Last week I did something I’ve never done before – completed a full feature length screenplay in exactly 5 days.
I’ve written quite a few features over the years, on average taking anywhere from 3 – 6 months to complete, which I believe is par for the course… But this time around I wanted to experiment with an extremely aggressive writing schedule, if nothing else to see how it would affect the creative process as a whole.
I’m a big believer in experimenting with new techniques while writing… Sometimes I’ll front load the process, and will spend months working out the idea, generating pages and pages of notes, and doing countless hours of research before actually sitting down to write the script. Other times, I might start writing before the idea is even fully formed, and will type out individual scenes as they come to me, only later stringing them together.
In some cases, my experiments have succeeded and in other cases they have failed, but they all helped me understand how I can get the best work out of myself. No two writers are going to have the same process, and I’m a firm believer that the only way to know what’s best for you is to try as many approaches as possible and see what sticks.
One thing that I’ve noticed over the years, is the scripts I’ve written in the least amount of time are often my strongest. There have been exceptions to this, but generally when I am able to work quickly and efficiently, I get the best creative results out of myself. So naturally, I wanted to see what would happen if I wrote a script in a ridiculously short amount of time… And I had a hunch the results would be positive.
I’m also a huge believer in the mantra “don’t get it right, get it written”, so I figured the sooner I could get past the first draft, the better. If I’ve learned anything about screenwriting over the years, it’s that the real writing comes during the re-write phase. The first draft is never great. Ideas that work well in your mind don’t translate to the page, and new issues, plot holes, and inconsistencies emerge. It’s during the re-writing that a great screenplay truly comes to life.
When I embarked on this experiment to write a feature in 5 days, I knew it would only be possible if I followed a very rigid set of guidelines. I was essentially cutting down my usual writing time by 90%, so I couldn’t approach this the same way that I’ve approached anything else I’ve ever written. Below are the rules I laid out for myself before writing a single word:
Take as much time as needed with the concept
If I was going to only give myself 5 days to write an entire screenplay, I knew the concept had to be firmly in place before I typed fade in. For that reason alone, I decided early on I would take as much time as needed to conceptualize the piece. I wanted to make sure the DNA of the film was rock solid. That the character’s objectives were clear, relevant backstory elements were in place, and the major goal posts of the story were set – Act breaks, turning points, etc. all had to be bulletproof.
I don’t believe this part of the process can or should be rushed. Ideas need time to incubate, and writing any project is a huge time commitment (even on this kind of schedule), so I gave myself permission to take as long as I needed to drill down the basic premise and story. In the end, I only needed a few weeks to flesh out the fundamental building blocks that would pave the way for the writing frenzy that was to come.
What I didn’t do during this period, was write out the story beat by beat. The vast majority of these few weeks was simply spent thinking of the idea… Maybe jotting down the occasional note here or there. I intentionally didn’t write a rigid treatment or beat sheet, as I wanted to leave lots of room for spontaneity during the writing process itself. Once I had the core idea locked in, and a thorough understanding of who the characters were, it was go time.
Write 20 pages per day
This goal was simple math. I wanted to write a feature in 5 days, and I knew the final draft would be no more than 100 pages. 20 pages/day x 5 days = 100 pages. Easy right?
And in actuality… It was easy. It was the easiest writing experience I’ve ever had, precisely because I had no time to think or put it off. Writing is kind of like going to the gym. The hardest part is just deciding to go… You procrastinate, put it off, and sometimes might even dread going, but when you get there it’s really not so bad. It might even be fun.
With writing, once you hit your stride, you can fly through 5 or 10 pages in no time. In my case, I averaged about 4 hours of writing per day, which means about 5 pages per hour.
It could have easily taken me 4 hours to write just a page or two, and if I gave myself the time to do that, I would have taken much longer. I could have scrutinized every last detail as I went along, second guessed my choices, or taken breaks whenever I felt like it, and I would have worked at a snail’s pace. But I knew I had to hit 20 pages a day, so I did.
It wasn’t complicated, I just sat down and typed, working off instinct and pulling from the choices that I had already thoroughly thought over in weeks past, and before I knew it the script was done.
Don’t re-read a single word
One of the techniques I used to ensure I would hit my 20 page per day target was to never re-read anything. I’ve heard this advice from other writers who swear by working through their script from start to finish without ever going back to edit anything.
