This webpage showcases how much difference a single rewrite can make. I've copied the first page of Jumpcut below.
First, you'll see the "before" script - followed by the "after" or rewrite. Remember, this is only the first page.
FADE IN INT. LOYOLA UNIVERSITY/DAMEN HALL RM. 437 - NIGHT The late evening hours have brought an eerie silence to the usually charged, highly erratic atmosphere that envelopes the film lab. A dozen desks, situated in half-circle, sit vacant facing a scarred blackboard. Its surface defaced with illegible scribbling. A quick scan of the floor shows traces of life: chalk dust, crumpled ball of scrap, some film clippings; the lab is mysteriously void of those capable of producing any such activity. Along the perimeter sit two idle Steenbecks and a pair of computers; their screens blank and lifeless. The walls, painted 18% gray, are plastered with photocopies of scenes from an unfinished video documentary, advertisements for a half dozen film festivals, and a faded sign promoting an alumni's film production company. On the opposite side of the room, away from the windows, sits a small coffee table, an old mini refrigerator and a repulsive couch of orange. Across from them is a gray tri-sectional desk covered with coffee stains, grease from some leftover take-out meal and an abundance of neglected paperwork. Amongst the piles of unorganized clutter sit empty cans of soda-pop and discarded bags of Doritos. An ashtray is filled with several lip stick stained cigarettes as well as wrappers of juicy fruit gum. A few books sit at the edge of the desk: "Intro to Film Production," "Video Editing Basics," and "The Modern Day Feminist." The room is quiet. No sound. That is, except for the repetitive sound of a muffled ringer from a telephone which mechanically reproduces its unanswered bell over and over. INT. BLUE ROOM - NIGHT Unlike the outer room of 437, the inner editing room is overflowing with various signs of activity. A trio of Ikegami monitors reproduce a electronic image at a rate of 30 frames a second; the images take on a surreal.......snoooorrrreeee. Whoaaa! Are you still with me?
Anyone who writes an opening page for a script in this manner, should look into selling luggage for a living! So, what was the problem here?
Simply, too much information. While "some" details are important for setting up a scene, this particular example went way overboard. Granted, when I wrote it, I wasn't trying to sell it as a spec script - I was shooting it. The abundance of description was for my cast - not for any prospective director or producer.
While this amount of description might be fine for a novel or short story, it's definitely NOT okay for a script.
Time for the rewrite (again, first page only). It's imperative to "grab" your reader with the first 10 pages. Me - I like to grab them on page 1. Just enough to get them to want to read page 2, and then 3, etc. After all, a successful script is one that makes you want to keep turning the page.
FADE IN EXT. LOYOLA UNIVERSITY CHICAGO - NIGHT Late March. Cold, wind-swept Lake Shore campus. INT. DAMEN HALL/ FILM EDITING ROOM Single light source: Three video MONITORS. VOICE I need to make a telephone call. ON SCREEN: Fuzzy image. VOICE #2 Phone call? That's communication with the outside world. WIDEN Three INDIVIDUALS quitely work in the shadows. VOICE #2 (o.s.) If all these nuts could just make phone calls, it could spread. Insanity oozing through telephone cables. A plague of madness. Beyond the editing room - a deserted - dark classroom. Scratched blackboard - "Film Project due Monday." B/W images taped to a wall - a dead PIGEON. Telephone rings - unanswered. VOICE #2 (o.s.) ...You’re here because of the system. There’s the TV. Look-Listen-Kneel-Pray. Screen focuses: BERT (contentious realist, 22). His face fills the video frame. Frenzied. VOICE #2 / BERT ...There was this guy who was always requesting shows that had already played. He couldn't quite grasp the idea you just couldn’t make it be yesterday. Just-couldn’t-turn-back-time! Video monitor goes BLANK.Other than Bert parodying the Brad Pitt character from "The 12 Monkeys," what else did you notice? Minimal exposition?
Short crisp descriptions?
Lots of white spaces?
Obviously, this first page moves much more quickly and was much easier to digest. The person reading this example is less prone to fall asleep (as they might have done with the first example).
Thanks for checking out the "Before & After."