By Dan Bronzite
So, you've spent months working on a script. It has an excellent story, strong character arcs and a loveable protagonist, however, if you fail to present your script to industry experts in the proper screenplay format, then your work may be lost among the thousands of script submissions that production companies and agents receive every year.
Why is correctly formatting your screenplay important? Because creative writing in itself is not enough and a professionally formatted script is not only an easier read but it demonstrates that you are a passionate writer who takes pride in their work and this is where script writing software can help.
You can learn screenwriting and how to format a script by studying at one of the top film schools and getting an MFA in Screenwriting but let's assume that you know how to write a script, and you are about to send it to an agent, producer or studio executive who may very well make a decision that could change your life.
Remember, your average overworked and underpaid script reader slaving away in some Hollywood hotshot’s Century City office is just looking for an excuse - any excuse - to tear your submission apart. And nothing will make that screenplay contest judge's temper enflame more than a poorly formatted or shoddily presented script. So, to save you the embarrassment of such a shredding, use screenwriting software to learn and help you adhere to the recommended Hollywood standards for formatting a feature length motion picture screenplay.
If you ever want somebody in the film industry to read your story and seriously consider transforming it into a movie then there are a few rules you need to adhere to. Principally format. Producers, agents, readers, actors and development executives - your first audience - need to be able to sit down with your work and imagine your words transformed into pictures and dialogue on the big screen.
To do this, you have to help them. You have to take away as many obstacles as possible and make their reading experience enjoyable, engaging and most of all.. easy. Many people say that the first ten pages of a screenplay are the most important because if you haven't grabbed the reader by then, they may well put your script down and move on to the next in their pile.
That's where the screenplay formatting guidelines come in. Through the years an industry standard has developed for the presentation of scripts. From size of margins, to page numbering, to placement of text on the page. This all has to be taken into consideration when writing your screenplay so that the reader doesn't have to struggle through your words in order to understand their meaning. The whole concept of screenplay formatting is essentially an aesthetic one. To make each page of your script look clear and legible.
The first thing to remember is this: If you submit a screenplay that is not properly formatted, this will alert the reader to the fact that you are a novice writer before they've even read a single word.
Chances are that these screenplays are being sent in by people who know how to write a script or story, but the fact that it isn't presented in the right way means that it will be in the trash before lunch.
So how do you overcome this first hurdle?
Simple. Ditch your regular word processor and take advantage of a tailored script writing software solution such as Script Studio which was developed by a produced screenwriter from the "Writer's Perspective"... not by some random coder.
This is just one of the reasons why a lot of hopeful writers like you have turned to screenplay writing software to help them get through the door of the studios and learn how to write a script more professionally. Screenplay writing software does what it says on the can - it takes the hard work out of formatting a screenplay with a regular word processor and allows the writer to create a document in the specific format recognized by the industry. Screenwriting software has short cut keys and auto-complete features that make writing a film script a breeze. Scene headings, action, character names and parentheticals are automatically formatted for you, which means there's no need to repeatedly tab or create macros.
All of these specific screenplay writing software features are aimed at people who may have creative writing experience and some idea of how to write a script, but what about those who are just starting out in the screenwriting business and need to learn more about the script writing process?
There are many screenwriting styles and movie genres, so make it easier for yourself right from the get-go by reading as many produced screenplays as you can, which will help you understand the format and language of how screenplays are constructed as well as how different writers tell stories in different ways. The good news is that movie screenplays and "shooting scripts" (actual copies used on production) are now freely available for download on the web as pdf files, and when used in conjunction with screenwriting software, are an invaluable resource for all writers, novice and professional.
Some of the important basics to remember are that screenplays are always written in the present tense and use minimal description to set scenes and create atmosphere. Always make your scripts clear and succinct. Never write more detail in scene description or dialogue than you need to get your point across to the reader. Ensure there is plenty of conflict and don't write "on the nose" obvious dialogue but instead use subtext. Finally, whether you are writing the protagonist (hero) or an incidental character, make sure each character you create is three-dimensional and has a world outside of your story. If you are just starting out and already understand the terminology of scripts, don’t get lazy! You must follow the formatting rules and using script writing software is the best way to achieve this.
You may have a fantastic idea for a script which could make a blockbuster movie, but unless you properly plan your story your script will not sell. Script writing software typically only formats your screenplay but Script Studio® screenwriting software also allows you to outline your script and break the story down into sequences that can be organized using drag and drop virtual index cards instead of the old cork board! Those of you who are new to creative writing, especially for the screen, may not realize that "outlining" is crucial when learning how to write a script and that a well structured story could be more important than a killer concept.
You probably already have your own way of working or will develop your own writing methodology as you progress as a writer. That means that you may prefer to make physical notes on a note pad then type them into your screenwriting software and refine those notes during the inputting process. While other writers may prefer to use software to type up their notes as the ideas emerge and then print out these notes for revision. The trick is to find the method that suits you best and customize your software to fit into that and not the other way around.
Let's take Script Studio as an example. Sure, it's designed for writers to use the step-outlining system since outlining is such an important part of story planning and script writing but you are not "forced down that road". If you don't want to create your story and script in steps then you don't have to. You can simply write everything in a single step and use the Story Tasks tool for planning. The point is, steer away from any software that has a rigid structure and paradigm that you MUST follow because ultimately it will restrict the creative process and lead to a poor story and screenplay.
A good screenwriter will approach the rewriting phase of their project with the same mindset as their first draft. That is, they will plan the draft before diving in. The advantage of tackling a rewrite is that you already have your outline and script in place along with a bunch of development notes either from friends or collaborators. But don't get lazy and just take on problem scenes without viewing them within the context and theme of the full script. Look at the entire narrative and arcs of your principle characters and how the changes you make will affect these elements.
Make sure you plan each thread of your rewrite in tandem with subplots and character journeys. Move scenes around using screenwriting software to help you. Script Studio has a handy index card feature that allows you to view outline, script and notes on virtual cards which can be present step or scene information or content from referenced movie breakdowns. Use all the tools you have at your disposal to structure the next draft into a cohesive narrative where each scene naturally flows to the next and each story or character turning point directly influences the proceeding story development. Rewriting is a crucial stage in your script's life so don't rush and don't cut corners!
Studio executives - the ones who make the decision about what gets a "green light" - are used to seeing screenplays following an accepted format and layout and if yours does not, or it is formatted well but structured poorly then you are out of the ball game before it has even started. So, you can see how important it is to invest some of your money in screenplay writing software, because that is exactly what it is, an investment - without screenwriting software you could be missing out on that big break.
Good luck with your writing!
Dan started as a reader for Miramax Films and has since written numerous specs and commissioned feature scripts including screenplay adaptations of Andrea Badenoch's Driven and Irvine Welsh's Filth. Dan has been a contributor to Script Magazine and has also directed three award-winning short films.
His most notable feature to date is Long Time Dead, a supernatural horror for Working Title Films. Dan sold another horror spec Do or Die to Michael Kuhn’s Qwerty Films which made the “Brit List” and is currently in development. He is now working with Kidulthood director Menhaj Huda on Dan's LA crime thriller Smoke Out and developing his own directorial feature debut.
Official Website: Dan Bronzite