Today’s article is titled How to Write a Movie Script for Dummies. As you might have guessed, it’s aimed at anyone who’s ever dreamed of seeing their name on the credits of a film. Of course, writing a full-length movie script isn’t as easy as it might sound, even if you’ve managed to come up with an idea that can’t miss. And just because you get the screenplay completed without totally losing your mind, there’s still no guarantee that Hollywood will come calling.
That being said, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing your passion. And if you’ve seen some of the films to come out in the last few years, you’ve no doubt realized that the movie industry needs all the good scripts it can get. So fire up your computer and your imagination; you’re almost ready to crank out an award-winning movie script.
Get Familiar with Screenplays – If you’re going to write a movie script, it sure helps to know what it looks like. Things on the written page can seem very different from what ends up on the screen, so it’s a good idea to look through a number of film scripts to see how they translate. Pick some movies you find especially well-written and go hunting for them on the Internet. You can also pick some screenplays from crappy films with lots of explosions (Michael Bay, anyone?) and give them a once-over. Here are some places to search:
- Drew’s Script-O-Rama
- The Internet Movie Script Database
- Scriptwriter Center
- Daily Script
Learn the Format – Movie screenplays are expected to adhere to a very specific format. If they don’t, there’s a distinct chance that they’ll end up in the garbage bin of some Hollywood studio. And when I say specific format, I’m talking about everything from the size of the print, to spacing, to how many holes are punched in the pages. So where do you learn the proper formatting for a screenplay? Any of the following books will do the trick, plus they’ll also provide a number of trick and tips for getting the most from your scriptwriting experience.
- Screenwriting For Dummies by John Logan and Laura Schellhardt
- Screenplay by Syd Field
- Your Screenplay Sucks!: 100 Ways to Make It Great by William M. Akers
- From Reel to Deal: Everything You Need to Create a Successful Independent Film by Dov S.-S. Simens
- How to Write a Selling Screenplay by Christopher Keane
- Screenplay, the Sequence Approach by Paul Gulino
- Making A Good Script Great by Linda Seger
- Screenwriting for Teens: The 100 Principles of Screenwriting Every Budding Writer Must Know by Christina Hamlett
- Author! Screenwriter!: How to Succeed as a Writer in New York and Hollywood by Peter Miller
- Story by Robert McKee
- The 101 Habits Of Highly Successful Screenwriters: Insider’s Secrets from Hollywood’s Top Writers by Karl Iglesias
- How Not To Write A Screenplay by Denny Martin Flynn
Come Up with a Winning Idea – Before you begin to write your screenplay, you’ll need to come up with a winning idea. This can be more difficult than it sounds, as thousands of ideas have already been used up by both foreign and domestic productions. The genre of the film is just as important, as most studios are obsessed with taking advantage of the latest trends. If you happened to have a top-notch vampire romance sitting around during the Twilight craze, you might have been in luck. But no matter what your idea, your script needs to have the following:
- Motivation - The characters in the film need to want something, whether it’s an object or an ideal. Otherwise, why would anyone want to watch them in the first place?
- Conflict - No matter what the characters want, they should have to struggle to get the desired results. Life is all about conflicts of various types, and your movie script should reflect that.
- High Concept – While not absolutely essential, it never hurts to come up with an idea that’s considered high concept. This means that your story can easily be grasped by the audience and features a compelling idea that’s sure to pack those flabby American butts into the seats. In the world of songwriting, this factor is known as a hook.
Screenwriting Software – There’s no way I could call this article How to Write a Movie Script for Dummies unless I mentioned screenwriting software. That’s because all Hollywood scripts are expected to be in the exact same format, and anything that deviates from the formula will be quickly discarded. Unless you want to keep up with all those requirements in your already-cluttered brain, you can purchase screenwriting software to do all the work for you. When you decide to head over to Amazon and do some shopping, be sure to check out the following:
- Final Draft
- Movie Magic Screenwriter
- Movie Outline
- Dramatica Pro
- Outline 4D
- John Truby’s Blockbuster
- Celtx (free software available online)
- Rough Draft (free software available online)
Start Writing – Now that you’ve brushed up on what a screenplay should look like and picked up some tips from various books, it’s time to start writing your screenplay. Dive right in and don’t worry about mistakes, as you’ll probably rewrite your work a number of times. Make sure that the audience will care about the lead character, and don’t forget that film is a visual medium. When possible, make sure the audience is shown the action and not told about it. You should also shoot for 100 to 120 pages for your first screenplay, as this is about average. You can write a sweeping epic once you’ve become famous or at least gained more experience.
Rewrites – Once you’ve got the first version of your screenplay completed, go back and begin the rewriting process. You’ll want to make sure the overall story and structure make sense, and this is your chance to tighten up the dialogue.
Now the Really Hard Part – Once your script is finally completed, it’s time to go out and try to sell it. This is the hardest part of the whole process, as you’ll be competing against many screenwriters with more experience. But don’t give up. Nobody ever said selling your screenplay was going to be easy, and that will make it all the more worthwhile when you finally obtain a level of recognition. For more on this step, try typing “selling your movie script” into Google.
So there you have it: How to Write a Movie Script for Dummies. While there are dozens of tricks and tips not included in this article, I hope I’ve driven home the basic concepts that you need to be aware of. And just in case you happen to sell your scripts and become a wealthy screenwriter, don’t forget us little people who helped start you on the road to success.