With my script, I’d be lying if I said there weren’t many instances where I was tempted to go back and re-work an earlier scene. I might have snuck a peak at an earlier page (often by accident, or by force of habit) and was tempted to fix a spelling error, or clean up some rough dialogue. But ultimately, I didn’t do it, and this was arguably the #1 reason I was able to write as many pages per day as I did…
And it’s not because I didn’t waste time re-writing pages that were already complete, it’s because I didn’t let myself put on my “editing” hat. Writing and editing are two very different skills and require very different parts of the brain, that in many ways are in a constant battle with each other. Once you open up that pandora’s box, and start seeing your work through the critical eye of an editor, forget writing 20 pages a day. Forget writing even 2 if you have a really bad day. That voice in the back of your head that tells you to go back and fix something, or to re-write a line because it’s not good enough, that is the voice of writer’s block…. At least that’s how I see it.
There is a time and place to edit your work. And surely, none of us expect to have an incredible first draft of anything. But, we can be far better writers when we are solely focused on writing, and far better editors when we are simply editing. So let’s hold off on being analytical until we have something to analyze.
Pretend it’s someone else writing the script
This is another great piece of advice I’ve heard many times from other writers, and it very much relates to my previous point. When we are overly critical of our own work, we tend to get stuck… But if we can get out of our own heads, and try to see our writing through a truly objective, nonjudgmental lens, we will generate far stronger work.
This is why many writers imagine they are someone else while they write. They may give themselves a pen name, or simply try to channel inspiration from another writer while they type. Whatever the method may be, the goal is the same – to avoid falling into the trap of becoming the “editor” when they’re supposed to be the writer.
Personally, I found this tactic worked brilliantly. The script I wrote was in a genre that I don’t often work in, so it was easy for my to psychologically separate myself from the project. It was if someone else was writing it, so all my guards were down… Not to mention, I didn’t write this film with the intention of directing it, which took a lot of the pressure off too. For the first time, the screenplay itself was the end goal, and that changed the whole dynamic for me.
Write every idea, no matter how ridiculous
When working at this rapid of a pace, there are always going to be big decisions that need to be made very quickly. We might know we need to get the narrative from A to C, but what happens during B is anyone’s guess. When writing at a more “normal” pace, sometimes these decisions can take hours if not days to make. I can recall countless moments of frustration when I’ve been stuck on a single plot point for what feels like forever. The worst part is in most of those cases, once I did work through it for a first pass, I would end up re-working it significantly on a future draft anyway.
With a 5 day schedule, I knew I would have no time to waste so I told myself early on it was okay to write anything. If I had a ridiculous scene idea, no problem. A line of dialogue that was a bit of a stretch, that was okay too… I would fix it all on the re-write. I knew it was far more important to keep the momentum going at all times than to grind the entire process to a halt for one specific hang up.
It’s easy to re-write a single scene, or clean up some dialogue that’s not working later on. But it’s much harder to get through scene after scene of writing, when you just struggled for hours over one small moment that may or may not ever make the final draft. Writing is all about rhythm. It’s about getting into a groove, and staying there as long as you can, keeping that momentum going until you hit THE END.
Everything I outlined above was essentially planned from the get-go. I knew I would be taking a vastly different approach to writing this script than anything I’d written before, but I had no idea how it would turn out.
In the end though, I was extremely surprised… And very happy with the results.
In many ways, the first draft was as strong (or stronger) than those of scripts I’ve spent months toiling over. That’s not to say it was perfect, not in the slightest. There is a lot of story I would like to clean up, some scenes to swap or eliminate, and dialogue to refine. But that’s true of all first drafts, and this one was as good as any other I had written, maybe better.
Not only that, but the process itself was far more enjoyable. Setting that 20 page per day target meant I couldn’t procrastinate. I didn’t need to give myself a writing schedule, because I simply had to write whenever I had a free minute, and not stop until I hit my target. I was in the script so much and for so long, than when I would pick up the next day, it was like I never stopped. What I thought would be a burden, was actually quite liberating.
Add to that the fact I didn’t limit myself by re-reading or being over judgmental of anything I wrote, and I was flying. It’s amazing what happens when you give yourself permission to fail. All the barriers go down, and you give yourself the greatest potential to succeed.
