How to Write a Movie Script
What is a movie script or screenplay? It’s essentially an outline of all the elements required to tell a story on the big screen. When producers, actors, and directors read through a movie script, it must visually convey the same story to everyone, so there are no hiccups during production. A lot of detail must go into a script, from dialogue to scenery.
You might be thinking, if films are based on books, then I can simply write a book and use it as a script, right? Not exactly.
Script vs Book
The length of a screenplay is roughly anywhere from 90 to 120 pages (average is 110), whereas a book often doesn’t need to be condensed and the author can go into vast details and really build up the characters. If screenplays were as long as books, then Lord of the Rings would take 8 hours to watch instead of 3. Aren’t you glad there is a page length restriction on screenplays?
When writing a book, the author has an infinite playground to work with; there is no budget and no restrictions. Screenplay writers, however, must take budget into account when writing. Sure, it would be amazing to have space explosions, car chases, and dinosaurs in the scene, but how much would that cost?
Before starting to write a script, you must plan accordingly. I’m assuming that you have already selected the genre and have a generic story in mind. Find some movie scripts online that are similar to the story you want to write, and read them. Make sure to pay attention to all the critical scenes, and dialogue, especially to the development of the main characters. Create note cards of all major scenes in your story and sort them from beginning to end of the movie. Visualize the movie playing in your head as you go from one note card to another. If you feel like something is missing, or needs to be removed, either create a note card or remove it and play the movie again in your head. It’s a slow process, but this is an important step that shouldn’t be skipped. This will eventually save you a lot of time down the line.
If for some reason you just can’t get into that scriptwriting zone, don’t worry. A great way to shake off the rust is to rewatch some of your favorite movies. As you’re watching, figure out what made you fall in love with them in the first place. Perhaps there is a protagonist with charming qualities that you want to incorporate into your script, or maybe a certain location that made you feel right at home. If you don’t have any favorite movies, or can’t think of any, try searching for some popular ones on Netflix or any other streaming site.
Before you begin, you need to write a short (usually one sentence) summary of your script. This is called a “logline”. It should describe the main goal of the story, along with the conflict the protagonist is trying to resolve. If your logline ends up being longer than one or two sentences, then that could indicate your story is too complex and would need some retooling.
As you begin to write, visualize yourself as characters in your movie and as if you are narrating your own life in real-time, your screenplay should be written in the present tense. Only write about things that the audience can see, you don’t want to write about the character’s thoughts unless they are voiced out loud to the audience of course. If the character is showing some emotion, you DO want to include that in your script. Include as much detail as you can about the set and the action being taken, as it will help the person reading it to visualize better.
Try to put a lot of emphasis on the first ten pages of your screenplay; the producer who will be reading it will most likely only get through the first ten before moving on, so write your heart out.
A screenplay should be written on a standard 8 1/2” x 11” paper. The font used must always be Courier 12pt because, with this font and font size, one script page is about one minute of screen time. 1-inch margins are used all around the page, with the exception of the left margin which is 1.5 inches. If you need specific info about screenplay formatting, I suggest you do additional research, or better yet invest in software that will do the formatting for you.
After you’ve completed your first draft, it’s time to REWRITE it. It’s understandable if you feel like that’s the last thing you want to do, but it’s important. Surround yourself with people who care about you and will give you their honest opinion. Based on everyone’s feedback, sit down and create notes on what you should do differently. Then use your notes to rewrite your script, rinse and repeat until you feel like you have a solid screenplay on your hands.