Monday, August 20, 2012

So you want to be a screenwriter

Screenwriting is the art and craft of writing scripts for film and television.  Writing for film is potentially one of the most high-profile and best paying careers available to a writer.  The capricious nature of the film industry makes it possible for a complete unknown to launch a career simply by writing a commercially-appealing screenplay and getting it into the hands of the right people.   - Unknown Internet source

Have you ever thought of writing a screenplay?  Do you want to see something you’ve written up on the big screen?  Do you have an idea for a television series or a made-for-TV movie?  Have you written a book you want to see made into a movie? 

Well, if you are, there is good news for you whether you live in Shoofly, North Carolina, Whynot, Mississippi or Athol, Idaho.  The Internet has changed the way Hollywood does business.  Today you don’t have to move to Los Angeles and slip copies of your project under doors hoping the right producer will read it.  If you learn industry standards, do the work and properly market your project, you have a chance to see your work become a reality without a change of address.

Don’t get me wrong, becoming a screenwriter isn’t easy.  It will take commitment, a lot of hard work and a little bit of moxie to see your project through.  But you can get there from your little corner of the world … no matter where it is. 

More good news for us Hollywood outsiders – you don’t have to do this alone.  The Internet offers hundreds of related sites and online courses.  And once you start looking, you'll discover amazing screenwriting software and dozens of helpful books written by professionals in the field that will help you in your quest to become a screenwriter. 

You might also consider joining a local or Internet writing group for additional support as you learn the craft of screenwriting.

Do you have what it takes? 
You may have heard that breaking into the movie business is tough.  It is. 
However, if you write a script that features a character who has a clean and specific goal, and there is strong opposition to that goal, leading to a crises and an emotionally satisfying ending, your script will automatically find itself in the upper 5 percent.  Few would-be writers have mastered even the basics of screenwriting.  
  If your script also presents a well-crafted story with a strong story concept and an original character with whom people can sympathize, there are agents and producers awaiting the advent of the next great screenwriter. 
Daniel Trottier, The Screenwriter’s Bible, A Complete Guide to Writing, Formatting and Selling Your Script
If you are interested in screenwriting, you probably already have an idea for a movie.  You have an idea kicking around in your head that you see as the next Hollywood blockbuster.  But is it?

There are dozens of reasons a project gets accepted or rejected – most of them financial – and all of them out of your control.  There is little you can do to alleviate these concerns unless you learn about the current market and what type of project is in demand. 

Many novice screenwriters are interested in writing ana utobiography or a biography of someone close to them.  Unless it is a humdinger with universal appeal, chances are slim your life story or the story of your grandmother will make it onto the screen.  Does this mean you should drop it?  Absolutely not. 

Write that first screenplay.  Learn the basics and write the storyline that is keeping you awake at night.  Learn how to format a screenplay, write a logline and pitch your idea. 

Who knows?  You might beat the odds and your screenplay gets produced.  But at the very least, you will have become a screenwriter; and now that you have written that story you’ve always wanted to write … now that it is out of your head … your mind is free to come up with other ideas for that next blockbuster. 

What is a screenplay?

The following is taken from Syd Field’s book, Screenplay, The Foundations of Screenwriting: A Step-by-Step Guide from Concept to Finished Script, long considered a must-have reference for screenwriters. 

Well, for one thing, a screenplay is not a novel, and it’s most certainly not a play.  If you look at a novel and try to define its fundamental nature, you’ll see that the dramatic action, the story line, usually takes place inside the head of the main character.  We see the story line unfold through the eyes of the character, through his/her emotions, words, actions, memories, dreams, hopes, ambitions, opinions and more.  The character and reader go through the action together, sharing in the drama and emotion of the story.  We know how they act, feel, react, and figure things out. 
A play is different.  The action, or story line, occurs onstage, under the proscenium arch, and the audience becomes the fourth wall, eavesdropping on the lives of the characters, what they think and feel and say.  They talk about their hopes and dreams, past and future plans, discuss their needs and desires, fears and conflicts.  In this case, the action of the play occurs within the language of dramatic action; it is spoken in words that describe feelings, actions, and emotions. 
A screen play is different.  Movies are different.  Film is a visual medium that dramatizes a basic story line; it deals in pictures, images, bits and pieces of film:  We see a clock ticking, a window opening, a person in the distance leaning over a balcony, smoking; in the background we hear a phone ringing, a baby crying, a dog barking as we see two people laughing as their car pulls away from the curb.  “Just making pictures.”  The nature of the screenplay deals in pictures, and if we wanted to define it, we could say that a screenplay is a story told with pictures, in dialogue and description , and placed within the context of dramatic structure. 
This blog is the first in a series I am writing to help writers interested in learning how to write a screenplay.  Through these articles I will share the fundamentals of screenwriting using information gathered from the works and words of professionals in the field. You can find both Syd Field's and David Trottier's books at  

1 comment:

Jennifer Rova said...

This is a well written post with lots of information on how to write a screen play. You use many positive points to encourage people who were intimidated by the Hollywood inner circle. This encourages us that our screen play could receive notice. You explain how to do many parts of the process which provides learning for all.