HOW TO START:
If you have a great idea for a film... but have never written a screenplay before and don't know where to start? This section is especially for you!
HOW TO GET STARTED.
Apart from the well written script of a good idea, the most important advice I can offer is: Good presentation counts for a lot. The more professional it looks, the more likely you and your screenplay will be taken seriously. Don't use any gimmicks to get yourself noticed, if your work is good you will have no use for them. You screenplay should be able to sell itself.
You have to put yourself in the position of the script reader. Which would you prefer to read? A hand written loose document or a neatly bound word processed document in a familiar layout. Film companies read and receive thousands of scripts, so the easier you make it for them to read the more likely it will get read sooner and most importantly all the way through!
Your reader must not be able to put it down!
Give the reader too many obstacles and they may give up!
Binding Your Script:
Make sure you bind your script. NEVER, EVER send it out loose sheeted unless specifically requested that you do so. If you cannot afford a proper spiral binding, the standard way is to hand hole-punch and use special metal clips called ACCO FASTENERS No. 70850. They're only £2.50 for a pack of 50), and found in most reputable office stationary shops: www.staples.co.uk for the U.K.
In America the requirement is slightly different for binding and they use three hole punched paper with two brass brads as the standard method of binding. Don't forget, if you are British and sending a script to the states the paper sizes are different. I have not found a good, cheap source for US size paper over here, but if you have no contacts in America who can print and bind for you, there are several specialist companies which can do this for you. Don't forget to set your script size to the US paper format in your screenwriting software or word processor, before you send the document and make sure the script is edited and polished and the best that it can be before you send it ANYWHERE.
Hollywood Script Express is a premium Screenplay Printing & Shipping service for Overseas and Out-of-State Screenwriters. HSE will print your screenplay in their Los Angeles studio and have it in a local U.S. Post office the same or next business day for $20 plus shipping. www.hollywoodscriptexpress.com
The best advice is keep it simple and formatted to industry specifications. A friend advised me this is imperative, especially if your reader is from the 'old school' of Hollywood. They can throw it out just because the cover looks too fancy. Stupid to judge a book by it's cover, I know, but it's a harsh reality! If you want to be taken as a professional, keep it professional.
For more details about the cover see my: Front cover example as to what information should be on the cover and its layout.
It is vitally important to get the layout of a screenplay correct. The film industry uses it's own standard format, which makes it much easier for professionals to read and work with. There are also different formats and layouts for different types of scripts. A script format for film is called a screenplay and it is different to a script for television (called a teleplay) and is also different for a stage (play) and radio (radio play) production. The word script comes from it's original use, manuscript, which is still in use today in the world of publishing.
Manuscript (as in "writing") n. : the form of a literary work submitted for publication
As this is a site dedicated to screenwriting, we will concentrate here on the film screenplay format.
The easiest way is to use specialist screenwriting software from companies such as www.screenwriterstore.co.uk and I have a selection in my own Amazon Store. You can buy professional script writing programmes like Final Draft from about £150-200. This can be costly for the first time screenwriter.
Don't fret if you can't afford these state-of-the-art programmes - it may take longer and is more of a hassle, but you can set up the document format on most word processing programmes, I myself have done so on Word, Works and Claris. I wrote my first screenplay this way, so there really is no excuse that if you don't buy the expensive software, you can't write. Screenwriting software makes the process a lot, lot easier and straight forward and has lots of useful features that the screenwriting professional needs, but for a first screenplay you can live without it until you can save up.
There are also several free downloads online for basic script templates. I have not used these, so can't say what they are like or which is the best to use. For an example and more details see here: Layout example.
IMPORTANT TIPS: THE LAYOUT COMMANDMENTS!
Thou shalt format thy screenplay to the industry standard.
Thou shalt use a readable typeface or your script will be put down!
The industry standard is "Courier New" or 'Courier' size 12 (It looks like typewriter type)
Thou shalt number all the pages (except the cover).
If you're using a word processor, 'insert' a page counter in the top right hand corner of the header in Courier New size 12. I like to insert a full-stop after the number.
Thou shalt NOT put scene numbers in at this time.
These are only put in when your script has been sold and goes into pre-production (shooting script). This is because your screenplay will normally be developed and could involve extensive re-writing and re-jigging of the script and it will be a nightmare to sort out the scenes.
Thou shalt always CAPITALISE (and underline - optional) every Scene Heading (US Slug line). Scene Headings (Slug lines) should stand out and always be IN CAPITALS. The production company in the UK I worked for liked them UNDERLINED, as well but the standard is without, just capitalised. The Scene Heading will be brief and contain whether it's INT. (interior) EXT. (exterior), the location and whether it's day or night.
EXT. JEN'S HOUSE - DAY
Thou shalt double space at the end of a scene. This makes each scene separation stand out more clearly, although this seems to have gone out of fashion in recent years.
