How do you write a movie script?

If writing a film has been your dream, then writing your own film script will be a life-changing experience which requires dedication and complete focus. If the goal is to ultimately sell it, then the journey after finishing the first draft has only just started. 


However, one major reason why people do not succeed in selling their manuscripts is that writers do not invest enough time to learn how to draft a proper script and, therefore, do not know the art and craft of how to write a screenplay.   

Kalman Szegvary, Head of the Film & Television Production and Post-Production Program at Trebas Institute, believes that: “Even though taking a screenwriting course may not be the only way to jumpstart your writing career, it can most certainly be a valuable stepping-stone towards your writing goals and can provide you with the skills, knowledge and confidence in your writing ability, to get that first draft written, which is something that you could usually not achieve without some sort of screenwriting instruction, training and guidance.”.

The following are some valuable tips in learning how to write a movie script today.

1. Creating a logline

A logline is usually a one-sentence description of the movie. It should condense the most crucial elements of the story - the setup, main character, conflict and the antagonist - to describe the premise of a movie. It is essentially a teaser aiming to entice the reader into wanting to read your entire script and, eventually, sell your work and screenplay. 

You should ask yourself a series of questions when learning how to create a logline, such as:  Who is your protagonist? How are they involved in the story? What’s the conflict? How does the protagonist take it and move forward with the story? What are the surroundings, the type of society or world in your story? Is there anything unique or is there something you’d like to use as suspense? 

Answer these questions by writing them down in a single sentence in 50 words or less and, while doing so, do not write the names of your story’s characters. Here’s an example of a logline from The Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris.  

“In order to catch a killer who skins his victims, a young FBI agent develops a relationship with a serial killer which may be even more dangerous for her.”

2. Write the film treatment

Next comes the film treatment. It is the summary of your film. It needs to clarify all the important themes, the tone, the settings and the key scenes - it is essentially done to pitch your film to producers and buyers, enticing them to read and purchase your script. So, a lot of work goes into it. 

The key elements of a film treatment should include the title, your name and contact information, a logline, a list of the key characters, a film/story summary, etc. 

Film treatments are known by several names, including script treatment, movie treatment and story treatment. A film treatment is an excellent exercise to find out if the story is developing the way the writer had envisioned it, as it will be used for pitching or marketing.

3. Plot and outline

Break your story down into its narrative arc components, based on proper structure, and map out every scene beat by beat (beat sheet). You could create a board for each script, then make a list for each of the narrative arc components, with a card for each scene. On each card, make a checklist of the story beats and write notes about the characters or plot. The more detailed you make your step outline, the less time you’ll waste later down the line.

As you plot it out, keep in mind that tension and conflict drive a story. Building and releasing tension is key to keeping the audience engaged. When hope is faced with fear and tension, in turn, drama is created, which forces the hero to change as the story moves forward.

4. Write the screenplay

When you are satisfied with your treatment, the next step is where the main work needs to be done. The first tip is: “Show, don’t tell”. Always write in the present tense and adhere strictly to formatting rules. Do not edit while you write, as the first draft is not going to be your final one. Write the screenplay as it flows - allow ideas to flow and, once a structure seems to appear, you will get your full story on the page. 

When writing the screenplay, you can use many script formatting templates, which are easily available online. There are also numerous screenwriting software programs you may try that arrange your script automatically into the screenplay format, as you write your draft. There is an industry standard for script formatting, which is 12pt courier new font, along with a 1.5 inch left margin and 1 inch right margin, which also applies to the top and bottom of the page. This Hollywood formatting is important so that one page of your script will equal one minute of screen time when the script is written. 

5. Editing and rewriting the screenplay

Although there is no one correct method to edit, the goal should always be to achieve absolute clarity of your story and turn it into a script. As a writer, you’ll be returning to what you have written months or maybe years before, but you will have to detach yourself while you read to edit effectively. You don’t have to try to reach perfection, just focus on the story.  

You may want to give your script to a trusted reader who is good at critique, to evaluate your writing. Seek advice from those who are knowledgeable and respected in the industry and can offer game-changing advice. It doesn’t mean you have to accept all of their suggestions, however, you must learn how to accept and listen to critique, to really improve the quality of your writing over time.

One efficient method while editing is identifying the confusing or problem areas and highlighting them in a specific color. Mark different parts of the writing with different colors and look for the sections where the prose or description falls short or is too complicated. 

If you feel like cutting down on narration, or it is required, then edit and alter the script and remember to keep following it.

Ask yourself, what is the purpose or intention of a scene? By using a step-outline for every scene, you’ll feel less overwhelmed when you start to write the actual scenes. You’ll know what you have to write ahead of time. Outlining can get challenging if you overdo it, so try to avoid that by doing things step-by-step and making changes in a methodical way.

As a story editor, remember that you have the opportunity to write with full intention. Once you get the first draft done, you are in a position to take your script writing abilities to the next level. Don’t wait any longer as you can begin to write your screenplay immediately. 

Are you looking for a reputable college to enroll in a film program and learn the art of scriptwriting? Consider the well-regarded Film and Television Production and Post-Production Program offered by Trebas Institute in Toronto. The program provides integral storytelling knowledge to students, which gives them an edge over others in the industry, who will spend a lot of time learning these skills.

This program provides students with an essential knowledge of screenwriting and with access to professional filmmaking studio facilities and equipment, such as professional recording cameras (HD to 4k video cameras), cinematographic lighting, sound recording equipment, a green screen studio, as well as editing software programs for post-production. This gives you all the ingredients you need to produce a high-quality graduate portfolio film.

Click hereto learn more and join today.

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