Writing a screenplay is perhaps one of the easiest aspects of film making. That is not to say it’s easy, because it isn’t. Many novice writers who begin writing a screenplay in order to get their big break in the film industry have to know the proper way of doing it. It’s a process that can’t be rushed just because you want fame. Some have a hard time figuring out where to start, so it’s important to have a knack for creative writing, and know what format a screenplay has to be written in.
Any story has to come from an idea. But sometimes you may not know where to go with that idea or know what to do with to do with. With a few tips, you’ll be on your way to writing your first screenplay. Naturally these ideas will have to consist of characters, dialogue, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution.
Brainstorm – Sometimes sitting down and going over different scenarios in your mind will help you bring an idea to life. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself here, otherwise you’ll end up with writer’s block before you even start. Let the ideas flow. Don’t force them. Play around with them a little bit. It even helps to take real life scenarios and put them into your idea.
Jot Down – As soon as these ideas come to you, write them down immediately. Take it from someone who lost a few ideas all because I didn’t write them down right away. Whenever that happened, I simply tell myself “if I can forget it, it wasn’t that good of an idea to begin with.” That’s just me. I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone else. So don’t forget to write them down. It doesn’t matter what order they are in at this point. After all, it’s only an idea, not a story.
Organize – This is when your story begins to unfold. Once you have enough ideas down, and have generated into a story, is when it’s time to put these ideas in order. You can’t begin the story if the ideas are written all over the page. Some type of order will help you stay focused, and lessen confusion when you’re trying to write your story based on these ideas.
Keep Journal – Keeping a script journal with all of your ideas inside will help the flow of your writing. It’s best to put your ideas in this journal according to whether the specific scene idea goes in the beginning, middle, or end. This is how I’ve written all of my scripts, which became successful. There are many ways on organizing you work. Keeping an outline, instead of a journal is another good way of keeping things in order.
Decide whether or not you want to write a script for a short film, or if you want to write a feature length. Each one will consist of a different length, so make sure you know which one you want to do. A typical feature length script will be around 120 pages on average.
Formatting – All scripts have to be written in the proper format. Do a little research to see exactly how it should be done, if you don’t already know. There are plenty of websites that have scripts from actual Hollywood blockbusters for you to view in order to get a good idea of this as well. Format is very important, so have this down before presenting your script to anyone.
Don’t Edit – When you’re in the process of writing your script, don’t stop to do edits in between. This can mess you up considerably, and make your story go in a different direction than was intended. So always wait until your first draft is complete before editing.
Don’t Babble – Try to avoid unnecessary, and lengthy dialogue, and action, unless there’s a certain amount of action required for that scene. If you start to babble, your script won’t look professional. If there’s a point in your script where there’s a lot of dialogue that has to be said, split it between the characters as evenly as you can. An exception to this would be a monologue scene, or a soliloquy.
Remember: if you’re writing with a partner, make sure you are on the same page with each other. Two partners with different ideas can result in two different stories. If that is happening, maybe you aren’t compatible as a writing team.
Editing and Tweaking:
A script has to go through a lot of editing, rewrites/revisions, and tweaking. Don’t think you’re finished just because you’ve completed one draft. This is where you can begin to make changes, and if the direction of the story begins to change at this point, it’s okay. You can add or take out a scene and/or character.
Keep your notes and ideas from your journal on hand just in case you need them. If you have to write a fresh one, do so, just as long as you stay organized.
When the final writing process is complete, it’s important to get registered with the Writer’s Guild. They charge a small fee and will keep your record on hand for a certain amount of time, and will provide documents that your script is yours in case someone tries to plagiarize. You can also get it copyrighted with the U.S. Copyright Office. Remember, there’s a slight difference between registering your script and copyrighting your script. Both are acceptable and will protect your script.
If you have no money to get your script registered, one thing you can do is mail your script to yourself. The postage date stamp will provide evidence of when the script was written, so that can also come in handy in court. But DO NOT open it. Mail it to yourself, then put it away in a safe place.
Selling Your Script:
Companies do not accept unsolicited scripts. If you want to sell your script, get an agent first. This will also be a little difficult to do, as some agents prefer to take on clients with experience in some matters. But there are plenty of agents that will take on someone new. Be careful in this case because some “agents” are shady. They will try to take your money and leave you high and dry. If anyone asks for money, don’t fall for it. Agents or managers are never paid up front. They are only paid on commission, gaining only a small percentage of what you make, if you become successful.
Your agent will try to get your script sold to producers. Producers are the ones constantly looking for new scripts because they are always trying to find something that’s gold. Like agents, some producers won’t take on a new script writer. Most of the time a fairly new producer will do that, to try to make a name for themselves. It’s a long process, but worth it if your script is ever sold and filmed.