questionmarkHow many rewrites do you go through before you feel your baby is ready to be read by agents, producers, etc? And does a screenwriter have to focus on just one genre or can he or she cross-pollinate into another genre? I notice some movies blur into two genres occasionally.

— Daniel De Lago

When I read about professional chefs, they often talk about having a “food sense” that tells them when something is ready. That is, they can put the fish under the broiler, then go off and work on something else, and return at exactly the moment the fish is perfectly cooked.

This “knowing when it’s done” sense only develops with experience. Beginning chefs are all too likely to pull something out a little too raw or overcooked and flavorless.

And the same is true with screenwriting. When I was first starting out, I was really unsure about when a draft was finished. I now have a pretty good sense of when something is ready for public consumption, which for me is really the first draft. That is, I’ve generally hand-written scenes, typed them up, assembled them into one big draft (called, cleverly, the “first assembly”). I then spend considerable hours tweaking and shaping and revising until I have what I consider the first draft.

This is what goes to my assistant for proofreading and reality-checking. (“Did you mean for the hero to leave in a helicopter but land in a private jet?”) A few quick fixes, and it’s ready to be seen by whoever the point person is on the project, generally the producer or executive who hired me.

Should you, Daniel, hand in a draft this early? Probably not. I’m a better writer now than when I first began, and don’t make the same mistakes I used to. To continue the cooking analogy, one way to make sure something is done is to check the temperature. Use your trusted friends and colleagues as your thermometer. Let them be your guide as to when something is safe to put on the plate.

In terms of genre, I never pay that much attention to what something is “supposed to” be, which is one reason my movies are a little bit hard to place on the shelves at Blockbuster. Go, Big Fish and Charlie’s Angels are all generally filed under comedy, but they’re not the same kind of comedies that Tim Allen stars in.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Tim Allen comedies.

(Well, actually, there is. The one that’s actually funny — Galaxy Quest — is funny because it’s not really Tim Allen’s movie, and relies on a big and talented cast to carry the film’s complicated conceit. But I digress.)

Genre should be a guide, not a straightjacket. One of the reasons I’ve never written a romantic comedy is that the expectations are so clear (meet-cute, complication, misunderstanding, resolution) that it wouldn’t feel very fulfilling to create one.