The answer seems to be about eight years. If the question is… how long does it take to get a feature film script in the right shape to go out to all the best places?
I received news today that my agent is sending out an indie comedy to a decent US producer on the look out for projects. Big deal you may say… and you may be right. But this project has taken forever. And it’s always been pretty good. Just never quite good enough. It’s had a ton of work. Lots of input. Maybe too much. Far too many iterations to be sensible. But at last. Thank God. It seems to have evolved. Into something. I think it will be going out to few more places over the next few months too.
Every other working writer I know always says the same thing. It takes years. Even when the stars seem to be aligning. Don’t hold your breath. It will still take years. The exceptions are just that.
So the lesson to draw? Don’t give up. You might have to put it away for a while. Lock it in a drawer or a dusty, old Dropbox folder. Just don’t forget to bring it out again at a later date and give it a brutally forensic reexamination. Ask yourself how do you make it better? What have you learned since you last worked on it that can make it stronger?
One aspect of this slow evolution of screenplays is that it means you can’t just work on one or two projects at a time. You need about eight years worth in the bank. Yes, absolutely make sure you finish what you’re doing; half-finished screenplays aren’t really screenplays, they’re just half-finished… things. But once you’ve finished your draft, don’t be afraid to park it for a while to look at something else. And if you’re getting back a lukewarm reaction from your latest draft, don’t throw it all away. Just try and find out what excited you enough about the idea in the first place to allow you produce a hundred pages, then see if you can work out a way to translate that excitement into something better.
But you need to know that it takes time. And you need to know it can seem like forever.