Thou shalt keep scene descriptions clean and precise with no camera directions.
Yes really! Don't clog up the script with directorial or technical camera moves such as: "camera pans left", "camera zooms here", et cetera, unless it is absolutely necessary to the story, such as a "pull back to reveal..." and even then these should be used very sparingly. I've found film students are often the worst offenders at this often placing direction for every single shot. It's distracting, disrupts the flow and tends to look amateurish. Just tell the story. You may get away with ANGLE, but again, do not over use.
Make any CHARACTERS appear in capitals wherever mentioned, other than in dialogue. Although some believe that only when the character is introduced it should be capitalised, which seems to be the current trend.
Thou shalt bind your screenplay properly, making sure all other documentation that is not actual script separate.
i.e. Keep synopsis, pictures, your CV and any presentation documents bound separately - NOT IN THE SCREENPLAY!
Thou shalt have a screenplay more than 90 pages, but no more than 125. I have been told there is a current trend in Hollywood, for shorter rather than longer screenplays. 100-110 pages? Perfect!
Thou shalt keep the cover simple, just the title name, copyright and all your contact details.
Also see the Hollywood Readers Checklist, which details exactly what the Readers are looking for.
This page is purely advice from my own experience to give you a free helping hand, success is not a guarantee, this knowledge is not set in stone, it's my personal opinion from my own experience and does not constitute legal advice and should not be treated as such.
Use your own common sense and seek legal advice if you are unsure about anything. Yes, you have to take responsibility for your own actions! The only price of admission into this site is you accept this statement and agree to these terms.
For legal advice and contracts there are quite a few good sites around such as The Writers Guild of America, Script Sales and The ScripWriter Magazine site. There is also a very good American book called "The Business of Screenwriting - How to Protect Yourself as a Screenwriter " By Ron Suppa, which goes into a lot of details about selling screenplays. It focuses on the Hollywood market.
WORKING IN A TEAM:
If you are working with another person(s), I suggest you draw up some form of written agreement to protect yourself and the other person(s). This is in case things don't work out and you want to go separate ways, or if your work takes off big-time, your partner(s) can't dump you to get more money for themselves, etc. For more information of my own experiences, click here: contracts. Again I advise you to get any contract, deal memo, or written agreement checked over by your Guild, Union, Agent or Lawyer before you sign.
LEGAL DISCLAIMER: The information here is given for guidance only. It is not intended to be taken as specific advice for individual circumstances. It is not to be regarded as constituting legal advice and should not be relied upon as such.
The most important thing you must do as a writer is to protect yourself and your work. The issues regarding copyright are very complex and change from country to country. It is best get advice from the professional bodies that are directly involved, such as the guilds and official copyright bodies. I have a collection of useful advice and links to many of the official organisations and sites that deal with copyright and registration here.
It is important that you register your work with a professional body as soon as you can. I register as soon as I have a full synopsis and character breakdown, then register again when I have a first draft script. This MUST be done BEFORE you even talk to anyone about your ideas, let alone when you send out a completed script. When you have registered your work, always keep a list of who you have pitched to and who has received any written material, including date, time and details. Also try to only send your work to more reputable companies - not just some guy you met in a pub who's friend is a film-maker. There are several ways to protect yourself and I list the most popular ways on my copyright page.
SENDING IT OUT:
Before you dash to the post box to send your screenplay to anyone who may read it, you will need first to make sure it really is ready and then plan your marketing approach and pitch.
Most screenplays I have read in my life have not been edited or polished and have been underdeveloped. I read an interesting pitch, but the screenplay doesn't live up to it. You have to take your time to make your screenplay the best it can possibly be. It has to be script perfection. Most writers think they have got their script to that stage, but in reality it's not as good as it should be. Competition is fierce and the standard in the industry is very high. Have confidence in your work, but only when you know you have done your best to meet a high industry standard.
- Read the Hollywood checklist and check you hit the marks
- Edit and rewrite until it is perfect
- Check all spelling and grammar
- Leave it for a month, then go through your entire script again
- Get feedback from people you are closest to and trust their opinion
- Get feedback from someone you respect and is either a movie buff or has some writing or film knowledge or experience.
- When you are happy with what you've learned - get it read by a professional reader (unless you know a professional as a friend who will read it for free - remember a random stranger will not read your script and you shouldn't really ask unless you are close friends - I get THOUSANDS of people writing to me because they want me to read their script - most are quite rude and seem to expect I've got nothing better to do. I can not possibly spend all my time reading all those scripts for free, so I only read for close friends ONLY. Many professionals are the same - you either have to learn to build up a genuine network or hire a professional to read. Do not even think of sending your script to a production company or agent without feedback. If you are on a strict budget and don't have any industry contacts, the next best thing is to join Trigger street and Zoetrope.
- When you are happy with what you've learned and made any necessary changes (remember opinion is just that - you have to use your common sense and instincts), then and only then send it to an agent or production company.
