How to Write Movie Scripts ?
The world of film is very, very competitive. You may have the best movie idea of all time, but if your script isn’t formatted correctly, there’s a high chance it will never even get read. Follow these steps to maximize your chances of seeing your writing on the big screen.
Method One – Getting Started
Understand what a script is
The script, or screenplay, outlines all of the elements (audio, visual, behavior, and dialogue) that are required to tell a story through movies or TV.
A script is almost never the work of a single person. Instead, it will go through revisions and rewrites, and ultimately will be interpreted by the producers, directors, and actors.
Movies and TV are visual mediums. This means that you will need to write your script in a way that encompasses the visual and auditory aspects of the story. Focus on writing pictures and sounds.
Read the scripts of some of your favorite movies. Find movie scripts online and decide what you like (and don’t like) about them. Get a feel for how the action is portrayed, dialogue is written, and characters are developed.
Flesh out your concept
Assuming you already have an idea you want to write about, sketch out all the necessary plot details, relationships, and personality traits that will guide your story. Which elements are the most integral to your concept? How do your characters interact and why? What’s your larger point? Are there any plot holes? Write notes addressing these points in any format you see fit.
Method Two– Writing the Script
Outline your story
Begin with a basic flow of your narrative. Focus on the conflict of the story; conflict drives drama.
Keep length in mind. When in script format, each page is roughly one minute of screen time. The average length of a two-hour script is 120 pages. Dramas should be around the 2 hour mark, comedies should be shorter, around one and a half hours.
Also keep in mind that unless the writer is already known, has connections, or is extremely bankable, a long screenplay doesn’t have a realistic chance of getting picked up. If the story you need to tell can’t be condensed into less than two hours of screen time, you might be better off turning it into a novel.
Write your story in three acts.
The pillars of a screenplay are the Three Acts. Each act can operate independently, and when taken together provide the full arc of a story.
This is the set-up for the story. Introduce the world and the characters. Set the tone of the story (comedy, action, romance, etc.). Introduce your protagonist, and begin exploring the conflict that will drive the story. Once the protagonist is set towards the objective, then Act Two begins. For dramas, Act One is typically 30 pages. For comedies, 24 pages.
This act is the main portion of the story. The protagonist will encounter obstacles on the path to the resolution of the conflict. Subplots are typically introduced in the second act. Throughout the second act, the protagonist should be showing signs of change. For dramas, Act Two is typically 60 pages. For comedies, 48 pages.
In the third act, the story reaches its resolution. The third act contains the twist of the story, and ends with the final confrontation of the objective. Because the story has already been established in the second act, the third act is much faster-paced and condensed. For dramas, Act Three is typically 30 pages. For comedies, 24 pages.
Sequences are parts of the story that operate somewhat independently from the main conflict. They have a beginning, middle, and end. A typical sequence will be about 10 to 15 pages in length. A sequence tends to focus on a specific character.
Sequences operate with a separate tension from the main story, and often affect how the main story will play out.
Start writing scenes
Scenes are the events of your movie. They take place in specific locations and always serve to drive story forward. If a scene does not do this, then it should be cut from the script. Scenes that serve no purpose will stick out in the audience’s mind as flaws, and will drag the story down.
Begin writing dialogue
Once you have scenes, you will have characters interacting. Dialogue can be one of the hardest things to write. Each character needs to have its own distinct, believable voice.
Realistic dialogue is not necessarily good dialogue. Dialogue should be focused on moving the story forward and developing characters. You should not worry about trying to capture reality with dialogue, because in reality conversations are often dull and lifeless.
Read your dialogue aloud. Does it sound halting, stereotyped, or over-the-top? Do all of your characters talk the same way?
Cut away the dead weight
Now that all your ideas are on paper, look for weak links, distractions, or anything that drags. Does the story ever get sidetracked? Are there unnecessary details or repetitions? Do you give your audience enough credit? If it over-explains or doesn’t move your story forward, cut it.
