Tips For Writing a Screenplay in 2 Weeks: And How I Did It On Accident

I was very lucky to have a schedule in both 2018 and 2019 that were fully conducive to me writing a lot. Each year I was able to crank out three screenplays, allotting myself about four months to work on each project to come away with a rough draft. Then came 2020.

Two weeks ago, despite countless attempts to jumpstart different projects I had kicked around and in some cases fully outlined, I still hadn’t finished one script this year.

That changed between May 30th and June 13th. Through a combination of serendipity and craft, I pushed through and fully realized an entire feature screenplay in a bit over 100 pages. It was an accidental accomplishment, but I thought it might be encouraging for some to hear how I did it. I know I could use a reminder when I get stuck on my next project…

Let The Idea Gestate

Full disclosure, I technically lied to you. It took me way longer to write this script than two weeks, but that’s just because the ideas have been marinating in my mind for several years before I ever tried to put pen to paper and excavate the story. I had the vague idea of the main conceit that intrigued me and with that a genre and a setting I wanted to explore.

But I just didn’t know how to break the story — where to begin and where I might be going — so I just kept it in the back of my mind for a rainy day. Eventually, I go my direction.

As a side note, if you don’t do it already, I encourage you to write any ideas you have down somewhere (I use a Google Doc) and pull from all sorts of inspirations: Newspapers, history, other movies, daydreams, personal experience, etc. The good ideas will stick with you and eventually morph and be augmented by new inspirations that come your way.

Bring The Inspirations With You

This leads me to the next bit of advice. My latest screenplay would have never come into being if I didn’t supply myself with a wide array of inspirations and creative stimuli. Be consuming content from all across the spectrum.

It was a documentary I watched in the last year that inspired me to move forward with the story. I was also reading a biography on a Hollywood director and soon bits and pieces of that were finding their way into my writing process. For some reason, I couldn’t get the movie Targets (1968) out of my head either.

Simultaneously, current events got me thinking of themes of justice and systemic racism that I wanted to incorporate into my story and pieces of lyrics from songs that resonated with me as motifs. For some reason, I found myself listening to a lot of jazz too. Certainly, watch movies that overlap with your world or provide archetypes for your genre, but it’s often just as helpful to take in stuff that is wildly unrelated to what you are creating.

It will allow you to see your project in a new light and these perspectives can help you develop a more multi-faceted idea. It should be said that inspirations are a jumping-off point. Because once you start putting them together and riffing off them, pretty soon you have something entirely of your own creation.

Outline!

Don’t follow Paris When It Sizzles. You need a roadmap. Whether it’s just your beginning, middle, and end, I’ve had it beaten into me through trial and error that outlines are vital to finishing screenplays and being pleased with the results. True, they never turn out quite as you envision them when you first set out to write, but an outline gives you something to work with — a direction to shoot for — and, of course, you can always deviate from the plan.

Don’t think of it as a restriction. In many ways, it’s providing more freedom and confidence. Because if you already know where you are going, you’re more comfortable taking risks and pushing the boundaries of the story within the framework already set in place. At the end of the day, you know where you’re going — you know what direction is home, so you can stray further away.

Tips For Writing a Screenplay in 2 Weeks (And How I Did It On Accident)
Paris When It Sizzles (1964) – source: Paramount Pictures

Also, speaking from prior experience, it’s so easy to lose your way about 50 pages into a screenplay. You just run out of steam because the story has no propulsion; it’s rudderless. That’s why you need to outline. It’s so easy to motor through Act 1 only for Act 2 to seem so daunting.

To repurpose a quote from Billy Wilder, if you’re struggling with Act 2, it probably says something about Act 1. Do yourself a favor and outline in some form. Even if it’s the barest of structures, you’ll be thanking yourself when you’re knee-deep in writing and looking for direction.

Be Disciplined

This is a no brainer, but it has to be mentioned. I’m not always the most disciplined writer, but I’m usually pretty efficient. I like setting aside larger blocks of time so I can crank out a good chunk of pages. Each person is different.

That being said, if you don’t sit yourself down in front of the computer and write — I’m not talking about doing research online —  you’ll never reach your goal of finishing a draft of your screenplay in two weeks (or any amount of time). The great thing about discipline is that it leads to productivity and writers can ride that wave of productivity to the end.

It’s contagious when you set aside time to write. Pretty soon, after a couple of days in a row of cranking out 10 or 15 pages, your story starts having some substance. Initially, it seems less like an insurmountable mountain to climb and eventually becomes a descent where you can see the finish line clearly. There’s something to be said about keeping the momentum going, and I believe it only helps your script and your story.

Because you’re constantly engaged in the material and you want to push the story along so your main protagonist can ultimately reach their conclusion.

Stay Excited About Your Story and Characters

I honestly don’t always feel this way, which sometimes is a red flag. That’s when it’s great when you’re intrigued by your characters and you want to spend more time with them to flesh out their stories and learn about their personal journeys and how they will change throughout your movie.

If you’re genuinely excited and each subsequent scene feels like another bountiful opportunity that’s unique or compelling in some way — pregnant with new possibilities — it will make the writing process that much better. In other words, if you’re writing scenes you feel are lip service — you probably shouldn’t be writing them.

Tips For Writing a Screenplay in 2 Weeks (And How I Did It On Accident)
Sunset Blvd. (1950) – source: Paramount Pictures

At the very least, think of some different ways to go about it — a new perspective or wrinkle that will make your characters and their story stand out and make you engaged with the narrative. Because if you’re not even engaged, then no reader or viewer will be either.

Bonus: Curate a Killer Soundtrack

This doesn’t work for everyone, but I love to listen to music while writing — specifically music that pertains to my characters’ personalities or the world they exist in.

Whether it’s classical music, K Pop, Jazz, or 60s folk-rock, curate a playlist that can inform your writing and help you get to know your characters better while you delve into the world and look to add contours to the story you’re telling.

You want it to be laced with personal touches and genuine resonance. And to be clear you’ll probably never see these songs in your movie because let’s face it, musical rights are steep. Regardless, let them inform the inner life of your characters, even if they don’t show up overtly on the pages of your script.

Conclusion

I realize none of this was revolutionary, but that’s probably a good thing. It demystifies the process and shows that it is possible to write a screenplay and you can do it efficiently in a way that makes you genuinely excited. This is probably one of the scripts I was most intrigued with because it came together so quickly.

It’s important to realize that not all script experiences are like this. I’ve written almost 10 spec scripts and I’ve had to claw my way through many of them. Some of them felt like they almost wrote themselves because I felt so attuned to the story I wanted to tell.

If you’re like me, maybe you don’t set out to write a screenplay in two weeks. Maybe it just happens. Regardless, I wish you all the luck because I’m right there with you, I personally have a lot of editing to do now!

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