#1- Write then Eat- 8 Lessons in Ghostwriting My First Feature-Length-Screenplay

By- Thomas Kubrak

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About a month ago I completed one of my biggest projects. If it wasn’t for a few major decisions I made, I probably wouldn’t be able to say that I completed my first ghosted-feature.

It took me slightly over 12 months to do.

I’m never one to back out of a challenge, so after my client gave me his story, I was enthralled, but I wasn’t sure if we could make it fit into a screenplay. The density of his story was incredible, but I just had no idea how we were going to do this.

“I think this is better suited as a TV series.” I told him. But my client wasn’t having it. He wanted a screenplay. He had this story on his mind for over 5 years and wanted it his way.

He was so convinced it could be done that I bought in after listening to his reasoning. I knew it would be a huge challenge but I was up for it. I told him it would be difficult but we agreed to the terms and began. I never thought about the true expense this would have on me and how great of a challenge this was though.

Originally, I thought it would take 12 months, but in hopes of working on another big project sooner, I convinced myself I could get it done in 6. So I told him 6-12 months, with an emphasis on, “I believe I will have a script in your hands in 6 months.”

That brings us to lesson 1…

LESSON 1- Under Promise and Over Deliver

It’s fine if you tell your client 6-12, but don’t insist it will take 6, which I did, when there’s a huge possiblity it will take longer. Although I said 6-12, I should’ve thought it through longer and said 12 like I originally thought. If it does take 6 great, surprise him with a script in 6, but tell them the longest date it will take first and don’t emphasize that thought to them, that you’re confident you can get it done quicker. Even if you are absolutely sure!

Because I put this burden on my shoulders the stress of this project immediately started to impact the project and other areas of my life…

LESSON 2- Manage Your Stress or…

This project drove me into a mental-frenzy. It also impacted my body and I began a horrendous eating and drinking habit.

Not only was this my first feature, but it was just a hard story, in my opinion, to turn into a screenplay and make an audience believe.

I believed it could be done, but I told my client that it had to be done in a very methodical-intricate way. Which of course, meant time, which I didn’t give myself with the pressure of saying, “It’s going to take 6 months.”

I stressed for days, and then weeks, just trying different concepts and plotlines out. I rebuilt each character over and over again, but to no avail.

That of course, is when I hit a big wall and didn’t produce anything for a long time.

And we were approaching the six month threshold I put myself on.

LESSON 3- Take a Break from Writing It.

For long drawn out project you need to give yourself a week or more in my opinion. When I finally allowed myself to step away from my desk, breathe a little, and just think about it, is when I began to climb out of this unproductive-hole I dug myself.

That was a huge step in the right direction, but I still was distracted. I needed to do more…

LESSON 5- Focus on One Thing

During all of this, I was just adding more fuel-to-the-fire. Not only was I writing this bahemoth of a screenplay, but I was also working on several other projects. Why did I think that was a good idea you ask? Oh, well because I had been doing that for years! Just juggling a ton of projects all the time. But I had never had to grapple with this big of a project. So I told myself, “I can do it!”

Stupid me.

Some of these projects were my own and some were collaborations with other people. I didn’t have any huge commitments to these other projects though. This was the biggest priority.

Then I told myself, ‘Just this, just this one. Complete this, and then we can work on everything else.”

When I told myself that, and then proceeded to drop the other projects, for the time being, is when I saw another increase in my output.

LESSON 6- Get OFF Social Media

The final reason I was able to not lose this project and have a big old F on my resume was when I shut down my social media.

Once I completed the first few drafts, I told myself, then I can turn it back on. I mean come on, this is where I had been posting nearly all of my writing and getting the majority of jobs. I can’t be off it forever right?

When I finally enacted this critical step is when I felt like all of the pieces were in line for me to complete this. My mind cleared up like a dirty unused swimming pool that was finally cleaned and the water properly treated, after being neglected for months. The pool boy only can do so much. Sometimes you have to call in the professionals. Thank God I listened. I just hope I listen quicker next time.

I hadn’t realized, until I did this, how much I was allowing social media to distract me and eat away all of my creative energy on a day-to-day basis.

Don’t get me wrong, I still believe in using social media, but I now have a better understanding on when, why and how I use it.

So, after making this step, I was able to fully submerge myself into the project. I slowly began to plug away, scene by scene and page by page.

Most days, I was only able to get one scene in. I slowly worked my way up to more and more scenes finished each day until finally… I had finished that first draft!

After that I moved onto that, equally critical, 2nd and 3rd drafts of fine tuning and adjusting the script.

LESSON 7- Fundamentals

Mind you…

I’ve written plenty, of short films, which I told my client, but I had never successfully written a feature. I had tried multiple times but always, I would hit a wall.

I thought I was capable of just writing this all the way through with little knowledge of what a feature really takes. I did buy a few books in leu of this project but I didn’t study as much as I should have.

So, I began pouring through books and screenplays. I read Syd Fields, Screenplay about 5 or 6 more times. I did this to lock in the fundamentals so it became second nature writing the script.

Although I still have areas to improve on I believe this was the 4th and final essential step in getting this done.

LESSON 8- The Deadline

I had to make those sacrifices. Although, it wasn’t easy to halt my other other projects and stop connecting on social media, I had a duty. I had a responsiblity to my client.

I’ve always been a stickler for deadlines and the use of my time. Having a military background will do that to you.

I take that into my work, personally, and especially when I work with clients. The difference with creative-business is that things do change a lot more.

So many unpredicatable things happen. I’t inevitable and nearly unavoidable. Nonetheless, that deadline I hold as a sacred object. If it needs to be changed okay, communicate that to your client, but it’s my job to do my best to meet that deadline.

Just be honest with your client at all times. Don’t be nervous to tell them of the change.

Because of the great relationship I had established with my client before entering a working-relationship I was able to do this.

I recommend, before you enter any ghostwriting project to have, at least a foundational relationship with your client in order to get through those tough times of the writing-process.

Why? Because you will be talking to them a lot and spending a lot of time with them. Especially, during a featured-screenplay, which you need to pick your clients brain, almost entirely, about the story. It’s a necessity not a choice. If you don’t have that relationship then you shouldn’t embark on the project.

With that being said, I was able to successfully get a two week extension on the project, after the 12 month deadline hit, instead of working crazy hours to try to complete it I was able to deliver the best product possible.

And no, I wasn’t happy about asking for the extension, but it needed to be done. Or I would’ve handed him a faulty script.

I look back at this project and see where I lost some crucial time. It pains me to think about the many mistakes I made but with all these lessons in mind I’ll be able to do a hell of a lot better next time.

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Send me an email on your thoughts! Would love to hear from you.

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Tom Kubrak

email- kubraktom@gmail.com

IG- @tomkubrak