Show your finished work to a few friends
Choose people with different tastes and backgrounds to get a variety of opinions. Be sure to ask for the cold, hard truth; you want constructive criticism, not flattery or lies.
Revise your work as many times as necessary
This may be painful at first, but when all is said and done, you’ll be glad you took the time to properly convey your vision.
Method Three – Formatting the Script
Set your page size
Screenplays are written on 8 ½” x 11” paper, typically 3-hole punched. Top and bottom margins are set between .5” and 1”. The left margin is set to 1.2”-1.6” and the right margin is set between .5” and 1”.
Page numbers go in the top right corner. The title page does not get numbered.
Set your font
Screenplays are written in Courier 12 point font. This is mainly because of timing. One script page in Courier 12 is roughly one minute of screen time.
Format your script elements
There are several different parts of the script that require specific formatting so that they conform to industry standards:
Scene Heading: This is also called a “slug line.” It sets the stage for the reader by describing the location. The scene heading is written in all caps. First, denote whether it is an interior or exterior scene by writing “INT.” or “EXT.” Then, follow that with the location, then the time of day. Never end a page with a scene heading, push it down to the next page.
This is the descriptive text of the screenplay. Write in the present tense and an active voice. Keep the paragraphs short to hold the reader’s attention. A good paragraph size is 3-5 lines.
Before dialogue starts, the character speaking is typed out in all caps and indented 3.5” from the left margin. The name can either be the character’s actual name, a description if the character is not named in the movie, or by occupation. If the character is speaking off screen, then “(O.S.)” is written next to the character name. If the character is narrating, “(V.O.)” for voice-over is written next to the name.
When a character is speaking, the dialogue is indented 2.5” from the left margin, and between 2-2.5” from the right. The dialogue goes directly beneath the character’s name.
What is a script?
An outline of the elements of a story for a visual medium
The director’s interpretation of the story.
A concept for TV or movie.
How should you format action?
Indented 3.5” from left margin, all caps.
Indented 2.5” from left margin, 2-2.5” from right margin. Normal text. Below character name.
Indented 1.2″-1.6″ from left margin. Present tense. Active voice. 3-5 lines.
How can I not get bored while writing the script?
Writing out a script can be a tedious task. If you get bored try listening to music or take a break and exercise every once in a while.
How long does it usually take to complete a script?
This will depend on how fast you write, how much time you have to work on the script, and how long the script will be. Having the entire plot already outlined before you begin will help the process go by much faster. Short, simple scripts may take only a few hours, while longer, more complex scripts may take a few months.
Is there software I could use to write a movie script on my laptop?
Yes. There is a website named Celtx.com that is very helpful. It doesn’t require any pay, but you can subscribe to it and get more features if you want to. The best part about this website is that it’s set up like a studio. You can invite all of your friends and share scripts and assign jobs for films.
Can you provide an example of a script?
Just search “movie scripts” or “screenplays” on Google and find some, or even “Movie Scripts Aspiring Screenwriters Need to Read.” Classic ones are out there, like “Pulp Fiction” and “When Harry Met Sally,” but I also found “Inside Out” and “Minions” online.
Can a script consist only of dialog?
Theoretically, yes. Practically, not really. You are leaving a lot of work to the director if you have no basis of who and what the characters are supposed to look like, where they are and what they are doing. Unless your movie is just two mannequins talking in a blank room, it’s best to at least include settings and character descriptions.
Do I have to write 120 pages for my script to qualify?
You do not need to write 120 pages. That is for a 2 hour movie (about). Most movies are between an hour and a half and two hours. A 100 page script will do you, or halve that for a short film.
Can I write a script with no formal experience?
Yes! You can write a script without any prior experience, but bear in mind that your first may not be your best. Write a few practice scripts – these could be pretty short – before you send work to a director. If you’re good at writing and language, that’s a good start!
What is a parentheses?
It is enclosed in parentheses. It is located under the character’s name in a dialogue and always instructs how the actor should act in a certain dialogue.