Film Courage: Lee I think you said that feature writers should have a new, ready-to-market feature script every six months or so. And that TV writers should have a new original pilot one every three or four months.
Lee Jessup: In a perfect world. Yes…
Film Courage: Is that a lot of pressure though?
Lee Jessup: That’s a lot of pressure. I find that most features go six to twelve months. You know the truth of the matter is if you take 14 months and you come up with a great sample, I’m not going to hold it against you. The important thing for me is that you keep writing and keep finishing work. For pilots in a perfect world, I would like to see two generated in a year. Sometimes it happens that it’s only one. Sometimes it happens that it’s three. It really depends on the writer. So there isn’t really one set course that you’re supposed to follow. But it’s really about doing the work and getting the work out there. Sometimes you’ll work on a script and you’ll say “I’ve worked on this for eight months. I’ve tackled this every which way, it’s not happening.” It’s also knowing when to let something go, not for all eternity but for potentially you can come back to it later when you’ve had a stroke of genius that informs you how to take the work, how to make it better.
“…Because of that you really want to expose the work early and often. So that means from concept, you want to run the concept by people in the know, whether it be members of your writers group or in a class or whatever it is. Have people look at your outline. Really don’t be afraid to expose the work to get feedback to have questions asked.”
But the point with having those broad goals is just do the work and get it out there rather than spend years and years and years tinkering with one screenplay that then you run the risk that after three years (and I just went through this with a writer), tinkering with the script for three years and then going “Oh, it’s not good enough.” It will never be good enough. I’m not going to get it out there. And then starting another script and spending another two years on something and then going “Oh but it’s still not good enough. I’m not going to get this out there.” That is the challenge that we run into. So because of that you really want to expose the work early and often. So that means from concept, you want to run the concept by people in the know, whether it be members of your writers group or in a class or whatever it is. Have people look at your outline. Really don’t be afraid to expose the work to get feedback to have questions asked.
I was just sitting with a writer of mine who had written a feature script with a guy that is his manager and they had been on the script for a year and a half. And then he gave the script to a few writer friends. And he got some massive notes back. And what he’d said to me was “Oh, if only we’d given it an outline.” It was what we all were pushing him to do but he felt loyal to the manager. He didn’t want to expose it. And I understand that choice that he made. He was sort of in a tough spot to serve [or] to listen and to serve the one master. Do you open yourself up?
I generally prefer to expose work early and often because I just think that it saves you a lot of time in the end.
Watch all of Lee Jessup’s Film Courage video interviews on Youtube here
Getting it Write: An Insider’s Guide to a Screenwriting Career by Lee Zahavi Jessup
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