Revisions, Revisions and More Revisions - It's Not A Bad Thing!

In Keep Me Posted, one of the main characters is an aspiring writer who can’t conquer her self-doubt long enough to put words on a page. She’s pitched a piece to a major publication, but as she reminds a friend, an accepted pitch isn’t a sure thing. The finished product can still be rejected. That potential rejection is paralyzing, and it keeps her from even starting to write.

Revisions. Revisions. Revisions. Credit: Hillary Nussbaum

Revisions. Revisions. Revisions.
Credit: Hillary Nussbaum

It’s easy to forget that the first words you put down don’t have to be perfect. Your first draft is just that, a draft. That’s true of an in-depth article, an email (just don’t hit send!), an epic novel. Since this is netTVnow, let’s focus on web series scripts - it’s true of your second draft, your third draft, your tenth draft, your shooting script, and beyond. Your script, no matter how polished, how perfect, will be revised over and over until the moment your episodes are exported, uploaded, and shared with the world.

It’s not surprising that the writing process will involve lots of revisions. You’ll rearrange scenes, remove characters, and tweak dialogue. Solicit honest, critical feedback, and use that to inform revisions. If you can, ask a few actors (or friends!) to read your script aloud so you can hear how it sounds. Revise accordingly.

At some point, your script will be “done.” You may think it’s absolutely perfect. Or you may want to keep tinkering but realize that you have to stop or you’ll be reworking dialogue until web series are no longer a thing and we’re all watching interactive artificial reality series beamed straight to our eyes through special contact lenses. Or whatever.

Either way, at some point you stop and declare your script ready for pre-production.

L-R: Taylor StanTon, Britta Whittenberg-Kasprzak, Amanda Lea Mason, Maya Deshmukh, Dolan Bloom and Hillary Nussbaum Credit: Hillary Nussbaum

L-R: Taylor StanTon, Britta Whittenberg-Kasprzak, Amanda Lea Mason, Maya Deshmukh, Dolan Bloom and Hillary Nussbaum
Credit: Hillary Nussbaum

I hope you’re ready for more changes.

Your involvement in revisions may depend on your role on the project. I was both Writer and Director for Keep Me Posted, so I was revising the whole way through, first in my capacity as a writer, and then as a director. If you write the script and then hand it off to a director, they may be the one making alterations.

Things often change during pre-production due to financial or logistical constraints. Maybe there isn’t enough money to stage that heart-stopping underwater submarine chase, or maybe multiple scenes need to be set in one place to save on location fees and keep filming efficient. We didn’t have to cut any special effects (we didn’t have any…), but we did cut down the number of locations and secondary roles.

During production, a location fell through at the last minute, and I rewrote a scene to take place outside, which involved scrapping some dialogue that only made sense in a coffee shop, and adding in a bit about dogs.

But it’s not all about logistics. Sometimes, when actors start engaging with the script, you realize that a line is confusing or awkwardly phrased. Other times, actors are inspired to ad-lib, or you come up with a new idea together and add it to the scene. I often kept the camera rolling after a scene was technically “over,” allowing the actors to continue engaging with each other or the scene’s emotional through line - we captured some great, honest moments that way.

And don’t think that revisions end once the footage is “in the can.” Editing is akin to writing; an editor does many things, but one of those things is building a story from the words and images captured during production. Sometimes an editor will tweak things to enhance an emotional payoff, or clip something to help sell a joke. We cut scenes from our last episode that muddied the story - some felt redundant, some presented continuity issues. And this led to even bigger changes. With those scenes removed, one character’s motivations no longer made sense, and we had to reshuffle a few key moments and tweak a few text message graphics to ensure there was sufficient emotional build to justify her actions.

Even after picture lock, revisions continued. Keep Me Posted’s Sound Designer altered some phone conversations to make them more realistic, and added sound cues that helped enhance and clarify certain moments.

All that’s to say - don’t be stymied by a quest for perfection. No matter how great your final draft is, it’ll change. That’s the beauty of filmmaking; every part of the process adds a new layer, with more opportunities to improve and enhance the finished product.

So if there’s something you’ve been wanting to write, just start. Your first draft won’t be perfect. Your final draft won’t be final. And that’s ok. You’ll probably end up with something even better.

Meet the Author
Hillary Nussbaum is a freelance television producer and writer, and recently completed work on her upcoming web series, Keep Me Posted. You can find her writing aggregated here, or check out some of her earlier work on late night reruns of Cash Cab, for which she worked as a writer and researcher. And here's a fun fact, she risked life and limb in the name of sports photography, in which her photos have been published in National Geographic and Sports Illustrated.