(Technically, it was 11 days to the first full draft.)
"Out of Time" is a comedy, sci-fi adventure screenplay.
When the missing, presumed dead, Professor friend of a Parkinson's disease suffering middle-aged man unexpectedly returns, they have only four days to complete a life-saving road trip, only for it to unravel into a dark revelation and the ultimate redemption for everyone. Oh, and time travel. Obviously.
I wrote the first end to end draft in 11 days of part-time writing, after work. I wrote the completed first draft in 30 days, although I didn't write at all for at least five of those days.
This is the story of those 30 days...
You can download a free pdf copy of "Out of Time" here.
Diary of the writing of the "Out of Time" screenplay.
"Out of Time" started as an exercise to see if I could write a screenplay during a week of annual leave. I couldn't. Not even close.
The project coincided with showing my daughter a famous time travelling trilogy, then becoming somewhat obsessed with how a modern 4th film might work, with all of the constraints of the time since the original movies. So, the subject matter suggested itself.
It was also written to help publicise the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson's Research.
So, below is how the first draft was written in 30 consecutive days, even if I didn't write every day. Please note that all dates are in the UK format of day / month.
Day 1: 23/05: Planning day: Log line, outline, notes, theme (+ thesis, antithesis, synthesis), Act planning, (30!) plot points / beats to hit, dialogue, detailed Act 2B planning, Timelines /dates, Research (tech, films, TV, celebs, music, brands, clothes and sayings of) 2015, plot point chiasmus, and general research into fan theories and development of the original movie trilogy.
Day 2: 24/05: Planning day: Log line, outline, notes, theme (+ thesis, antithesis, synthesis), Act planning, (30!) plot points / beats to hit, dialogue, detailed Act 2B planning, Timelines /dates, Research (tech, films, TV, celebs, music, brands, clothes and sayings of) 2015, plot point chiasmus, and general research into fan theories and development of the original movie trilogy.
And I still haven’t worked out how the thematic points will fit into an Act 3 plot or what that plot actually is!
25/05: Bank Holiday Monday:
There was zero chance of any writing today – it was BBQ & alcohol time. This is compulsory & I loved it!
Day 4: 26/05: Act 1, page 11 (11 pages)
Monday was a bank holiday & today I was busy plotting Act 2b so I didn’t start writing until very late afternoon. I had hoped to get an Act (27 pages!) done per day but it’s been nothing like it. Still Act 2b is at least serviceable.
I still have to sort out Act 3 though!
I’ve written until 12:30 and got to page 11, just after the inciting incident.
In many ways it’s both easier to write, and slower than I’d imagined. Easier ‘cos it’s lots of white space, single lines of action. Slower ‘cos I thought I’d rip through it, but I’ve still had to stop to work out the details and technicalities.
Still the next 5 or so pages should write themselves. Although, it’s also half term & I have to look after my demanding daughter lots. It’s fun to write even if the tone has been non-stop dour to date. I just hope I get time to write tomorrow, or else it could be a later night!
Day 5: 27/05: Act 1, page 27 (16 pages)
I hardly got any time to write today, plus a few scenes required really long research (funeral & wake).
I got to the end of Act 1 but I didn’t get the web cutting into it. Tomorrow I need to check the Act, shorten it & get the web print in before page 27. It’s 11:30 PM. I’m also not getting up until about 10 am either, which doesn’t help.
I thought it would write itself, but it was still a slow slog. And god knows what pace & tone are like. Hopefully the act 2A is a lot more fun to write (and quicker!) The kitchen night scene had unexpected humour. As does the wake, but it may be just too long.
Can I write an Act tomorrow? Act 2A is much lighter. We’ll see.
Day 6: 28/05: Act 2A, page 35 (8 pages)
I hardly wrote at all, doing most of the writing in the evening and early hours of the morning. I didn’t feel so good, so sleep for a large part of the day/night.
I spent ages re-reading, correcting and shortening Act 1. I deleted my first scene and magically turned a young boy into a middle-aged woman. This took up most of my writing time. I didn’t re-read any of Act 1 as I wrote it, preferring to get it written rather than get it right first time.
I’m also finding that writing in a different country, five years ago, while trying to follow someone else’s style is really time-consuming. Scene that don’t require research go really easily & quickly. But research really, really slows it down. In fact, you could argue that I’m also writing in a different language ‘cos I have to spell lots of words wrong in the American spelling. Also, just ‘cos I have an outline & some dialogue doesn’t always help ‘cos I still have to make it all happen and be natural and believable.
