How to write a film script


The Da Vinci CodeThere is no more satisfying (or more lucrative) form of writing than screenwriting; it’s also one of the most technical areas, one of the hardest to get right. You have to tell a powerful story, but you have to do so using the grammar of the screen. You have to write with pictures, not words.

Nearly all screenwriters will therefore need to start with a foundation course in screenwriting. And our own 6 week home-study screenwriting course is an excellent place to start. We recommend that before anything else.

In the meantime, however, there are some important (and neglected) rules worth following.


The basics of screenwriting

1) Read lots
It’s not enough to watch movies, you have to read them. Get hold of scripts and read them page by page. Then watch the movie. Then read the script again. This is the only way you will get the rhythm and feel of a script into your bloodstream. You can download hundreds of scripts free online here.

2) Read widely
Never restrict yourself to newer scripts or scripts only in the genre you like. By all means, read what inspires. But you need to read broadly. Read the scripts with accolades, too. Your knowledge and versatility will expand with each script you read.

3) Get tooled up
Film scripts need to be written in the right format. So you need to learn it. There are software packages that help with formatting and provide useful story tools. These days we recommend going for the excellent, free and open-source Celtx. The free package has everything that you need. There is also a cheap premium package that has everything you might want. Truth is, no one now needs MovieMagic or FinalDraft. You can get more info on the importance of formatting here.


The next stages of screenwriting

You also need to:

1) Understand structure
This is the heart of scriptwriting. Read books from writers like Robert McKee, or John Truby. Then absorb story structure into your film writing. See the full guide here.

2) Understand the scene
Nearly all new screenwriters use far too many words. Movies are about pictures, not about words. Let your looks, scenes and silences do most of the talking. See the full guide here.

3) Understand dialogue
Dialogue is best when it’s fractured and oblique. If you keep your dialogue too formal or fluent, your words are likely to sound stilted and awkward on screen. And see above. Short is good. See the full guide here.

4) Understand character
Novelists can spend 100,000 words exploring a character. You have about a quarter of that amount with which to write a movie. But novelists don’t have actors. You do. You need to provide a framework which your actors will fill out, so stick to your job. Use action lines as a cue in your screenwriting. See the full guide here.

5) Thinking with pictures
Although camera angles and the like are the director’s province, not yours, you still need to see the movie, not write it, and your script can do a huge amount to nudge a professional reader into sharing your vision. If you do that well, you may not just have a good script. You could have a great one. See the full guide here.


Selling your film script

Writing a good script is hard. Selling it is possibly harder.

Unknown novelists with no prior training are picked up every day by literary agents, and many of those go on to be successfully published. The film industry does tend to draw new screenwriters in from conventional routes: film school, TV soaps, production company insiders, actors, and the professional theatre.

But that doesn’t mean that securing an agent is impossible. Just that it is hard. The Writers’ Workshop can open doors in the screen industry, so if your script is good enough, we’ll make sure it’s read by a film agent anxious to find new talent. See the full guide here.


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