All that said, would I write every screenplay like this? Definitely not. It was an experiment, and taught me some valuable lessons – namely the importance of momentum, and how to avoid being overly analytical while writing… Both of which I know will serve me well on all future screenplays.
How about you? What’s the fastest you’ve ever written a feature? Let me know in the comments below!
And for more content like this, follow me on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!
Great blog post! I actually made a video detailing my process for doing this same thing about 6 months ago:
I’ve just did the same thing. Because there were some personal connections, I was able to fly through this screenplay in 5 days. The story is amazing and sad at the same time. Ive done so rewriting, but I feel like I need to send this to competitions.
Awesome to hear, Tre. Send to competitions for sure, but also go make the thing no matter what happens!
Thank You! you have given such a good idea that how to write in minimum times. well appreciated SIR.
I would want to know more about how to proceed self written screenplay in the script market or production houses?
Thank you! I’ll try to cover the development side in a future post.
I have this really great manuscript written in form of a play (text). I would love to adapt it to a screen play. Can you guide me through? Thanks in anticipation
Feel free to reach out if you’d like to set up a consultation. My email is email@example.com
Last Thursday I had a great Idea and I wrote all 47 scenes down. The next day I spent 15 hours learning how to write a script. I formatted everything and wrote 5 pages. The “good behavior pages” so they call them. The following day I spent about 6 hours researching dialogue tips. I rewrote the first five pages and three more. Today I only researched for about two hours on rules of screenplays and key aspects/questions that have to be asked. While I did that I wrote down about forty questions that needed to be answered then I answered them. It is currently 3:30 AM and I am at a very solid 37 pages with at least 20 more scenes planned out. My goal is ultimately between 90 and 100 scenes, but quite frankly our populations attention span is shortening and the “Corpse Bride” was only 75 minutes and did 117.2 million Box office. So im really not worried about length. What do you think?
90-100 pages not 100 scenes.. It is late
I agree that a shorter-length feature film can absolutely work in this day and age. My most recent feature was 71 minutes. That said, it’s always good to have more source material to edit down from, since a 71 minute final cut may originate from a 90 – 100 minute rough cut.
Bernadett B. Yorkat
Thank you for posting this, Noam! These tips are exactly what I needed to hear, RIGHT NOW, to help combat procrastination, perfectionism, and keeping my “editing” hat on while writing every single scene. I’m going to try this experiment tomorrow and see how it goes!
Awesome! Glad to help in some way, and best of luck with your writing process.
Best I did was write an original movie in 7 days at 14 hours per day. Now, a major agency is reading it for a well known actress. See if it as good as the hours put in.
Note: I rewote it 20 times after, but a strong blueprint was done on that time frame.
Always how it goes, it seems…
Awesome! That’s a huge accomplishment.
I wrote my first feature screenplay in seven days. 87 pages. I had been brainstorming it for months, so I already had a good idea of what I wanted. It was for a local competition, so there actually was a real deadline. The script actually turned out very different than I thought it would. I envisioned a campy slasher film, but found myself so invested in the characters, it ended up being more of a teen drama. The story was also much more simple than I had planned, and the pacing more leisurely. I also created a couple characters on the spot that ended up being vital to the story and themes. The end result was well received by the competition, but the reviewer knew it was obvious that I was rushing the second half of the script with unmotivated actions and some out-of-character choices. For my second draft, I completely rewrote that second half while still following the same story beats, and I’m now on my third draft. It will be very different from what I’ve written before, but I wouldn’t be here without that first draft. I’m currently taking a break to write a new feature for the same competition in the same amount of time.
Awesome to hear! Thanks for sharing this and best of luck with your project.
Hi Noam, thanks for this inspiring article. I am about to write my first feature documentary script (yes, they do exist!) and will try this exercise once I’ve gotten all my story elements and outline organized. Having a parameter is super helpful!
So glad this was helpful, Elizabeth. Best of luck with your film!
Noam, great article, truly inspiring. I am going to try this and I’ll let you know here how it went. I really love how you said “Writing is all about rhythm. It’s about getting into a groove, and staying there as long as you can, keeping that momentum going until you hit THE END.” I want to get that made into a poster. So good! Thank you for sharing this and please keep up the great work your doing here with your blog and site.
