Script Entropy: How Sharing Screenplay Revisions is About to Change

Written by Scott Foster on February 18th, 2022

Scott Foster is a co-founder and Creative Director of ScriptHop. Prior to joining the company, he was the director of the Story Department for United Talent Agency (UTA). Scott has an MFA in Screenwriting from Columbia University.

It's hard to think of a task more daunting and thankless than deciding when and whether to send screenplay revisions to an agent or rep. Here's what the coming "live-link era" could soon mean for screenwriters.

It's no secret. Even writers lucky enough to have representation face a formidable obstacle course when going out with original content. Even if you're on the A-list — literally on fire — you'll never escape the first law of thermodynamics: "Hot things always cool unless you do something to stop them."

There are numerous complex reasons for this daunting cooling process — or entropy — that have to do with the quality of the work, as well as the whims of industry tastes and trends; this has been covered in other blogs and books ad nauseum. What screenwriters are awakening to is the fact that this entropy has also been needlessly exacerbated by a surprisingly mechanical, but surprisingly fixable issue: out-of-date script sharing methods. Prehistoric technologies for script presentation and pitch delivery have been a fundamental part of the problem. We've become aware that the very file formats we've been using, and even the attachments we send, have been hazardous to the lifecycle of our writing.

So what causes this version of "script entropy"? It's not just that your excessively long email with its unintentionally needy pitch and multiple PDF attachments builds an awkward and fundamentally shaky bridge of communication. It's that your script will likely experience turbulence due to simple draft confusion and the clunky mechanics of your document attachment process. In other words, the mechanics of how you share your material make you an annoying writer. Let's explore what I mean with a common scenario:

A writer sends out a draft of his script with a pitch in the body of the email. In the email, he tries to be ironic by mocking his own car salesman-like tone. But that's really just a cover for his attempts to subtly praise his own work, in which he comes off sounding like he's reinvented the genre, if not the industry. (This, and referring to screenwriting as "the craft," will soon have him hip-pocketed as his manager's least favorite client.) After the email's sent, his girlfriend informs him that a scene in his script is much longer than it is funny. He wishes that she'd told him the scene — all 17 pages of it — was "off-putting kinda" before he sent it to like 50 people. He tells her he just needs to trim some of the fat from it to clarify the comedy. Crap. He starts to realize... it's a bit embarrassing... but he's going to have to email everybody another draft with the changes. And this after implying the first draft sent was an unassailable masterpiece.

Now go ahead and imagine that this writer is you, because this will happen to you, inevitably timed with your getting an agent. (When I say "common scenario" I mean that I had a writer friend send me 3 drafts of the same script this week). This version of you, now fully represented, will make those revisions - nuking that entire 17-page scene and inserting a few girlfriend-approved jokes (maybe one or two were even written by her), then email a new draft with a feeble explanation for the changes: "There were a few typos. I'm a perfectionist."

You feel awkward about it, but the powerbrokers will understand, right? Having sent it, you wait for your cell to blow up with offers. Then... holy crap... it hits you: for the third act to make any sense, you actually need the scene Beatrice had you napalm! Why in God's name did you listen to her? She hasn't read Save The Cat!... she knows nothing of The Craft! You have to get back in there - put a good number of those 17 pages back. Back on the keyboard, you paste most of the good parts back in with some tweaks (she claims the best one was hers... but this is no time to discuss credits)... you hit "send." Third time's a charm!

And now, inconceivably, you realize that you've Frankensteined together a variant of the off-putting scene with new fragments worthy of a lunatic. You're not seriously considering sending a fourth revision in one week, are you? Well... no, not when you just sent an email earlier today with that lookbook. Relax. Study the hero you based your career on while waiting for the cell to blow up... hmm... as you kill time on the internet, Google informs you that Larry David doesn't actually write anything; he improvises everything. WTF? Huh... the phone hasn't rung for a long time. But there's an email. Seems your agent never received the revisions. What he did was send the first version to an actor with a gigantic Twitter following. Your phone's ringing. It's your manager and he's going on about a joke you wrote in that first draft, apparently the joke your soon-to-be-ex tried to save you from. It's offensive to that actor, and also everyone.

What's the moral of this? In mechanical terms, what should be a simple travel itinerary from Final Draft to email to a reader's or agent's inbox — and a methodology that should accommodate your revisions — instead becomes an odyssey through pain-points and pratfalls. It starts simply enough with the short distance from Final Draft file to a PDF attachment. But then your script, subsequent drafts, and pitch materials become multiple items in a car salesman pitch of an email that gets forwarded to other crucial decisionmakers without your even knowing it. All of that becomes a bunch of docs logjammed in various recipients' inboxes. The email clarifications about draft updates get compounded by lookbook or bible revisions. New email threads with cast list docs in PDFs, but also that Excel file with ransomware your casting agent created. The lookbook you sent last moth lists an actor you now realize is dead. Script entropy. It's enough to make you lose your train of thought, if not totally lose control of the life cycle of your project!

The chaos belies a simple, serious fact: your team has lost sight of which draft and which info across all your pitch materials and documents is the latest. And this can and does happen to scripts, even those experiencing just typical amounts of entropy.

(I've actually witnessed both expletives and objects hurled at assistants over these snowballing minor catastrophes — to the extent that staff would emerge from the avalanche to remind each other, "Hey, we're just making movies here — we're not curing cancer." But in reality it's not just your own career you're putting on the line.)

Navigating this pitfalls as you go out with content and prepare to pitch a script can make the green light seem as far off as The Great Gatsby seemed to Nick Carraway. But then you realize something glorious: there's a door you can open to a better world. It's a world where you can transcend the PDF and step into the era of the live link-system. And where your control of the process will shorten that distance substantially...