Standard Story Company

How to Write a Feature Film in a Month

I (finally) recorded a new YouTube video and wanted to share a tip from it that I think deserves more attention.

It’s a little trick involving a $500 check that helped me write the first draft of a feature film in 30 days flat.

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📖 Story Time:

The year is 2019.

I’d been brainstorming ideas for this dark sci-fi feature for months. I had an outline of the plot, and I knew it was time to stop delaying and actually do the work of typing this thing out.

But first drafts are always tough. 

Especially for me because I have a perfectionist streak, and I’m harshly judging every sentence as soon as it lands on the page.

The thing is – for most of us – first drafts are supposed to suck.

You shouldn’t aim for perfection, you should try to just get the story on paper as fast as possible, so you have a starting point for the REAL writing – which lies in the RE-writing.

With each draft, you gain confidence and a stronger connection to the world you’ve created, which makes good writing and original ideas much easier to come by.

But it’s one thing to know this, and it’s another to actually do it.

So I wrote out a $500 check to my roommate.

I told him if I didn’t finish the first draft of my script in exactly 1 month, he had to cash that check and keep the money, no matter what my excuse was.

If I did finish it, he had to give me back the check.

At this time, $500 would have hurt.

And even though I liked my roommate, I definitely wasn’t about to just hand him $500 😂

So now I had real, concrete consequences for not successfully finishing this first draft under deadline.

And it worked.

I found myself treating the writing of that script like a real job.

For the first week, I dedicated 2 hours everyday to writing it. Then I calculated the average number of pages I could get through in a day, and that helped me schedule the rest of the month.

Of course, there were problems along the way. 

Sometimes I’d find massive plot holes I’d missed in the outline, and have to go back and make big structural changes, losing days of progress.

But those were the days when that $500 check was the most valuable. There was no time to get depressed about the project and take a few days off. I had to put my head down and figure this out ASAP.

In the end, I barely made it. Fortunately my 3rd act was the most tightly outlined so I was able to burn through the final 18 pages on the last day of the month 😅

I showed my roommate, took back the check, and tore it up.

Was this great writing?

Not really.

50-75% of that first draft never made it past draft 1. 

But it gave me a very solid foundation for the 2nd draft, plus a handful of strong moments I wasn’t expecting.

To me, that’s a good first draft. 

It exists. I can take a red pen to it and make a list of all the obvious problems that need to be fixed before I share it with anyone else.

Side note – The 2nd draft took me another 1-2 months because of all the other structural issues I discovered in that first draft. So since that first draft was destined to fail, I saved a lot of time by burning through it. 

Better to fail fast than slowly.

After filming the YouTube video about this, I actually picked up the 2nd draft of that script and started reading it for the first time in years. I was expecting garbage, but I’m halfway through it now and surprised to find that it holds up. I wonder if I could even pull a short film out of it…



Would you use this trick for writing your next script? 

How about for wrapping your next film?

If you want to take this idea to the next level, I’ve heard of websites that will take your money and donate it to a charitable cause you’re against if you don’t hit your goal (like the NRA if you’re anti-gun). 

I’ll have to sign up for that site the next time Zach Braff runs another Kickstarter.



My favorite things this week:


🎙️ Podcast: What Went Wrong – The Lord of The Rings

I fell in love with this thoroughly researched 3-part podcast about the challenges of making (in my opinion) the greatest trilogy ever, The Lord of The Rings. Episode 1 covers the difficulties in writing and getting the films greenlit, episode 2 covers the incredibly complex production, and episode 3 is about pioneering the groundbreaking VFX and finally releasing the films. If you’re a fan of LOTR, you’ll love it.

That’s it for this week.

Let’s make some movies.


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