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How to Develop a Screenplay in 180 Days
Posted in My Journey as a Screenwriter 5 min read
Mr. Van Emberger: Indie Filmmaker - Atlanta, GA. Previous Reset Fred Next

How to Develop a Screenplay in 180 Days

C. Neil Davenport jotting down an idea while waiting for an airplane.

The intention is to work like a wasp.

After the snow melts, a wasp wakes from hibernation and all it concerns itself with for the next three weeks is the building of a nest for its offspring. It doesn’t take smoke breaks, struggle with self-doubt or let outside influences get in the way of accomplishing its goal. It simply works until it no longer needs to.

Imagine for a moment that same work ethic applied to you and your creative endeavor…

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t sleep, or eat or go hiking in the park every now and then to finish your project. We aren’t insects (at least not all of us) and are in need of a healthy and balanced lifestyle in order to sustain sanity. What I am saying though is that when you choose to set-aside scheduled time in your daily agenda to build the idea that has been buzzing around in your head for some time, you’ll find remarkable results blooming from the endeavor. It’s simply an applied use of time management.

The English poet, John Heywood once said, “Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they were laying brinks every hour.” Realistically, this work ethic can be applied to any project, but since I am a screenwriter, the development of a screenplay will strictly be discussed here. As well, for simplicity’s sake, when I reference the word “screenplay,” I mean for it to be understood as a feature length screenplay which consists of +95 pages. That being said, don’t let that deter you from applying this use of time management to other projects such as short screenplays or other projects you’re passionate about which may have nothing to do with the topic of writing.  

Here’s how I develop one screenplay in 180 days.

Roughly, 180 days can be divided into a six-month period where each month is assigned particular units of screenplay development. You can find all the units in correspondence to their month showcased in the chart I built below, but the logic here is simple; on month no.1 you frame up an idea and by month no.6, you have a well-developed screenplay.

Let’s say you have an idea for a story and would like to develop it into a screenplay. Most people feel they need to jump by the seat of their pants and start writing, but I would personally advise against that tactic as it predominately results to an eventual burnout. However, if that’s your process, by all means jump, but when you do burnout, reference the chart. I recommend you go about the development of your project with a sense of timely organization and free creativity which allows the process of development to work its magic.

In my experience, the first three months are done in analog where everything developed is placed with pen and paper and the remaining months should be done digitality where software is used to transcribe what was developed.

For example, January is your month no.1. During this phase, you will only focus on the primal units of screenplay development which helps fine tune, frame and pitch the vision of your idea. Month no.2 is a deeper drive of research – The old adage of originality goes, “There’s nothing new under the sun,” meaning, anything and everything, at this point in history can and will be connected, influenced or be a product of rebellion from something which already exists, so don’t carry the burden of trying to be different. Month no.3 is when the story starts taking tangible shape through a mapping of story markers, month no. 4 is when dirt finds it way under your fingernails in the pushing out of a bad draft, month no.5 is dedicated to giving yourself a break all the while obtaining and applying constructive notes and finally month no.6, towards the end of June, you should at this point have a fine-tooth combed draft ready to be given to a festival or paying producer.

The ideology of this work ethic is again to help with time management. We are all busy and running around while juggling three things, but if you have an idea for a story which you would like to get down on paper, I believe this is the best way to go about it. Like everything else (important) in your life, a screenplay is a huge task and deserves respect. That being said, the chart below is not law. It’s a personal tool I’ve designed which helps me find time to work in my crazy life. Therefore, I invite you to move units around, take them off, put more on… ultimately build your own chart which works for you and your creative process.

Additionally, if you don’t know a term listed below like “Beats,” or “Hemingway Draft,” take it upon yourself to not only understand its definition, but become an expert on what makes it a unit of screenplay development – and don’t worry if your homework gets in the way of your time to create. You’ve got plenty of it.


April 23, 2021, 9:02 PM EDT


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