Anyway, at least the script is out in the open now, with lots of movement. I’m also getting to write more comedy, which is both a blessing and a curse. Comedy is hard, plus it’s easy to veer into cliché territory. I have a montage which could come across as hammy and a trope.
Also, everything is longer than planned. The fear is that the real action is going to eat up pages and I’ll miss the beats. I’m already a page ahead.
Day 7: 29/05: Act 2B, page 55 (20 pages) – 3 AM
I have to take my daughter out all day tomorrow so I wanted to write a big chunk today and here I am at the half way point, although I’m not at all sure that I got the thematic argument into the last Act!
Once again, it was really, really slow going because I had to research everything! It’s so hard to write an historic screenplay set in another country. I had to look up the US words for everyday things and activities. I think I could probably write twice as fast if it was set in the UK! Plus, I have to check everything against the time period it’s set in.
Hopefully, I can get to the end of Act 2B / page 80 by the end of Sunday. That’s a pretty cool act, at least to write.
Today was writing the last 60% of Act 2A, which in this script is the road trip part. Hopefully, it was funny without being either too cliched or without being annoying for not containing any time travel! Also, it feels talky, like there’s lots of exposition in it.
I also set up the 3rd Act solution.
Let’s see what it’s like when I review it tomorrow.
I have absolutely no idea if this is any good, or worthy of the legacy of what I’m writing. This is hard. Like really hard.
Day 8: 30/05: Act 2B, page 55 (0 pages) –
I spent three hours going back over work to date – trying to make it fit the themes & plot. Even spell checking in American English took forever! Although, I have learnt the difference between a HIGHWAY and an EXPRESSWAY.
I’ve realised that I might have to go over the magic 107 pages to make Act 1 start correctly – it needs a new scene at the start.
No actual new writing today ‘cos I had to take my daughter out all day so my wife could work. But lots of thinking time & decisions about changes.
Day 9: 31/05: Act 2B, page 81 (25 pages) – 2:15 AM
As part of my thinking time yesterday, I made the following changes: A new start scene, to be repeated at the end. New gas pumping scene. New car licence plate “NO TIME”. Wedding party women are now Betty & Babs, now middle-aged. Marc tells Arty his problem is something slightly different now. I had to change the first bedroom scene slightly. I also extended the vet scene slightly, and added more PD symptoms. This took me THREE hours. At the end of this I was TWO pages further on. See how slow it all is?
So, so much research. It seems like every other line I have to google something. This is slower than a real 2020 hover board! An hour later and only THREE more pages further on, plus I’m way over where I should be in the page count.
So, act 2B is where the planned plot timeline deviates from the initial page-planned plot. I have no idea if I can fit this into the space left in this Act. I have about 11 pages to write the main action sequences of the movie! That really doesn’t sound like enough.
I actually spent an hour googling for the interior of an obscure 1980’s Brazilian car. One that only sold 18 cars. This is why it’s so slow going.
Right, the granular detail of this plan was hard. Although it is a little easier when you get to copy/paste some sections (thank you time travel!). My worry is that it’s a slog through this sequence, rather than a thrilling joy-ride.
Well, I kinda made it. I’m a few pages away (maybe two?) from the end of Act 2B and the start of Act 3. But it’s gone 2 AM and I have work tomorrow, and those two pages are crucial and need me to be alert to write them, so that’s enough for today.
I have no idea if the sequence I’ve wrote in the last few days is actually any good or not. Oh well, I suppose I’ll only know when I read & spell check it in (hopefully!) the next few days.
Shame I didn’t make it & write a screenplay in a week, but I gave myself no chance. I didn’t start until Tuesday and it wasn’t very well planned. I’ve also got no chance of completing it by Tue ‘cos work won’t leave much time.
Oh well, maybe by the end of next weekend?
Day 10: 01/06: Act 3, page 89 (8 pages) – 01:30 AM
I had 15 mins at lunch and only a few hours but I made it into Act 3! I kinda know the plot for the next few pages, and technically I’m only 18 pages from the end, but I have a feeling that the first draft is going to be way over written. I still have no idea what the big Act 3 ending is!
Also, today’s 8 pages were really talky. I need to pick up the action!
Day 11: 02/06: Act 3, page 98 (9 pages) – 12:15 AM
I wrote 3 pages in my lunchtime. I’ve now basically reached the end of my planning / plotting. I know the thematic events that have to happen, but I’ve not been able to wrap them in a suitably action-packed ending.
