A movie director reviews script changes with a writer seated at a retro typewriter in a studio office, showing the collaborative revision process involved in screenplay rewrites.

What Is a Screenplay Rewrite? Insider Facts and Tips From Veteran Hollywood Writers

Rewriting is an integral part of the complex, multilayered process of transforming an idea into a produced film. According to some estimates, 90% of spec screenplays never make it to the screen and as many as 95 to 100 draft revisions are done even for movies that get made.

Through an extensive collaboration that could involve actors, directors, producers, studio executives, and multiple screenwriters, rewrites allow a screenplay to be shaped and honed to fully achieve its narrative potential.

So what exactly are screenplay rewrites and what forms can they take? This comprehensive guide examines why they happen, the rewriting process, different types of revisions, and tips for writers navigating changes to their creative vision.

Why Movies Undergo Rewrites

There are many reasons a screenplay gets handed back to the writer for more work – whether it’s an original script, book adaptation, or installment in a franchise universe:

  • Address Story Issues – If there are fundamental issues with the broader story, rewrites may be undertaken to strengthen the concept, alter the tone, change the plot direction, or improve the ending. Perhaps the narrative lacks cohesion, the stakes aren’t high enough or the story arcs for the main characters don’t satisfyingly resolve. These foundational story elements may require overhaul for maximum impact.
  • Enhance Character Development – Since compelling characters that audiences care about are the driving force in most movies, rewrites often focus on enriching backstories, sharpening motivations, and establishing more engaging voices and turns for leads and key supporting roles.
  • Improve Structure and Pacing – Oftentimes a screenplay draft relies too heavily on dialogue but lacks visual dynamism, or the pacing drags in the second act, or perhaps structural reconfiguration is needed to interweave subplots more tightly. Reworking narrative flow, sequence order, scene trimming, additions, or reversals can heighten the storytelling economy.
  • Refresh Dialogue – Whether conversations lack authenticity, convict, subtext, or fail to efficiently advance the action, dialogue polishes or complete overhauls are frequently undertaken via rewrite.
  • Accommodate Actor Improvements – Once a project is in production, the director may encourage lead actors to improvise lines or embellish sequences in a way that enhances a role. These creative augmentations invariably find their way into revisions.
  • Update References or Environments – In some cases, technology, cultural references, or depicted settings become outdated by the time a project gets greenlit. A rewrite aims to update these details to increase relevance for contemporary audiences. franchise installments in particular may need revisions to establish consistency with an evolving fictional universe.
  • Adapt to Budget, Production Practicalities – Especially on bigger budget films with extensive action setpieces, rewrite permutations may become necessary for creative, cost, or logistical factors relating to actually filming certain scenes.

The Rewriting Process

There is no fixed pathway when it comes to rewriting a screenplay. It depends on whether the project is an original spec script, book adaptation, or installment in an established movie franchise. Various stakeholders are involved, revision needs differ per project, and the process can be extensive with multiple phases.

Typical Process

While some rewrite assignments involve separate screenwriters being brought on board to augment an existing script, the typical approach is for revisions to be executed by the original writer(s) in order to preserve a unified vision.

Reworking could commence during pre-production as the director and writer translate ideas to shooting script form or even after production has begun and scene adjustments become beneficial.

Collaborative Effort

Filmmaking is inherently collaborative. A screenplay rewrite, therefore, becomes a joint endeavor between the writer, director, producers, and actors. Creative back-and-forth will yield the strongest story refinements.

Writers have to listen to feedback from multiple stakeholders during script revisions – whether an intimate two-hander indie drama or a lavish spectacle setpiece.

Ongoing Process

Some properties like the James Bond or Star Wars franchises have sustained ongoing collaborative rewriting processes given successive installations and the involvement of multiple screenwriters, directors, and production teams over decades. Rewrites never really end for expandable cinematic universes.

Types of Rewrites

Not all revisions should be viewed equally. Rewrites encompass changes both minor and major:

Dialogue Polish

This focuses specifically on reworking conversations, sharpening exchanges, and enhancing the articulation of character voice. Only dialogue gets changed while the broader story and structure remain intact. Helps amplify a script’s tone and deliver more impact per exchange.

Character Rewrite

With attention centered exclusively on protagonists and key supporting roles, these rewrites further build out backstories, refine motivational cues, and strengthen arcs for ultimate resonance. Allows characters and their transforming journey to truly anchor the narrative.

