You’ve read the books. Sitting on the shelf in your home office is “How to Write a Screenplay in 21 Days” and “Screenwriting for Idiots.” You’ve taken screenwriting classes, or possibly you’ve gone it on your own. Being a screenwriter is different than being a filmmaker. While you can be both, obviously, if you’re strictly a screenwriter, you’ve always had to be prepared for the eventuality of completing a script. And trickier than that is letting it go and getting it made by somebody else.
If you’ve finished your script, you should know the difference between a spec script and a shooting script. The spec script is just that—written on speculation that you are trying to sell it. The shooting script comes later, after the producers have bought the rights and it goes into pre-production.
Many writers have the habit of including music cues, camera directions, and the thoughts and feelings of their characters. Most scripts online or in books are shooting scripts, so these are the examples they see and try to mimic. They have envisioned every aspect of their script as a finished movie, and this is simply not how the business works. Script readers and producers need a clean, concise script (no more than 120 pages), because in the end it might not resemble the work that you’ve sold them. Let your story sell the script.
Don’t include any superfluous information, no matter how helpful you think it is. This includes proposed budgets, artwork, storyboards, suggested casting notes or character background information and locations (unless asked to do so).
It cannot be stated enough that script readers are looking for any excuse to toss yours on the slush pile. They receive hundreds of scripts per year, and only a handful will make it into production.
The cover of your script should be a solid cover index stock, between 65-110-pound; the pages should have print on one side only, and three-hole punched with a back cover. The cover, pages and back cover should be 8 ½” by 11”. Use round head brad fasteners to bind the script together. It’s common practice to place the fasteners in the outer two holes and leave the middle hole empty. The front cover should be blank; if your script makes it to an agent or producer, it will most likely be stacked horizontally, where someone will fill in your title on the binding.
Correct formatting is a must. With modern formatting software (such as Movie Magic Screenwriter), this is not as big as a problem as it used to be, but having an understanding of how a script is formatted will only help you in the long run. You will have to be able to speak the language of script readers, consultants, and producers. The knowledge of correct formatting will also make you a better writer. You will be able to structure your story better and know where certain parts of the story will fit into your script.
While there is no master list for correct formatting, scripts end up looking pretty much the same because it’s become industry standard. The headers, margins, font (12-point New Courier) are what script readers, agents, and producers are used to. They need to make quick decisions, and at least appearing like a professional writer will get you that much farther. “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier is an excellent reference for formatting questions.
Many writers will attend groups, seminars, or conferences as they’re working on their script. Feedback is important; you should never work in a vacuum or be afraid to be edited. This helps your script evolve. Never submit a first, or even a second draft. Your script should be read and re-read, and re-written.
Finding a writers’ group is not hard. Social networking sites such as Facebook have moved to the forefront of where to find groups, but traditional methods still work as well. Writing publications, state and local film offices, film school bulletin boards, or a simple Internet search will point you in the right direction.
Always consider the source of the advice you’re soliciting, however. There’s a marked difference between casual friends who may be not be able give the kind of criticism your script needs as opposed to other writers and/or filmmakers who live and breathe it.
That’s why some writers will pay a script consultant for a coverage. A coverage generally entails a two page synopsis, an analysis of the screenplay, and a recommendation. Hiring a script consultant (or story analyst, as they’re sometimes called) usually costs around $100.
Don’t forget to register your script with the WGA (www.wga.org) or with the U.S. Copyright Office (www.copyright.gov). This offers your script protection for when you’ve submitted your script or have sold it.
Following these steps does not guarantee that you will sell your script; but if you’ve put the time and effort into telling a great story, you should give yourself every advantage to get it read and in the hands of an agent or producer.
Segments of this article can be found in “The Screenwriter’s Bible” by David Trottier
Image by Matt Richards