I paused to try to think of an explosive plot. I totally failed.
I realised that I wasn’t thinking two dimensionally! I had to add a few scenes to put everyone in the right place geographically.
Its 10 pm and after some adjustments, I’m now 4 pages further on. I think I could have finished this tonight (inside a week of writing!) if I’d only known how it ends.
I’m not sure if it’s the right way to go, but I added a comedy scene that took me to the absolutely end of my planning. Technically I only have about 9 pages left which doesn’t seem like enough for a big finale.
I might write the denouement next so I know how many pages I’ve got left to play with, for my big finale. But it won’t be many, maybe just 7 or so? Something will come to me. It will come to me as I fall asleep or shower or do something mundane while my brain is elsewhere. I wish it would hurry up though. I’m dying to know how it ends!
Day 12: 03/06: Act 3, page 101 (3.5 pages) – 10:50 PM
No lunchtime writing & still no big ending. I’m going to write the denouement next so I’ve done something & so I know how many pages I’ve got left to play with.
I read through the script until about page 50. Without even meaning to I lost ‘some length’ (steady now!) just deleting parts that were over-written. I’m yet to read back through from page 50 to the end, or see where the beats appear, so there could be quite a bit of work to do yet to get it into the right structure. I was going to wait until I’d written the whole thing.
I wrote a 3.5-page denouement, which feels a bit too long, but it’s quite good. I’ll see how it reads tomorrow & again after I’ve written the ‘explosive, thrilling finale’, whatever that is.
Right, I have about 5 to 6 pages for my big ending.
I just need to work out what that ending is!
Day 13: 04/06: Act 3, page 101 (0 pages) – 9:00 PM
Big Finale: I have the vaguest beginnings of an idea! I think… Maybe….
I’ve started working it & expanding it, but it’s really hard. There’s about a page of it I could write now, but I want to have the whole idea first before I start writing ‘cos it’s really hard to unpick screenplays later. (Even though that’s the majority of the writing process!)
I went to ruminate & wait for inspiration to strike. It didn’t…
Day 14: 05/06: Act 3, page 101 (0 pages) – 8:00 PM
I searched the screenplay and replaced UK 'curb' with US 'kerb'. Fun, fun, fun!
More ‘Big Finale!’ thinking. Little clarity.
Day 15: 06/06: Act 3, page 109 (8 pages) – 10:10 PM
I have an idea! It may be too long though. Let’s write it up & see.
But first I added a little joke – It only added a few lines.
OK, let’s see if I can do this in just FIVE pages.
So much for five pages, the first draft took about 7 to 9 pages. But the entire script is subject to a read through and edit so anything could be anywhere yet. All I care about is the relative spacing and length of acts etc. I’ll put the beats in the right places later.
So here I am. The first, entire completed first, unchecked first draft. It took me 11 actual writing days. It’s just over 109 pages long, ending about a third of a page into page 110. Now I need to see if the ending works.
It’s ok, but it needs work. It doesn’t feel climatic enough, have enough conflict or enough of a ticking clock.
A quick analysis and Act 1 is a page too long, Act 2A is half a page too short, Act 2B is two pages too long and Act 3 nearly FOUR pages too short, so I can really go to town on that ending. I need to read through the whole thing first and tomorrow I have to work.
Day 16: 07/06: Act 3, page 109 (-0.7 pages) – started 9:30 PM, finished 10:40 PM
I did over 5 hours of actual job work today (on a Sunday!), so not much time for the screenplay.
I’m trying to delete things to get the beats and Act breaks in the right place. It took ages & achieved very little. I was just looking for orphaned lines though. It didn’t help much. I really, really need to read through it all, but that will take time.
A quick analysis and Act 1 is ~ ½ page too long, Act 2A is ~ 1/3 page too long, Act 2B is one and ¾ pages too long and Act 3 THREE pages too short, so I can really go to town on that ending. I have a few ideas on what I can add.
This week at (Covid-19 lock down) work is going to be long hours at work and no lunch hours, so I’m not sure I’ll be able to progress the script at all.
Day 17: 08/06: Act 2A, Page 55-ish, pages 107.3 (-1.7 pages) – started 8 PM, finished 11 PM
I read through, the first two acts (out of four). I made corrections, shortened text etc.