Structural Rewrite

Rethinking the overall plotting architecture via altered sequences, reordered set pieces, and compressed or omitted scenes. Pacing, cause, and effect connectivity, and plot holes get addressed to position improved storytelling economy and satisfying progression towards climax.

Concept Rewrite

A transformational overhaul where core narrative concept, genre execution, setting, or thematic dimensions get re-imagined through the rewritten lens. Typically executed by a separate screenwriter to provide fresh creative interpretation.

Franchise Rewrite

Incremental changes made to an existing spec script or adaptation to graft it securely into the fabric of a larger franchise universe, adhere to proprietary narrative rules system or parallel story continuity. Essential for serialized story world coherence.

Navigating Rewrites as a Screenwriter

Maintaining close creative involvement throughout various phases of revisions in collaborative filmmaking ensures the foundational strength of an original screenplay will not get diluted. Here are some tips:

  • Preserve Core Vision – As rewriting feedback arises, be clear on which suggested changes undermine versus augment the intended creative expression. Voice reasoned reluctance to alterations that would damage core vision.
  • Know When to Compromise – While certain reworking ideas can get vetoed if too divergent, recognize that collaborative give-and-take means compromising on some aspirations. Find the middle ground.
  • Sustain Narrative Consistency – Franchise screenwriting comes with pre-established world rules, character backstories, and plot continuity. Ensure rewrites uphold canonical narrative integrity so timelines remain consistent.
  • Retain Writing Credit – In some cases, Writers Guild arbitration may be required to determine shared credit if substantial revised portions or new characters were created by other writers. But generally, the original screenwriter retains primary credit after typical rewrites.
  • Understand Reworking Context – Whether undertaken to modernize dated references, enhance relatability, or boost emotional impact, script changes are usually guided by audience sensibilities more than commercial viability alone.


Successful movies invariably go through exploratory creative iterations via the rewriting process before reaching their sharpest, most narratively satisfying final version.

A compelling core idea can get elevated into a tighter, resonating story. Screenwriters partner closely with directors and actors during reworking, which fuses individual talents into an impactful shared vision.

While such revisions pose inherent challenges in relinquishing sole proprietorship over artistic aspirations, the most rewarding films often derive from fertile collaborative rewrite alchemy between dedicated storytellers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What does Page 1 rewrite mean?

A page 1 rewrite refers to starting the screenwriting process over from scratch. It could involve coming up with a brand new concept, characters, plot points and set pieces. The full script gets re-imagined instead of just polished.

What is the rewriting process?

The screenplay rewriting process involves closely collaborating with directors, actors, producers and script editors to identify areas for refinement and then undertaking revisions to hone the story, characters, structure, pacing and dialogue. It’s an iterative creative process until the strongest version is shaped.

How do you approach a rewrite?

To approach rewriting, firstly comprehensively evaluate feedback and suggestions from key collaborators. Identify potential enhancements versus ideas that divert too drastically from core intentions. Then tackle revisions in priority order – structure first, then characters and scenes.

What is the difference between a scriptwriter and a screenplay writer?

There is no difference between a scriptwriter and screenplay writer – the terms are used interchangeably to refer to someone who authors the screenplay content for a film or television program.

How do you redraft a script?

To redraft a script, assess it from a fresh perspective to identify areas for improvement in terms of story weaknesses, structural issues, dialogue problems or pacing flaws. Outline enhancements, then rewrite sequences, scenes and exchanges through iterative drafts to hone towards strongest iteration.

How do you polish a screenplay?

Polishing a screenplay involves refining the existing content without making foundational changes. It means sharpening dialogue exchanges, elevating how characters come alive, enhancing descriptive portions and transitions to augment pacing and momentum. Adds sheen.

What is rewriting in film?

Rewriting in film refers to the process undertaken – whether by the original screenwriter or script doctors – to review an existing screenplay draft and revise portions to enhance storytelling economy, character resonance, structure and pacing for maximum engagement.

What’s the difference between editing and rewriting?

Editing focuses on technical refinement and errors – adjusting grammar, spelling, punctuation and formatting inconsistencies. Rewriting involves more substantive overhauls to plot points, character development, dialogue exchanges and sequence portions that form the creative execution.

How often do authors rewrite?

Most professional authors will rewrite their novel drafts at least 2-3 times before finalizing content ahead of publication. Some prolific creators have a 5-10 draft rewriting process to polish prose, intensify scenes, elevate characters and sharpen pacing for page-turning momentum.

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