can look at the structure, the pacing, as well as individual lines of dialog and action to see if there are any problems. After writing them down, I can focus all of my attention on a single issue rather than having all of them jumping around in my head at the same time.

The "coffee filter" method reminds me of a study/video/podcast/something that talked about how humans access knowledge in their own brains (I wish I could remember where I read/saw/heard this). The point was made that if you ask a person to list all of the movies they've ever seen, they'll most likely have a pretty difficult time remembering many of them (and they'll take a long time to list the ones they do remember). However, if you ask them if they've seen a particular movie, they'll most likely know right away if they have or not. The "coffee filter" method essentially does the latter: instead of asking yourself what kinds of problems exist in your screenplay, you ask yourself if it has a particular problem, making the revision stage a little less mind-cluttering.

Again, everybody's different. Maybe this method seems like a total waste of time to you, and it totally could be. However, for those who prefer to focus on one thing at a time, and maybe don't mind things taking a little longer (I've found that editing by filtering goes much faster for me, but—you know—that's just me), then you should give the "coffee filter" method a go.

How do you go about revising your screenplays? Let us know in the comments below! Also, if you know which study/video/podcast I was talking about earlier, please tell me what the hell it was. It's killing me.     

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Can't help thinking that if a script is that all over the place then more preparation at the treatment or step outline stage would save a hell of a lot of time/effort/misery. But as you say, each to his own writing method.

December 5, 2016 at 5:57AM

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Peter Delaunay
Screenwriter
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