- If you haven't already worked out your synopsis and got several shorter and shorter synopsis and Tag line and pitch do it now.
PITCHING & MARKETING:
This section is new and under construction, please return another day!
Before you can pitch your script to someone, you need to know what you have got. If you know what you have and send your scripts and pitch to the most suitable companies, you are more likely to be successful. The best newsletter I have found is movies.groups.yahoo.com/group/ScriptForSale.
Home page: www.ScriptForSale.com
A lot of film companies to not take cold submissions (someone just sending their script in) it is best to target companies that accept outside submissions. Phone and ask beforehand. The Writers and Artists Yearbook contains a full list of UK Production Companies and details any specialisation and submissions policy. It is updated every year, so provides the latest information covering all aspects of professional writing. You can buy the book online for £14 plus postage at: www.acblack.com
It may be a good idea to send your script to Literary or talent AGENT that specialise in representing screenwriters, as it is a good way to get your script seen by the right people. The only thing is they only usually take people by referral. Make sure that they specialise in film writers. You can find a list of UK Agencies on my LIST OF UK AGENTS. For Agencies in the USA you can find a list on the Writers Guild of Ameica site: www.wga.org. The Writers and Artists Yearbook also contains a full list of UK Literary Agents: www.acblack.com
SENDING OUT YOUR SCRIPT:
If you are a first time screenwriter it can be costly to generate, copy and send out a full length script to lots of people, so you could send out a 1 page synopsis or a twenty-to-thirty page treatment. If someone loves your synopsis or treatment you can then send them your screenplay.
A treatment describes the scene in brief and includes selected dialogue. Basically it's like telling a story, a condensed film script giving a good flavour of the full screenplay. its usually 4 - 20 pages long. You could also send a one/two page synopsis.
If you have written your idea as a novel; go to a book publisher, not a filmmaker! If you have had trouble getting published as an author or novelist, you can self publish on lulu.com and promote yourself on the internet. The days of needing a publisher are long gone and you get to keep more profit for your work. Pubishers are often quite greedy and offer very little royalties these days and they rarely bother promoting a book further than their standard book list, unless it's by a previously bestelling author. So you are not missing out, but gaining, especially if you get your own promoter on board. Destiny is in your own hands! The way it should be.
THE QUERY LETTER:
Firstly, read this article: www.wordplayer.com/columns/wp38.Breaking.the.Ice.html
From my own experience: Keep it simple, direct and professional. No gimmicks. Absolutely NO GIMMICKS! Also do not have anything else in your bound screenplay that is not screenplay. Any synopsis, presentation brochure, artwork, character breakdowns or any other material should be presented separately, even better - not at all! All you need is a simple, direct one page letter, which has a brief introductio of who you are and any noteable achievements and a paragraph pitch on your project and a tag line. Offer to send a more detailed synopsis or full script.
Also it is considered very unprofessional to send in casting suggestions or a cast list. You could possibly get away with mentioning a lead suggestion in your introductory letter but ONLY IF it is appropriate to the company or Director you are writing to if you know for a fact that they have worked together previously or have mentioned they would like to, but generally the practice is highly frowned upon. If you want to look like a professional, don't do it. If you want to look like a complete idiot and create a bad impression, go ahead.
Only write when you are ready. Have at least two or three scripts completed, edited, polished and synopsis, tag-line, etc. ready to go NOW. Not tomorrow, next week next month - NOW! BUT only write one query letter per script. The important thing is to have the others ready as if one takes off and sells, the producer or Agent isn't going to want to sit around a year waiting for your next one, they want it right now. If you have a couple more ready and waiting and to the same standard as your submission - they will LOVE you.
Research the person and company you are writing to. Are they right for your script? Never send out blind circulars.
Keep the letter to one page only!
A single seperate synopsis page with your contact details on is acceptable, but a brief one paragraph synopsis in the letter is usually prefferrred.
Do not enclose any other material under any circumstances.
Keep it direct and professional (cut the wordy life story)
Do not pay asomeone to write the query for you - if you can't manage to write your own query, you will not get very far in this industry.
Don't tell them "it will make you rich", as they decide that.
Don't say it's "the best script you'll ever read" as it may end up in the bin sooner rather than later.
Check you approach, spelling and grammar - get an opinion and proof read from a friend or colleague.
Have your pitch ready (on the ultra slim chance they call you)
Have you read this article? No? Read it NOW, then!!!!!!!!!!
Now you are ready to go :)
HOW TO GET A REPLY:
If you want to get your script back always send a stamped, self-addressed envelope with it, for it almost guarantees a reply. If you are sending it to another country, replace a stamp with an International Reply Coupon to cover the postage. This is available from most Post Offices.
AND FINALLY . . .
It is a very tough Industry with a lot of competition out there so be prepared for disappointment. Just keep at it. If you are determined enough and follow these basic guidelines, you may probably get there... eventually.