Monday, November 25, 2013

Screenwriting Tips for Newbies

So, I have been writing screenplays for 10 years now. Over that period of time I’ve written about 12 finished ones, about 20 unfinished and about 7 pilots for television series and numerous short-films. The majority of those scripts have not been sold and that is the reality of business nowadays.

If you think that you can write a screenplay and get easy money out of it, you’re wrong, so wrong. Don’t even try to write a screenplay just because you want to get some money right now. That is not gonna happen, well 99% that it’s not gonna happen unless you are the luckiest son of a bitch on a planet.

I by no means consider myself a bonified professional but I have learnt a few things over the years and I would like to share. I’ve been working with a lot of newbies lately and read a lot of their scripts and they all have about the same list of mistakes.

So, if you think that writing is your calling and you’re sure 100% you want to do that then here is the process:

1. You need to come up with an idea.

There are lots of things that can be inspirational. I, for one, am a lover of science fiction and watching other sci-fi movies inspires me to write something of my own. Do not think about copy-catting, that is not what I mean. I mean try to get inspired by the idea and re-work it in your own style. One way or another you will end up with a completely different thing.

Sometimes dreams can provide some hint of what you want to write about or sometimes it’s something you might see on the street. So keep your eyes open and watch, watch the world around you and notice interesting things.

2. Once you have found the right idea you would be feeling a fire inside of you. You would become extremely excited about it and determined so much that your hands will start sweating. Good, but there is a ‘but’.

What you should do right now is sit down and write down a log-line (a short description of your idea in a couple of sentences) or a synopsis (a longer description, more detailed, no more than one page though) or get to writing the first couple of pages of the script itself.

You should do that just to get the steam out, get it all on paper and relax a little. That is very important. After you have done that go chill with your friends and have some time away from computer\paper. Give it a couple of days and only after that return to what you have written and read it.

What do you feel right now about your idea? Is it still that good and captivating and exciting? If it is then great! But most of the time you will find yourself thinking that it sounds somewhat weaker than it did before. You might not even like it all that much now. And that is a pretty good indicator to go looking for something else because that is exactly how everybody else is going to be seeing your idea. The initial fire is just a fire inside your head and it is most likely to flame out in a couple of days. If that happens then you are not gonna be able to pull it through. So don’t try to force it and go look for something else. You will find a much better idea I promise.

3. Once the right idea have been found and you’re confident about it, think it through. Right now is the best time to use your imagination and energy to see your idea come to life. Try to visualize scenes on the cinema screen. Just dream about what it would be like. Put it down on paper as brief notes.

Remember that you shouldn’t mix too many things together in one movie. Don’t try to integrate Matrix into Star Wars and add some vampires to it. It sounds crazy but oddly that is exactly what the newbies do. They mix different topics together and think that it is very cool. It’s not.

If you want to write about the vampires do so but don’t try to add time travel to it. Those are completely different things. I’m not saying that it can’t be done period. No, the professional screenwriters can do that because they are professionals and they feel the balance that is needed to be kept between the elements of the story. Newbies don’t. So just pick one thing.

You still need to learn first.

4. Now you are good to go and get started with the script.

First thing to do is to write the log-line and synopsis if you haven’t’ done it before and if you have then edit it. It is important and most newbies skip that step because of laziness and because they don’t understand how to do that but you must do that. At least write down the log-line.

It is important to begin giving your idea the structure.

5. The 3-act structure.

Don’t even try to walk away from it. You MUST use the 3-act structure or else you will fail, you will bite the dust.

It is not that hard really.

Everything starts with the BEGINNING… That is about 20 first pages of your script where you set the story. You let the reader\viewer get to know the main characters and locations and what kind of life they have.

DON’T a lot of action here. If you want to add some action opening scene then do it later. First set the story. Slowly and carefully let us know about your characters, let us relate to them.
Something interesting starts happening here, some clues of the things to come but only the hint not the things themselves.

PIVITOL POINT 1… That is an event that changes your hero’s life forever and from this point he\she cannot go back. This part is somewhat about 30-40 pages.

Say you hero gets bitten by a vampire and undergoes transformation himself. He cannot undo it and from now on he has to figure out how to deal with it.

He tries to solve his problem and does everything he thinks is appropriate but fails UNTIL…

PIVITOL POINT 2… That is the point where your hero finds out the right way to deal with his problem and does so. That is also about 30-40 pages long.

Say your vampire hero finds out who the head vampire is and how to kill him. And he proceeds to doing exactly that.

THE END… That is after your hero has dealt with the situation and resolved his\her problem. That part is about 5-10 pages long.

The head vampire is killed and the hero is again human. He and his girlfriend reunite and are happy again. The end J

That structure is gonna let you build your story logically and so that other people will understand it and not just you. We are writing for other people, aren’t we?

So structure your scene\notes along the lines of this example and you can also write a synopsis at this point for reference during the writing process.

6. Begin writing the script.

You can write in MS Word or use any other professional software. I prefer Final Draft.

Before you do and as you’re doing so, please read as much screenplays as possible, professional screenplays of the movies that are already made. That will give you the idea of how scripts are written and the more you will read the more your brain will understand how it is done the right way. You can find some of the scripts here

After you’re done with the script, be prepared to put twice as much work into trying to get it sold and finding a producer or production company for it. And also be prepared to receive a lot of criticism and a lot of rejections. I will cover the topic of rejections later on and the topic of what to expect from your first movie deal if you’re gonna be lucky to get one.

Here is what all the efforts are for, to see your idea out there, coming to life, coming to film.  

My screenplay at the table readings
Actors reading the script
Getting ready for shooting

My name in the credits

Check out the trailer for Dark Harvest Movie at

If you have any questions ask me in the comments section.

I hope I helped.


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