After all that, Act 1 is ~ ¼ of a page too long, Act 2A is pretty much spot on, Act 2B is one and ½ pages too long and Act 3 is allegedly FOUR and HALF pages too short. I’ll believe all of this when I get to the end of Act 3. I’m still not sure what I’ll do with the extra space in Act 3. I need a BIG ending, but my leads are limited in what they can do. Still not sure how much time I’ll get to edit tomorrow.
09/06 and 10/06 – both 14 hours ‘proper job’ work days – no work on the screenplay.
Day 20: 11/06: Act 2B, Page 80-ish, pages 105.6 (-1.7 pages) – started 8 PM, finished 10 PM
I found a mistake in the page count, and Act 3 had about 3 pages less than I thought.
After all that, Act 1 is ~ ¼ of a page too long, Act 2A is pretty much spot on, Act 2B is ~1/5 of a page too long and Act 3 is allegedly 1.75 pages too short, although there’s only 1.4 pages left. I think I’ll just work through Act 3 shortening it where I can, and then added back some of the things missing (e.g. call the cops, search the room, line snaps/interrupted call, and longer being convincing.).
At least Act 2B is now lean and mean.
I still need that BIG ending though!
Day 21: 12/06: Act 3 end, Page 107, (+1.6 pages) – started 8 PM, finished 9:30 PM
Yep, did it!
I added almost all of what I wanted to add (not the 2nd phone call though - shame), and got to the end. And I think it’s not too bad. I never did get the big ending, but I think I got the poignant, thematic ending.
OK, the final scores are: Act 1 is ~ ¼ of a page too long, Act 2A is pretty much spot on, Act 2B is ~1/5 of a page too long and Act 3 is a ½ page too short.
Right, over the weekend it’s spell checking, capitalising important words, and then reading through it all in one go.
Day 22: 13/06: Act 3 end, Page 107
And straight away I see numbers in numerals rather than words in speech. This is going to change the act & script length!
Except it didn’t. It was one incident and I managed to adjust the line to keep it the same length. Spoke to soon, I’ve since found at least two more occasions of it. This will have an effect, but so will the end to end read through re-write.
There were loads of spelling mistakes though, you can tell it was written in a hurry.
The next step is capitalising important words then reading through it, but not today. Today is Saturday and I have plans.
Day 23: 14/06: Act 2A end, Pages 107
Right, I CAPITALISED the important words in Act 1, & spell-checked (again). I can’t do anymore because I have too much sun shining on me & my back is hurting too much. Back later!
I also, CAPITALISED the important words in Act 2A. This takes ages! Then spell-checked (again). Right, it’s 2 AM so time for bed. Work tomorrow.
Day 24: 15/06: Act 2B end, Pages 107
Not much time tonight – literally just 30 mins. I’m in ACT 2B, CAPITALISED the important words, and I’ve literally got 5 pages into it.
Day 25: 16/06: Act 2B end, Pages 107
Two and a half hours later to complete Act 2B, CAPITALISED the important words. So far, I’ve got about half a page to add to Act 3. Let’s see if it’s still there at the end and then I can work out what to do with it.
Day 26: 17/06: Act 3 end, Pages 107
Started at 9 PM so not expecting to get much done…
There’s a surprising amount of re-writing going on here, taking up all of the extra ‘space’ for the Act.
I got 15 pages into it (page 95). Let’s see if I can do the final 10 tomorrow.
Day 27: 18/06: Act 3 end, Pages 107
Started at 9 PM AGAIN, so not expecting to get much done tonight either…
(I was typing the word HANDS and somehow managed to type NADS…)
Got to the end, which is now page 106.3. Which means I have about ½ of a page to expand Act 3. I think that the very end could do with more work plus maybe the ‘big’ finish. But I’ll sleep on it.
Day 28: 19/06: Act 1 end, Pages 107
I’ve got a new ending! Not sure I can get it into 26 ¾ pages though. Here goes…
I crammed it all in. Now to read it all from the start (later).
I only did the first act, which took ages. I had CAPITALISED far too many words, and re-write far too much of it. Hopefully, Act 2A tomorrow…
Day 29: 20/06: Act 2A end, Pages 107
OK, on wards. Now Act 2A. Again, I had CAPITALISED far too many words, and I decided on better word choices etc. Now Act 2B…
In the end I completed Acts 2B & Act 3 without much drama.
I then wrote a fan fiction disclaimer for the start and a link to the Michael J Fox Foundation ( MJFF) at the end. Now for a web page!
Day 30: 21/06: Act 3 + disclaimer, pages 107
And now there’s a web page for the script and this diary!
Now I have to leave it alone for a while and think about what draft 2 might look like...