Nice! Thanks for this, Seth. Really appreciate the feedback, and best of luck with your writing process. Definitely let me know how it goes.
wow love this article. this is an interesting technique. thanks for this. I really want to try this. i hate the idea of over thinking things you know when you are writing. ive always wanted to produce more films but i always get stuck on the idea wanting to finish the perfect script before i start.
i think this technique is a great exercise , i find my self wanting to make more than one indie feature film a year. to practice the craft and not dwell over overthinking things and just getting out of my own way and make shit.
sometimes i think as artist we get attached to our work and trying to push for perfection and never get anything done. anwyay im rambling but love this article
Awesome – so glad this resonated with you. Thanks a lot for the feedback, and best of luck on all your creative work!
hello. I’m going to write a feature action film first time but i have written lots of scripts before like Theater Script, Short films, Drama Scripts and Articles even every single thing related to writing i still do but this is my first experience to write a script for the action film. I love the way you define the techniques about writing a script for a feature film just in five days in a flow without rechecking your work. I have heard there should be 3 sections to write a movie. the beginning, The Middle and The End. So what techniques should i use to write a perfect feature action film script as soon as possible. I just have 12 days to submit the script (as i have already taken an advance payment) 🙂 Thanks.
I would speed read “Save The Cat” by Blake Snyder. It’s a good crash course if you’re just starting (or need a refresher) on story and structure. Good luck!
Its amazing ! I have written my first story in 2 years …… and 2 in just 3 months ….its good idea to finish in 5 Days . Thanks for valuable Article ..
Amazing! Good luck with your writing. Sounds like you’re off to a great start.
So inspiring text.! Thanks for the great advice and inspiration!
My pleasure, Piotr!
I normally write a feature length script in about 3 weeks to a month. I typically start with a outline which takes a week prior that puts the flow and structure of the script down in point form including light sample dialogue. I then take the outline and add all the scene headings into it and write down the raw purpose of the scene. Like “This scene is where Mike learns that his car was sabotaged by talking to the mechanic.” So if by the end of the dialogue Mike doesn’t learn that, I know I didn’t do my job. After this has been laid in I add the detail to each scene and action beats. First draft is usually strong to show intent but things normally get really clear around the 3rd draft.
Thanks so much for sharing this here, Matthew. Great suggestion to clarify each scene’s purpose/intention before you put it down on paper.
Really glad your work found me… I’ve been inspired ever since.
Would be insane to do this a few times within a month… could only make you a better writer… hellish as the exercise would be.
Thanks Billy! And I agree – that would be a crazy month, but definitely a great experiment. If you do it, keep me posted 🙂
Five days is fast like lightning 🙂 Even 3 months or 6 months for a feature screenplay is quite fast. On another hand, I have a very different approach. I write one script for a year/two years or even more if needed. This is with re-writes of course. Yup this is a hell long, but I often write 2 or more scripts at this period and I switch between them. It helps me to catch a breath with the story and look at it from a different angle. Also, it helps me to refine the story itself and rethink some basic concepts. Often there is a scene or two that I really don’t like but have no idea how to resolve it a better way. And after few weeks of not thinking about this particular script, It comes to me how to make it work. I’m currently making last rewrites to a script that it was written 5 years ago and rewritten more than 15 times to make it work. This could be a way I construct the story which usually is a puzzle to solve and not a straightforward linear one. What I’m trying to say, there is no good or wrong there – whatever works is ok. I’m really looking forward to your next film Noam, and I’m a little bit jealous that you can write so quick 🙂
Thanks Piotr! It was a crazy experience, but I got it done. As I said, it’s far from perfect, but I’ve learned that an imperfect written script is better than a perfect unwritten script… 🙂
I have been watching Spike Lee’s Masterclass for a few days, and he mentioned that the first draft of”He got a game” was written in just one day. That is a huge dedication!
Intense! But somehow I’m not surprised…
Great to hear. Timely and inspiring. Will you produce the film?
I’m going to do it also. But I’ve never written before…
I won’t make this particular film, but I am writing another right now that will be turned into a feature. Thanks for the note!
Great experiment. I have written many plays and scripts but nevera tried.
I’ll do it in two months and ser what happens.
Thanks for your inspiration
Thanks for the note, Emilio! And good luck…