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Arts & Entertainment

Writing Process: First Draft

Judd Apatow

Lesson time 19:26 min

Judd shares his step-by-step process for brainstorming scene ideas, creating an outline, and setting reasonable writing goals for a first draft.

Judd Apatow
Teaches Comedy
Judd Apatow teaches you how to write, direct, produce, and perform comedy for film and television.
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So usually, for me, I have a thematic idea. I have an inspiration, and then I build everything around that. So when I was conceiving "Funny People," I had an idea about someone who becomes sick. And when they think they are getting better, they return to their regular level of neuroses. So that inspiration came because my mom was sick. And I noticed that whenever she thought that she was going to get completely better, she would become super neurotic. And when she thought that she was not going to survive, she seemed much more relaxed. And all the stuff that bothered her day to day that she would obsess over would go away. And she would be like, what does it matter? And the second a doctor said, you're going to be OK. This might work. She'd be like, what do I do about this? What do I do about that? What about this money issue? What about this business issue? And so that was one idea that was in my head. Separately, I had another idea about that period when you first start trying to be a stand up comedian and you are mentored, or you become friends with older, more established comedians, what that feels like-- the interesting relationship between younger and older comedians. And I had that relationship with a lot of different comedians from Roseanne, to Jim Carrey, to Garry Shandling, to Dennis Miller. And they were all super nice to me and really helped me out early in my career. And I thought there was a way to talk about that relationship with someone who maybe was a little more like Rodney Dangerfield, who I didn't know, but was a much more unhappy comedian. And that, through it, you could explore why people want to be in comedy and also why this need to be successful, and famous, and rich tends to isolate people and make them unhappy and how a young comedian would watch an older comedian's experiences and try to learn from them. So one day in the shower, I realize, oh, you could combine those two ideas and have it be the comedian who has the near death, disease experience and do the mentoring or friendship with an older comedian movie. - Why are you telling me this, George? - Because I want you to possibly do me a favor. - OK, yeah, what? - Kill me. - What? - Nobody knows we know each other. You're a stranger. You can get away with this. I got a gun in the other room. It's untraceable. I'll give you $50,000. Don't make me suffer, please. Kill me, Ira. I'm begging you. - Can you at least give me, like, a night to think about it? - Ha! Think about it? You would do it! - Oh, I hate you, man! Oh, no! - Ira, I misread you! You're sick! You're a murderer! - Oh, screw you, man! - You wanted to do it! What would you have done for $100,000? Chop my head off? - So that's how I look at how you build something, which is you have a thought and usually, in it, there's something you want to say. And what you want to say might be about values, someone who valued success and money before anyt...

Get serious about comedy

No joke: at age 15, Judd Apatow took a dishwashing job at a comedy club to watch the acts. Today, he’s the comedic genius behind hits including The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Bridesmaids, and Freaks and Geeks. In his first-ever online comedy class, the Emmy Award winner teaches you how to create hilarious storylines, write great stand-up, and direct movies that leave audiences laughing.


Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars.

This class was 100 percent worth the wait! Thank you Judd Apatow!

I've taken close to 30 Masterclasses and this is definitely one of my favorites--maybe my favorite! Great content and love Apatow's demeanor and attitude.

Helps with writing, directing and working with actors.

Great insights and practical advice for aspiring comedians. Some lessons touch on best practices that apply to other lines of work as well.


Milton N.

JUDD - Can I pitch you a movie idea to see if you're down to produce? Haha You don't know if you don't ask, right!


I love it when a complex process is broken down into concrete, simple tasks. This makes writing far less intimidating and I actually look forward to doing it.


His brainstorming notes are similar to Rhimes' story bible. I love the two brain idea. That is the way I work. Just get it down first. I almost never re-read in those initial phases. I would never get anywhere. Afterward, I will come back and work scene by scene.


Interesting noting the differences and similarities between JA drafts and Shonda Rhimes who suggests cleaning up the draft as she works so she doesn't have to go back and rewrite. There is no way I could can a draft done so efficiently that I would not have to rewrite.

Tara R.

I always hand write my first draft, and sometimes my second then use my computer program on the third draft so that hopefully by the time I have it in proper script form it's a well rounded script. I also have a small notebook I carry around with me and write all of my ideas in there, along with poems, movie lines , quotes or drawings I like. Have you gathered yet that I really like to hand write? Haha :)

Peter K.

For years people have been saying 'you should be locked up Peter,' and then I read Judd's Knocked Up brainstorming document. Either we've both slipped through the net of Psychiatry or there is a genuine vocation tailored to my insanity.


I type my stories on the computer and I take my time of writing every scene in the story

Amy J.

I couldn't think of much to write this morning and for months, I have wanted to flip my resume to pure honesty. In a morning I feel I had nothing , I wished upon a star and thought, how kickass would it be if you could apply with this resume? I call it "Resume of Truth" Amy S. Janes The Dotte Kansas City, KS 66109 913 218 9595 SKILLS Managing an overflowing, under budget classroom of white trash, Mexican Mafia and ghetto black on black crime. Teenagers, the smell of hood, you can taste it in your mouth Taught Deaf children to read using American Sign Language. Their little bitty hands and defining moments breaking language barriers, I have that visually engraved and will take that with me everywhere. EXPERIENCE Unified School District 500 Kansas City Kansas Public Schools THUG LIFE Aug 2000 - 2017 Substitute Teacher /Glorified Babysitter/ Bouncer Execute lesson plans while maintaining classroom management/ Overwhelmingly difficult Deaf Education, Special Education, General Education/ in a small DOTTE of land with great poverty and crime, you touch on all subjects that do not come in textbook. Sorenson Video Relay April 2007 - 2010 What? Video Relay Sign Language Interpreter/ AKA a third party listening and visually capturing life moments you shouldn’t be a part of. Facilitate communication among Deaf and Hearing consumers alike/ I had the privilege to interpret one of the best sex calls of my life, I’m no virgin to the act itself. Like a long distance threesome Johnson County Mental Health March 2006-April 2007 My Ears Hurt Attendant Care Technician -Deaf Unit/ Spent hours with Deaf adults suffering from mental illness looped on meds that turn your piss into a glow stick Assisted Deaf Adults in everyday Life Skills/ Late night, Deaf Sex, I thought something was being tortured EDUCATION Kansas City Kansas Community College May 1995 - May 1998 13th, 14th and 15th grade Associates of Liberal Arts/ Liberal enough to lose my virginity Johnson County Community College August 2001- May 2004 “No, Sorry, Strictly Dickly” Graduate of the Sign Language Interpreting Program/ if you want to come out of the closet or need a gay man to make you feel better, go to a National Conference

Pato C.

First draft, very intimidating. Thanks for showing us how to make it less intimidating.

Bree A.

All good advice. Thanks Judd. I am working my way through writing my first novel. Going back over my first draft scared the shit out of me. If I didn't have the voices of more experienced writers in my head saying "this is normal", it would have been enough to put me off. So I believe in the vomit pass.